Loire Valley Holiday Planning Guide
Referred to as the "Garden of France," not only does the Loire Valley region offer an abundance of vineyards, fruit orchards, and vegetables, it also has prominent vineyards, winemaking, and a distinct châteaux heritage. As you explore the banks of the Loire River, you'll find artichoke and asparagus fields as well as historic towns packed with attractions, diverse Gothic and Renaissance architectures, and archaeological ruins from the Middle Paleolithic period. The wine region is a major center of tourism and is divided into three sections: the Upper Loire primarily grows and makes wines using the Sauvignon blanc grapes, while the Middle Loire is dominated by Chenin blanc and Cabernet franc. The Lower Loire extending from the lower portion of the river to the Atlantic through the Muscadet region has wines made from the Melon de Bourgogne grapes. Loire wines tend to exhibit a characteristic fruitiness with fresh, crisp flavors.
Places to Visit in Loire ValleyAmboise
: Located on the southernmost bank of the Loire River beneath the gaze of its 15th-century château, this city was once home to the French royal court and Leonardo DaVinci. Check into one of the town’s high-end hotels and use it as a base for exploring the town’s boutiques, market, and nearby castles.Chartres
: Take a trip back in time on your Loire Valley holiday with a visit to this small city located on the left bank of the Eure river, which has a 13th-century cathedral with architecture reflecting Roman and Gothic influence, museums galore, and an old city filled with medieval houses and narrow alleys. Tours
: This bustling town has an interesting mix of old and new: home to about 25,000 university students, it also has a well-preserved medieval section exhibiting half-timbered houses typical to Northern France, outdoor cafes, and interesting city bike routes. Its location and easy access to transportation make it a convenient base for exploring châteaux in the region. Blois
: Add this town to your tour of the Loire Valley to enjoy its vibrant art and music scenes and outdoor activities such as swimming and tennis, which are centered around the banks of the Loire River. Azay-le-Rideau
: Wine enthusiasts gravitate toward the center of the Loire Valley’s wine-producing region, where activities include touring vineyards, going to wine tastings, visiting museums, and exploring natural surroundings such as caves and forests.Bourges
: Visit this city for a break from castles to explore the architecture of a Roman city, complete with aqueducts and an amphitheater, as well as a maze of medieval buildings on cobblestone streets. While the city does not have a castle, it boasts an impressive cathedral, many gardens, and canals. Orleans
: This busy city will give you a peek into everyday urban life in France, as well as a healthy dose of history--the home of Joan of Arc has many sites dedicated to the “Maid of Orléans,” as well as a medieval quarter, art museum, and cathedral.
Things to Do in Loire Valley
Popular Loire Valley Tourist AttractionsChateau de Chenonceau
: Built across the Cher River, the second-most visited castle in France after the Palace of Versaille offers free range of the well-manicured grounds and diverse gardens, lavish rooms, and an art collection that includes tapestries and Old Masters’ paintings. Chateau de Chambord
: Visit this top example of French Renaissance architecture, which began as King Francois I’s hunting lodge and eventually developed into the sprawling, 440-room castle it is today. Be sure to look for the double-helix staircase, which is rumored to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci. Château du Clos Lucé
: While choosing castles to visit on your trip to Loire Valley, be sure to make time for this special château, which was the final home of Leonardo da Vinci. You can see how the artist and inventor lived his daily life, and view or try out forty models of machines he invented. Chartres Cathedral
: This incredibly well-preserved example of French Gothic architecture has much of its original jewel-toned stained glass, and contains the relic known as “Sancta Camisa,” thought to be the garment worn by the Virgin Mary during Jesus’s birth.Chateau d'Amboise
: Add this castle to your Loire Valley itinerary to visit the final resting place of Leonardo da Vinci and take in dramatic views of the valley from the castle’s balconies. Fontevraud L'Abbaye Royale
: First an Abbey, then a prison, today this cultural hub offers a program packed full of history tours, art exhibitions, concerts, and other events. Don’t miss the tombs, where historical figures such as Richard the Lionheart are buried. Château de Villandry
: Stroll around what are often considered the most striking gardens in France, a well-groomed and diverse landscape that includes a maze, formal gardens, a water garden, a kitchen garden, flower gardens, and more. The castle itself is open to visitors, although most choose to focus their attention on the grounds. Chateau Royal de Blois
: This château’s many wings were built over the centuries, and exhibit diverse architectural styles, from medieval to the 17th century. The castle has an extensive art collection, including beautifully restored murals and a Museum of Fine Arts located in one of the wings. La Maison de la Magie Robert-Houdin
: Learn about the history of magic and explore some unbelievable tricks through a tour of this museum dedicated to the art of magic, or stay for an incredible magic show.Cathedrale St-Gatien
: Filled with stained glass and highly detailed stone carvings (including gargoyles), this cathedral showcases examples of Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance architectural influences.
Planning a Loire Valley Vacation with Kids
Places to Visit in Loire Valley with Kids
While young children will probably be too young to appreciate what the Loire Valley has to offer, school-age children and teenagers will love taking a trip back in time with visits to the area’s castles and cathedrals. Amboise
makes a convenient base for touring the Loire Valley with kids in tow. Tours
is another great place to spend at least a few nights, with its easy access to airports and trains--the bustling university life gives the city a young feel. For families that are looking for outdoor things to do in Loire Valley, visit Azay-le-Rideau
, where forests and caves await your explorations.
Things to Do in Loire Valley with Kids
Loire Valley is famous for its castles, and there are a few châteaux that will especially delight younger visitors. Put a trip to Chateau de Chenonceau
on your Loire Valley itinerary, where the kids can imagine themselves as royalty as they are immersed in the many rooms filled with luxurious original furnishings. The Château de Villandry
gardens will be a hit with kids, especially the maze and the specially designated children’s play area. Older children and science buffs will love learning about the life of Leonardo da Vinci at Château du Clos Lucé
--be sure to step outside to the gardens, where visitors can touch “usable” models of some of da Vinci’s inventions. For a small take on châteaux designed for small people, visit Mini-Châteaux Val de Loire
, a miniature world featuring many of the region’s castles as well as trains, figurines, and bonsai trees. Kids and adults will be wowed by the museum and show at La Maison de la Magie Robert-Houdin
, where optical illusions and magic tricks provide delight and mystery.
Tips for a Family Vacation in Loire Valley
A trip to Loire Valley has a lot to offer families, particularly those with older children or teenagers. Make sure to plan your itinerary to include a mixture of activities, with relaxation breaks in between tours of castles, museums, and city strolls. A car will be the most convenient way to get to the region’s many châteaux and nature areas, although older children may enjoy the adventure of riding on a tour bus, which will give parents an appreciated break from driving. Visitors to cathedrals are expected to be respectful and relatively quiet, so it may not be the best choice to bring younger kids into these houses of worship. Medieval “old city” areas often have cobblestone streets and narrow stone staircases that can be difficult to navigate with a stroller.
Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Loire Valley
Cuisine of Loire Valley
Dining is an essential element of French culture, and the vineyard-studded Loire Valley is famous for its wine and food. A vineyard tour and wine tasting are classic things to do in the Loire Valley, as the region is known for its brightly flavored wines. The valley produces more white wine than any other region in France, some popular options being Muscadets, Sauvignon Blancs, and Chenin Blancs. The red wines are also quite good, especially Cabernet Franc.Sancerre
is thought to make some of the best wine in the region, although you can find interesting and delicious offerings throughout the Loire. Besides sampling wine, you will want to explore the local cuisine on your vacation to the Loire Valley. The agricultural region is famous for its produce, such as artichokes, asparagus, and fruit. Sample some local meats such as Géline de Touraine, a delicious hen with black feathers or Rillettes, a rustic pâté from Tours
. The region is known for its dairy products, especially goat cheeses such as Crottin de Chavignol and the straw-striped Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine. The world-famous beurre blanc, or “white butter sauce,” originated in the region and can be found on many menus. For dessert, try tarte tatin, made with butter and local apples caramelized in sugar.
Shopping in Loire Valley
The region known for wines is a great place to buy some bottles to bring back as a souvenir from your Loire Valley holiday. Buy wine from a vineyard you visit or at one of many wine shops that offer bottles from throughout the region, such as the popular La Cave du Marché
. The many open-air markets make prime shopping destinations for your tour of Loire Valley: look through local crafts and pick up cheese and produce to take on a picnic at the popular Loches Market
. Pick up less perishable food souvenirs such as jams and sausages at a grocery store, such as the gourmet Boutique La Caf'The
. Visitors with a sweet tooth will love to visit the chocolate heaven of La Chocolatière
. There are many boutiques in the region, including the L'atelier des chimères
, where you can purchase medieval-inspired clothing and jewelry.
Know Before You Go on a Trip to Loire Valley
History of Loire Valley
The earliest occupiers of the Loire Valley were the Gauls, celtic tribes that were kicked out by Romans, who defeated Attila the Hun in the Loire Valley. The Romans built many settlements in the area, what is now Tours
, functioning as their major regional city. To see evidence of the Roman occupation, visit ruins in the city of Bourges
, or note architectural influences in cathedrals such as Cathedrale St-Gatien
. Romans are rumored to have first introduced grapevines to the region, which had great influence and made vineyards and wine tasting one of the most popular things to do in Loire Valley. After the fall of the Roman Empire through the Middle Ages, the fertile area was repeatedly attacked by various tribes and kingdoms, which lead to the first castles being built as fortresses. Tours
became a refuge for French Kings during the Hundred Years War from 1337 to 1453, and the young Joan of Arc turned the tide of the war in France’s favor in nearby Orleans
. Today, the city has many attractions dedicated to their savior, such as Cathedrale Sainte-Croix.
During the 16th century, the Loire Valley attracted the French nobility, who began building ever more lavish castles as their countryside retreats. Most French royalty used the Loire Valley châteaux as their primary residences during this time. Among many Italian artists and nobles who visited the area during this time was Leonardo da Vinci, whose life and inventions you can explore at the castle and museum dedicated to him, Château du Clos Lucé
The War of Religion between Catholics and Protestants from 1562–98, combined with the plague, brought an end to the golden age of noble living in the Loire Valley. The 17th and 18th centuries were a time of increasing religiosity by the Catholic Church, and many religious institutions, such as Fontevraud L'Abbaye Royale
, were active during this time.
During the French Revolution, the châteaux were seen as symbols of the lavish, unjust lifestyle of the nobility, and some were damaged or ransacked in the agrarian uprising known as "la Grande Peur" ("the great fear"). Fortunately, most, including Chateau Royal de Blois
and its fabulous art collection, were spared, and remain top attractions in the Loire Valley.
The region was used as a base for American forces in World War I, and in World War II was split into two parts, the occupied zone and the free zone. The area was spared from bombing that devastated other parts of Europe, which preserved the many châteaux the region is famous for, such as the Renaissance architecture of Chateau de Chambord
In 2000, the stretch of the Loire from Sully-sur-Loire to Chalonnes-sur-Loire was designated a World Heritage Site. The châteaux, such as the popular Chateau de Chenonceau
, are the inspiration for preserving this region as a historic site.
Landscape of Loire Valley
The Loire Valley is a place full of rivers, rolling hills, expansive forests, and rock caves. You can choose to visit three natural parks on your trip to the Loire Valley: the Brenne, the Loire-Anjou-Touraine, and Parc Naturel Regional du Perche are nature havens, where you can hike, swim, cycle, and bird watch. The parks are full of green valleys, rivers, lakes, and forests. The terrain is not too challenging and makes for generally easy, relaxed experiences. Explore the countryside by bike, motorcycle, or horseback and you will travel at a slower pace and notice wildlife and natural features. For a special treat, ride through the forest on the back of a donkey at Les Anes de Madame during your Loire Valley Vacation. Take a hike in the Berce Forrest
, a grove filled with oak trees that give off yellow and orange colors in the fall.
Holidays & Festivals in Loire Valley
The Loire Valley, including most tourist sites such as châteaux, observes all major French holidays, including Bastille Day (July 14) and May Day (May 1). There is a diverse and ever-changing menu of special events that take place throughout the year, especially in summer, which may include concerts, special tours of historical sites, and special exhibitions of visual art. The area has many annual festivals and events that you might consider when planning your trip to Loire Valley. In Orleans
, the Feast of Joan of Arc in early May celebrates the local hero with musical performances, parades, medieval activities, and other events. May also brings the French Motorbike Grand Prix to the area, where you can watch motorcyclists race through the countryside scenery on your Loire Valley holiday. The annual Chaumont-sur-Loire Garden Festival is organized around a different theme, such as "Gardens of Light" or "Gardens for the Coming Century" each year, and the event features up to 30 landscape architects from around the world who build gardens on the grounds of the Domain of Chaumont-sur-Loire
. In Late August, a world-famous music festival comes to Ponce-sur-le-Loir and a few smaller towns, with classical offerings that match the castle-rich setting.
Loire Valley Travel Tips
Climate of Loire Valley
The Loire Valley generally has mild weather, with the river adding a few degrees to the climate. Winters are chilly but not extreme, usually 1-9 C (33.8-48.2 F). The most popular time to make a visit to Loire Valley is the summer, which is usually sunny and hot with temperatures averaging 26 C (78.8 F) in the daytime, which usually dip to around 12 C (53.6 F) at night. Savvy travelers know that spring and especially fall can be quite beautiful and much less crowded times for a Loire Valley vacation. While rain is more common in the fall, it is the harvest season and so a great time for food and wine lovers to eat, drink, enjoy colorful fall foliage, and tour uncrowded castles.
Transportation in Loire Valley
Trains and busses are common and convenient in most cities you’ll visit during your Loire Valley holiday, especially in Tours, Amboise, and Orléans. To get to some of the more remote châteaux and vineyards, a car will give you the most options, although there are many bus tours that offer affordable and convenient transportation to major tourist sites, which can be an especially good choice if you are planning a wine-focused trip. The relatively flat landscape makes it perfect for cycling, and if you’re up for it, it can be a beautiful and invigorating way to get between Loire Valley attractions. The well-maintained 800 km (497 mi) Loire a Velo Cycle Path
bike path stretches from Cuffy to St. Brévin-les-Pins, and is dotted with repair shops and other conveniences for those traveling by bike.