LOIRE VALLEY, castles and vines
The area surrounding the 1000km (620 mile)-long Loire River is one of the most famous and most visited regions of France. And for good reason: with its soft green landscapes, vibrant cities, quaint towns, and – of course – spectacular, châteaux-speckled scenery, there’s a lot to love. Often called the “garden of France”, the Loire Valley is famous for its excellent produce, which supplies many of the top restaurants in Paris and of course for the Loire Valley castles from Middle Age and Renaissance periods.
Because of the fertile soil, the region is also one of France’s big wine producers. The vine-covered slopes of the Loire Valley produce mostly crisp white wines like Sancerre, Muscadet and Pouilly-Fumé.
What to see and do in the Loire Valley
The landscape of the Loire Valley has been spotted with châteaux since the middle ages, when villages and towns sprung up around castles. During the Hundred Years’ War between France and England, many of the castles of the Loire valley were transformed into fortresses to protect France. But when peacetime came in the mid-15th century, they were remodeled as homes and pleasure palaces for the aristocracy. Today, there are more than 100 Loire Valley castles which are open to the public, so you could easily spend several weeks exploring them in all their fairy-tale glory without even scratching the surface.
Some of the most famous Loire Valley châteaux include Azay-le-Rideau, a truly spectacular castle whose moat and turrets look like they’ve been plucked straight from a fairy tale. The largest castle in the region is the Château de Chambord, a white limestone masterpiece which was begun by King Francis 1st of France in 1519 (don’t forget to leave time for horse and carriage rides, and boat hire in the grounds).
And for a taste of how the other half live, add the Château de Cheverny to your list. Beautifully furnished with antiques, this particular Loire Valley château is unique in that it’s still inhabited by the latest generation of the noble family who built it between 1624-34, the Hurault de Vibrayes. If you’re visiting the Loire Valley with kids, there’s another reason to add Château de Cheverny to your bucket list: it’s home to more than a hundred hunting dogs! The pups can be visited all day, and you can watch them being fed at 11.30am each morning. You can even suggest a name for one of the dog’s on the castle’s website!
But of course, there’s more to the Loire Valley than châteaux. The main town in the region is Tours, an ancient town which was once the capital of the Kingdom of France. Surrounded by 4,500 hectares of the Apellation Touraine wine country, Tours is characterized by bustling shopping streets and a lively vibe. The old town is home to delightful half-timbered houses and cobbled streets. And don’t miss a drink at the lively guinguettes – open-air, riverside bars. (And if you’re really just interested in castles, Tours is the epicenter of châteaux country, so, like the neighboring town of Amboise, it makes for a perfect base for exploring the castles of the Loire Valley).
Other towns and cities include Angers, the so-called city of art and history, where you’ll find galleries and museums aplenty and a relaxed, gentle way of life, and Chartres, with its timber-framed houses and gothic cathedral.
For those who prefer their vacations active, the Loire valley is a wonderful place to explore on two wheels. The Loire à Vélo cycling route is an 800km (500-mile) signposted trail, which follows the twists and turns of the river for a winding, wonderful adventure through the “garden of France”. And you may discover at the bend of a forest path one of the most beautiful Loire Valley castles.
Lastly, the Loire Valley is also home to a fascinating secret : some of the most interesting caves in France. The troglodyte caves were created over centuries of cutting through the turf and rock to build houses, castles and churches under the hills and countryside of the Loire Valley.
The best time to go to the Loire Valley:
The high season in the Loire Valley is in the summer, between June and August. If you visit in the Spring, the weather is usually still sunny, if a little cooler – and you’ll have the advantage of fewer crowds.
If you’re planning a trip in the winter, be aware than many of the Loire Valley châteaux close up shop for the low season, so you may need to plan more carefully.
However, a trip to the Loire valley in the low season does come with its own advantage: the castles that are open will be beautifully decorated for the festive period, and some are even visited by Father Christmas!
Travel to the Loire Valley with Paris-Toujours
The Loire Valley is one of the most popular vacation spots in France, and we have plenty of activities, tours, and trips to offer. Our Loire Valley tours include the Royal Castle of Amboise with its rich historical heritage, and Clos Lucé, where Leonardi da Vinci spent the last three years of his life.
Other castles we can help you discover include Chenonceau, a beautiful 16th-century castle perched on the banks of the River Cher, and Château de Villandry, whose ornamental garden is said to be one of the most beautiful in France.
For outdoor types, we’re happy to arrange private Loire Valley bike tours, where you’ll see the countryside close-up, or trips on a traditional wooden boat, called a toue.
For a truly spectacular experience, let us organize a hot air balloon ride at sunset, so you can sit back and enjoy rolling hills, sweeping rivers, and castles as far as the eye can see. Or if heights aren’t your thing, why not head underground instead? We can arrange a visit to the troglodyte caves, where you’ll marvel at the world beneath the castles.
Oh, and did someone say wine? We can take you on a private tour of vineyards where you can see grapes such as sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc and pinot noir, and then – the best part – taste the organic wines that they produce.
Sound good? Contact us for help planning your trip to the Loire Valley!
Only with Paris-Toujours
A trip to a castle with a difference: it’s home to the national tomato conservatory! Containing over 700 varieties of tomatoes, the collection was started in 1998 and includes such delightful names as Aunt Ginny’s Purple, Arkansas Traveler, and Abraham Lincoln (and that’s just in the A’s!).