Other châteaux are also especially appealing, and so close to Tours you can get there in a taxi. Azay-le-Rideau, for example, about 16 miles from the Tours train station, is simply a diamond in a perfect setting. Inside, it's richly adorned with 16th-century furnishings and tapestries, and a spacious kitchen with a walk-in fireplace.

For landscape admirers, Villandry, just 10 miles from Tours on the bank of the Loire, is the home of what may well be the most spectacular gardens since Babylon, or maybe Eden. These are, imaginatively, the gardens of love - tender love, planted in the shape of hearts; passionate love, in broken hearts; tragic love, planted in daggers and no hearts. Then there is the ornamental kitchen garden, with 40 species of vegetables - decoratively color-coordinated - but no potatoes; neither French fries nor any of their next of kin had yet reached France in the 16th century when the gardens were first designed. Down the road, overlooking the Loire and the Indre, is the twin-towered Chateau d'Ussé, said to be the setting for Sleeping Beauty.

If you prefer to tour to a different time, place, and rhythm, get aboard the TGV to Avignon, which is about 450 miles, but barely three hours, from the airport. This festive walled town was known during the 14th century as the refuge of popes in dispute with Rome, and they left a great papal palace that dominates the center of town. (Just up the road from Avignon, where a new papal château was built, the popes fortunately left a living legacy, the rich vineyards appropriately called Chateauneuf-de-Pape.)

The most unexpected and spontaneous sight in Avignon incongruously takes place on warm summer evenings against the floodlit backdrop of the mighty papal palace. In the square there, friendly couples, some in full costume, come to dance the tango to portable CD music late into the night. The sensuous tango dancers and the popes in their graves probably turn at about the same rate, as the music resonates off the palace walls and toward the cafe-filled Place de l'Horloge, Avignon's social center. There it meets the melodies of the square's 100-year-old carousel and the hum of sociable people, many of them vacationing students.