GUEST
  20 6 0 View All View All image html 2000 100
Loire Valley
Loire Valley
09.05.13

Paris is a vast city full of history, art, architecture, food and fashion, with intrigue waiting around almost every corner. Read these tips to find great ways to see the sights and look like a local as you stroll the streets.

Touring the Loire Valley

A tour is a great way to make sure you see the valley from its best angles. With the multitudes on offer, it’s best to think about your interests and needs to narrow down the options. Loire Valley Tourism is a great place to start your research. Fully guided tours take you by the hand from start to finish, while semi-guided tours offer both guidance and freedom. You can also book day tours from Paris or at local tourist offices—some will even take you by classic car.

Types of tours to consider:

  • Bicycle (one of the best ways to see the Loire Valley)
  • Castle
  • Garden
  • Helicopter
  • Hot-air balloon
  • Wine & Cuisine

Which Castle Should I Visit?

Over 300 chateaux (castles and manor houses) grace the Loire Valley, some of magnificent style and epic proportions. The following should be on your list if you want to see quintessential chateaux architecture:

  • Amboise: Built in Italian style, this castle is the burial place of Leonardo da Vinci. His last home, Chateau du Clos Lucé, is just down the street.
  • d’Azay-le-Rideau: Constructed on the Indre River, this smaller castle holds fairy-tale charm for its architecture, setting and the picture-perfect village surrounding it.
  • Chambord: The biggest castle in the Loire is a Renaissance masterpiece.
  • Chenonceau: This romantic beauty built over the Cher River was a source of strife between the wife of King Henry II and his mistress. The succession of powerful French noblewomen who owned it gave it the name “Castle of the Ladies.”
  • Cheverny: Features fantastic, luxurious interiors. Its current owners live in one wing of the castle. Hunting still takes place in the surrounding forest.
  • Chateau d’Ussé: Said to have inspired Charles Perrault to write “Sleeping Beauty.”

The list goes on. You can get in-depth information from Michelin’s Green Guide Châteaux of the Loire, an ideal source to help you plan and to take with you. You can also visit Castles of France, Loire Valley Castles and Chateaux de la Loire online.

Planning Your Time

The Loire Valley covers 143 miles from east to west. One way to plan your itinerary is to divide your trip into regional segments. Stay in a base town and take day trips to see castles, gardens, abbeys and vineyards that suit your schedule and interests. For example:

  • Eastern Loire: Use Blois as home base to see the castles of Chambord, Cheverny, Chaumont and Chateau Blois—the latter has 75 staircases and 564 rooms, each of which has a fireplace.
  • Central Loire: Features the chateaux beauties of Amboise, d’Azay-le-Rideau, Chenonceau and Villandry, known for its exquisite gardens. In this region, the city of Tours makes a great base. Try living the French cottage life or take up residence in your own chateau in lovely villages like Saché, where French author and playwright Honoré de Balzac (1799–1850) was inspired to write several of his most famous novels.
  • Western Loire: Base yourself in Nantes (the region’s capital) or in a smaller town like Saumur —the French equestrian center and home of the National Riding School— to see the chateaux of Angers, Chinon and Ussé. Saumur has its own lovely castle and is near Fontevraud Abbey, the largest group of monastic buildings in Europe.

When to Go

Autumn brings Loire Valley forests, gardens and vineyards to glorious shades of red, orange and gold. Fall is also when you’ll find more affordable lodging and the full bounty of local harvest at restaurants. While September temperatures peak around 72°F (22°C), they can also drop to 39°F (4°C) at night. The crisp air is great for cycling, but you’ll need a jacket, sweaters and fleece for layering. Pack an umbrella —or a hooded jacket if you’ll be cycling—and a heavier coat for November.

Green Routes

France has an impressive national network of cycling paths:

  • Voies bleues (blue ways) run along rivers and canals in towns and cities.
  • Voies vertes (green ways) are quiet, easy countryside routes reserved for unmotorized vehicles, walkers and horses. They usually follow forest tracks, country trails, riverbanks and former rail lines.

The Loire à Vélo (Loire by bike) network comprises 497 miles (800 km) of pathways, two-thirds of which run along the Loire River. It also passes through six cities and numerous old-world villages, with chateaux, gardens and vineyards along the way. Start and stop where you want—approx. 20 of the country’s SNCF-TER rail stations have easy access to the paths to make it even easier.

What to Sample

The “Garden of France” is a cornucopia of cuisine. In addition to dining out, you can get a great sampling of local specialties and seasonal treats at local markets. Specialties to try:

  • Andouillette: Tripe sausage, often served with fries
  • Champignons: Wild mushrooms are wonderful in summer, but Cave des Roches—the world’s only underground mushroom farm—produces over 100 tons year-round
  • Cherries: Either in fruit form or as Guignolet liqueur
  • Desserts: Sables (French butter cookies) and tarte tatin, a caramelized upside-down apple pie
  • Fouaces: Buns cooked on a wood stove
  • Fruit and vegetables: Ask what’s in season
  • Goat’s cheese: Some of the best in France comes from this region
  • Poisson: Fish from rivers, streams and ponds include pike, eel, trout and carp
  • Rillons: Chunks of pork slow roasted until tender and often served with potatoes (specialty of Tours)
  • Rilletes: Slow-cooked pork, shredded and remixed with fat (specialty of Tours)
  • Wild game: Boar, duck, pheasant, grouse and venison are specialties of the fall hunting season
  • Wine: Try both the red and white Sancerre, the light red Chinon and Vouvray—a sweet, dry or semi-dry white that’s also available as a sparkling white

The Footpaths of France

Long-distance footpaths and hiking trails cover over 62,137 miles (100,000 km) of France. Passing through forests, fields, mountains, cities and rural villages where hikers can find accommodation, the trails make foot travel a great way to see the country. Signposts that show a white stripe above a red stripe appear regularly along the routes as guide markers. Main network arteries are designated by the letters “GR” (grand randonnée), followed by a number. The Loire Valley trail (GR3) is the oldest in France and travels from La Baule through Guérande, Brière, Nantes, Saumur, Orléans and Nevers all the way to the source of the Loire River.

On weekends (usually on Sundays), certain local villages host randonnées (walks) where you turn up and pay a small fee to join the group. If you read French, you can find listings in the Nouvelle Republic newspaper, or ask at a local tourist office.

Sound & Light Shows

Many of the Loire Valley chateaux present Son et Lumière (Sound and Light Shows) during the summer and into September. These shows feature music, dialog (usually in French) and images projected onto monuments or castle walls. While some are more contemporary, others take you back to a time when royalty ruled the castles. Even if you don’t speak French, you’ll be mesmerized by the visuals. Check with the castle or the town’s local tourist office for times and prices. Some may offer shows in English.

Like this? Share it.

Email Share Share