During the Renaissance, the Loire Valley became the most fashionable leisure retreat of the French aristocracy. From the end of the 15th to the beginning of the 17th century, the nobility commissioned the magnificent châteaux for which the region is renowned. Two hours south of Paris by car, the Loire Valley begins in Orléans and ends 155 miles downstream in Angers. It has long been a classic itinerary, which explains why there are so many good hotels, many of which seek to offer an approximation of the experience of spending a night at a château, with formal service and traditional French décor. Just before the pandemic, however, a spate of new hotel openings showed that the Loire was evolving. A restaurant boom and the increasing excellence of the local wines have also enhanced the area’s already impressive gastronomic credentials. On our recent visit, there were several days when we didn’t tour a single château but instead lingered over lunch, enjoyed wine tastings, went for long walks or bike rides, and relaxed in the spa.