Often called the “Garden of France“, the Loire Valley is a place of vineyards, formal gardens and rolling green hills, dotted with more than a thousand Châteaux. Castle-building attracted the likes of Leonardo da Vinci and eminent architects and garden designers. To visit the Loire is to experience grand artistic visions.
We offer three one-day itineraries to the Loire Valley from Paris
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE LOIRE VALLEY
Chartres – The world-famous cathedral of Chartres, which Rodin called the Acropolis of France, is a remarkable testament to medieval architecture. Must-sees include 12th and 13th century stained glass and a very rare collection of ancient musical instruments. The Old Town of cobbled streets, gabled houses and charming footbridges lies at the foot of the cathedral. Places of interest to visit nearby: the castles of Anet and Maintenon.
Orleans – Once France’s second largest city, and now the vinegar capital of France, Orleans was liberated from the British by Joan of Arc in 1429. Each May, her martyrdom, and the ten day siege of Orleans, is commemorated. Nearby grand castles include Chamerolles and Sully-sur-Loire.
Bourges – Located at the geographical heart of France, Bourges is best known for the Sancerre grape and George Sand’s nearby house in Nohant. As in Chartres, summer means Illuminated Nights, so staying over for the music and festivities is recommended.
Blois – Visit this castle and you visit the town, which is dominated by this chateau of kings. Neglected for more than a century after the successful French Revolution, it was restored in the 19th century and remains a fascinating museum. Legend has it Catherine de Medici’s poisons are on display.
Chambord – The largest of all the Loire Valley castles (which is saying something), this is not too far from the royal castle of Blois, and served as a hunting getaway for French kings. A 13,000 acre wooded park surrounds the castle, still populated by the distinctive red deer King Francis preferred. You can enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride on site, and of course buy the eponymous liqueur Chambord. Though King Francis wanted to divert the Loire river so that it surrounded the castle with a teeming moat, thankfully his dreams were not realized and the nearby countryside remains pristine.
Cheverny – Imagine a dog kennel for 100. Well, you don’t have to because Cheverny castle and hunting lodge has it. The dogs are a famous cross breed between the English Fox hound and French Poitevins. The afternoon feeding time is a big draw for visitors, but the castle itself, occupied by the same family for six centuries, is beautifully decorated. The onsite maze and tulip garden should not be missed.
Tours – At the junction of the Loire and Cher Rivers, Tours is a busy university town and the traditional point of departure for exploring the Loire Valley. During the Middle Ages, it was one of the great pilgrimage crossroads of Europe thanks to Joan of Arc’s martyrdom. Renaissance and neo-classical mansions are clustered around the famous Plumereau square, well worth a look. The Loire’s chalky soil has made it an important wine region, focusing on Vouvray, Chinon, and Bourgueil grapes. Quite close to town you will find the châteaux of Azay-IeRideau, Villandry, surrounded by Renaissance gardens, Ussé, said to be the original Sleeping Beauty’s castle, and the splendid medieval city of Chinon.
Amboise/Chenonceau – Amboise is a pretty town with white stone houses dating from the 15th century. Close to Amboise castle lies Clos Lucé, the former residence of Leonardo da Vinci. He is buried on site, having finished his life of design and art away from the bickering Italian court and Pope. A few miles away, the Château of Chenonceau, also called the Ladies Castle, features a famous viewing gallery, built by one of France’s great Queens, from which to admire an impressive view of the Cher River.
GETTING TO THE LOIRE VALLEY
From Paris take highway A10 to the city of Tours. Tours acts as the main hub of the Loire Valley.
Getting to the Loire Valley is very easy via high-speed rail from Paris:
- From Paris Gare Montparnasse to Tours (duration: 55 minutes )
- From the Paris-Austerlitz station, to:
- Orleans (duration: 1h05)
- Blois (1h57)
- Bourges (1h56)
- Chateauroux (2h20) and Tours (1h38)
- Trains for Chartres also leave from the Montparnasse station (1h05).
LOIRE VALLEY GASTRONOMY
As the “garden of France”, the Loire Valley produces humble and delicious foods like apples (“Tarte Tatin”, a caramelized apple tart cooked upside down, is from the Loire), pork terrines, wheat, white beans and goat cheese. Game fans can dine on venison, pheasant and quail in season. Paris’s best restaurants source a lot of ingredients from the Loire.
Cheese: Among the best cheeses from the Loire is Sainte Maure du Touraine, a crumbly aged cone-shaped cheese made of goat’s milk. Pouligny St. Pierre is also cone-shaped goat cheese but more spreadable. It’s distinctly nutty in flavor, much like Crottin de Chavignol.
Wine and Spirts: Wine choices are varied, from the fruity reds of Chinon, Bourgueil, Touraine, Valencay to the the dry whites of Cheverny, Sancerre, and sparkling Vouvray.
Other food specialties of the Loire Valley which shouldn’t be missed: Rich and varied charcuterie, including terrines from Tours, white asparagus, and tasty mushrooms. Sweets include gateau pithiviers (almond cream in a buttered puff pastry) and the aforementioned “Tarte Tatin”.
SPORTS AND LEISURE IN THE LOIRE VALLEY
River and Canal Trips: The Loire river is the longest in France. Canoeing, kayaking and, barging are all popular.
Golf: The Royal Château Country offers more than 30 different golf courses, usually on the site of luxury resort hotels.
Biking, hiking and the great outdoors: Cycling trips are a great way to experience the best of château country. E-bikes are a growing trend. A popular route is the 300km ride from Tours to Anger through the heart of the châteaux country. We offer a wonderful five-day self-guided Loire bike tour.
Ballooning and helicopter trips: Numerous companies (Aerocom and France balloon are two we can recommend) offer trips over the beautiful countryside of the Loire Valley via hot air balloon, giving a bird’s-eye view of the famous castles and gardens.
ART AND CULTURE IN THE LOIRE VALLEY
Loire Valley Parks and Gardens: It only makes sense that the most beautiful parks and gardens are in the region appropriately named “the garden of France.” Renaissance and medieval gardens and parks are scattered all over the Loire region and are open to visitors year round. More information: www.jardins-de-france.com/
Cities of Character: Blois, Tours, Chartres, Orleans, Amboise and Bourges – visit some or all of them.
World Heritage: The Loire Valley is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. The Loire River is Europe’s only wild river!
Historical Figures of the Loire Valley: As you meander through the stunning Châteaux and fabulous cities of the Loire Valley, think of the luminaries who lived there over the centuries: Jacques Coeur, Catherine de Medicis, Diane de Poitiers, Georges Sand, Francois I, Leonardo da Vinci and Joan of Arc, to name a few.
Festivals: Organize a Loire Valley trip around one of the hundreds of festivals that occur during the year. More Information: www.valdeloire.org
Castles: These châteaux were home to royalty and historical figures but today more than 120 are open to the public. If you want to visit the castles of the Loire Valley click for more details..