For those who love history and French architecture, the Loire Valley likely needs no introduction. Home to countless castles (quite literally) and known as the ‘Garden of France,‘ while planning a trip to France you simply must make time to visit the Loire Valley.
After all, it’s here where you’ll find plenty of traditional French food, lots of historic buildings relating to the French monarchy, and some of the most beautiful gardens France has to offer. And though the region is not as popular as Provence or Paris, the Valley certainly remains one of the more sought out destinations in l’Hexagon… so be sure to plan accordingly (and perhaps even consider booking a tour so as to make the most of your trip)!
All of the French Châteaux
There’s no French region more synonymous with châteaux than that of the Loire Valley. Between medieval piles, royal palaces, and smaller seats of family power, whatever kind of architecture you want to see, this area of France has all this and more. In total, more than a hundred Châteaux are open to the public, most of which charge a small fee. Personal favourites when it comes to Loire Valley Châteaux include:
Château de Chambord: Rumour has it that this fine castle was partly designed by the hand of Da Vinci himself on account of several complex architectural features such as the double helix staircase in the centre of the Château. In other parts of the palace, there are quite literally hundreds of rooms to explore, and extensive gardens to wander around.
Château de Cheverny: For fans of Tintin comic books, Cheverny may well become immediately apparent as the inspiration for “Château de Moulinsart” (Marlinspike Hall). Elsewhere on the property, there’s an excellent garden to wander around and plenty of marvellous French furniture to marvel at.
Château de Chenonceau: Of all the castles in the Loire Valley, Chenonceau is probably the most recognisable. Home to dramatic turrets, dreaming spires, and several breathtaking water features, it’s a must-see on any trip to the Loire Valley! Located near a village of the same name, Chenonceaux, the estate was established as early as the 11th-century. Purchase your Chenonceau ticket here in advance.
Historic Fairytale Towns
For those who love their holidays served with a slice of history, a trip to the Loire Valley is definitely in order. And not only because of all the castles. Instead, the region is home to plenty of pretty towns and several timber-framed cities. Here are some personal favourites:
Chartres: Timber-framed houses and a cathedral which is considered as one of the most beautiful in France, Chartres is the perfect place to spend a day or two exploring, sampling local cuisine, and soaking up the laid-back atmosphere.
Chinon: Picture perfect and pretty as a postcard (or carte postale as the French would say!), Chinon sits perched as a hillside city, located above the waters of the River Vienne. During the Middle Ages, the town was a strategic point for both the English and the French.
Châteaudun: Of all the places we were lucky enough to visit during a visit to the Loire Valley, Châteaudun is the place which surprised me the most. Located on the very fringes of the region, and not far from the motorway which leads directly back to Paris, this medieval town is home to a 12th-century fortified castle, ancient church, and plenty of winding lanes.
Loire Valley wine
Thanks to the rich soil in the region, hence the ‘Garden of France status,’ the Loire Valley is one of the best wine regions in France. The vin produced here is noted for its fruity, crisp flavours and the region extends to encompass Muscadet, Sancerre, and Pouilly-Fumé. Although most wines produced in this region are white grapes ones, some red grape varieties are also used to make white, rosé, and red wines.
UNESCO world heritage status
Thanks to its myriad of culture, quaint towns, and many castles, the central part of the Loire Valley has been awarded UNESCO world heritage status since 2000. Included in the listing are the departments of Loiret, Loir-et-Cher, Indre-et-Loire, and Maine-et-Loire.
Best time to visit the Loire Valley
When you should visit the Loire Valley and where exactly you should go definitely depends on your preference! I personally visited the Loire in the spring and while the weather could certainly have been better (think continuous downpours of rain), the crowds were certainly fewer than they would have been during the summer months.
The cherry blossom was also in bloom and it was wonderful to see pops of colour throughout the Loire Valley gardens in each of the places we visited. As such, the best time to visit the Loire Valley if you want to enjoy longer days without the crowds is likely April- June or September- October.
Visiting during the shoulder seasons (spring and autumn) or in peak season (summer) also guarantees that everything will actually be open. After all, it’s worth noting that many of the Loire Valley museums and châteaux close shop for the winter and those that do remain open have much-shortened opening hours.
In the high season, many of the castles have dazzling nighttime light displays and festivals are held across the region during the summer months. For those who enjoy outdoor pursuits and sports, the Loire à Vélo cycle track (comprising of more than 800 km) means that getting around the Loire Valley by bicycle could not be easier!
How to get around the Loire Valley
In order to reach the Loire Valley in the first place, it’s worth noting that the area is home to two international airports; one at Nantes, and the other at Tours. Trains travel to the area from many major cities in France, including Paris.
Once there, if possible, I recommend renting a car. Although buses to major Loire Valley touristic sites are available, they won’t offer the same flexibility as having a car or going on a guided day trip to the Loire Valley like this one.
Where to stay in the Loire Valley
Some of the best places to stay in the Loire Valley include Blois (a hillside city in the heart of the region) and Orleans (i.e. where French heroine Joan of Arc came from). Another large city option comes in the form of Tours, a university town founded in Gallo-Roman times.
For those looking for a more off the beaten tourist track option, then the charming village of Amboise has several accommodation options. The town also happens to be home to oodles of restaurants, as well as one of the most beautiful French mansions of the Loire Valley.
How to visit the Loire Valley as a day trip from Paris
If you’re a little short on time and wish to see the Loire in just a day, then a day trip from Paris is certainly possible, especially if you have a car. Otherwise, I highly recommend extending your stay to several days in order to truly soak up the history and see as many sites (read: châteaux) as possible.
Some of the best reviewed guided tours to the Loire Valley include this Castles of the Loire Valley Full-Day Tour and this Day Tour of Loire Castles with Lunch. Both tours are well-reviewed and include transfers to and from the City of Light.