Often called the "Garden of France" the Loire Valley is an enchanted land of vineyards, floral gardens and rolling green hills dotted with more than a thousand Châteaux. It is perhaps the charm of its gentle pace life that has, for centuries, made it a sought-after location for poets and writers. It is a step back through the history of some of France's finest works of art.
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 the sculpture, the 12' and 13' century stained glass and the amazing collection of ancient musical instruments. The Old Town of medieval 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 year in May a celebration commemorating her exploits is held; the house in which she stayed during the ten-day siege of Orleans can be visited. The city also features the Hotel Groslot, a brick and stone Renaissance mansion which served as the Town Hall, and the Gothic Cathedral of St-Croix. Places of interest to visit in the surrounding area: the castles of Chamerolles and Sully-sur-Loire.
Bourges - Located at the geographical heart of France, Bourges is a rich historical town of paved stone streets, medieval and Renaissance architecture, ancient ramparts and the remarkable Gothic Cathedral of St-Etienne which dominates the hilltop. Places of interest to visit in the surrounding area: the château o' Meillant, George Sand's House in Nohant, and Noirlac Abbey. And of course, Sancerre and its famous white wines.In the summer be sure to stay in Bourges for the Iluminated Nights. certain monuments and buildings in the town are brought to life with music and light.
Blois - Its famous castle has been linked throughout the centuries to the history of the Kings of France. Every Wednesday at the castel, there is night spectacle for english speaking visitors. Places of interest to visit in the surrounding area: the châteaux of Beauregard and Chaumont-sur Loire, which holds a famous International Festival of Parks and Gardens from mid-June through mid-October.
Chambord - The largest of all the Loire Valley castles, this magnificent Renaissance edifice, built by François I, is surrounded by an immense park and hunting preserve which can be visited by horsedrawn carriage. Not far from it, the beautifully furnished Château of Cheverny can be admired from the ground or from the air in one of the captive balloons available on site.
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 sites of Europe. Today, the city boasts wonderful Renaissance and neo-classical mansions, which are clustered around the famous Plumereau square, fine museums including a collection of craftsmen's masterpieces and the Cathedral of St-Gatien. Famous wine region, especially Vouvray, Chinon, Bourgueil... The most interesting sites in the Surrounding area are the châteaux of Azay-IeRideau, which reflects on the river, Villandry, surrounded by Renaissance gardens, Ussé, said to be the original Sleeping Beauty's castle, Langeais and Loches, as well as the splendid medieval city of Chinon.
Amboise/Chenonceaux - Huddled under the shadow of its impressive royal castle, Amboise is a pretty town with white stone houses dating from the 15th century. Also of interest is the Cbs Lucé, the former residence of Leonardo da Vinci. A few miles away, the Château of Chenonceau, also called the Ladies Castle, has 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 Map
Loire Valley Gastronomy
As the "garden of France", the Loire Valley produces an abundance of fruit and vegetables as well as an assortment of produce, game, and fish. For those inclined, hunting season brings a smorgasbord of tasty game to dining rooms across the Loire Valley, including deer, boar, duck, pheasant and quail. Many of Paris' best restaurants get their fresh produce from the Loire Valley.
And oh yes, don't forget the regional delight - "Tarte Tatin", a caramelized apple tart cooked upside down.
Cheese: Châteaux are not the only thing that the Loire Valley takes very seriously. Cheese making in the Loire Valley is serious business and an important part of the region's gastronomic identity. Among the best cheeses from the Loire is Sainte Maure du Touraine, from the Tourraine region. It is a soft cheese made of goat's milk and has a very distinct and flavorful taste. Unlike most goat cheeses which are soft and spreadable, Saint Maure is crumbly, hard and tangy due to its unique aging process. Saint Maure cheese is characterized by its log shape and its moldy ash coating.
Pouligny St. Pierre is another distinct cheese from the Loire Valley. It is a cone shaped goat cheese that has a sour yet nutty flavor. This cheese is perfect for spreading on some fresh French bread.
Crottin de Chavignol is perhaps the region's most popular goat cheese. This varietal is shaped like a small cylinder and comes from the small town of Chevignol. Whether you spread it on a roll or bake it (as a topping for vegetables or salads), this cheese has a lovely nutty and mild taste.
Wine and Spirts: Wine from the Loire Valley is too often underestimated. but it's a big part of tourism to the region. Wine choices are varied, from the fruity reds of Chinon, Bourgueil, Touraine, Valencay to the the dry whites of Cheverny, Sancerre, and sparkling Vouvray. More Information: www.loirevalleywine.com
Other food specialties of the Loire Valley which shouldn't be missed: Rich and varied charcuterie, including terrines from Tours, local Poulet en barbouille and Carpe au vin rouge; 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, especially, barging are all popular. Barge near Amboise, Chenonceau, Blois, Chambord or south through the Cher Valley. Barging is on of the most popular ways to experience the Loire Valley.
Golf: The Royal Château Country offers more than 30 different golf courses. The difficulty and variety of these courses has much to offer any golfer from the novice to semi-pro.
Biking, hiking and the great outdoors: Cycling trips are very popular in the Loire Valley. A great way to experience the best of château country while getting a some great exercise at the same time. A great number of pre-arranged cycling or hiking programs are available. A popular one is the 300km run 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 reside within the region appropriately named "the garden 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: A trip to the Loire would not be complete without a visit to the region's finest cities, steeped in history, character, and culture. Stops in Blois, Tours, Chartres, Orleans, Amboise and Bourges are encouraged. More information: www.lovelycities.com/
World Heritage: The Loire Valley is listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site. The Loire River is Europe's only wild river. The river is surrounded by rich landscapes, beautiful cities, fauna and flora, and of course, plenty of vineyards.
Historical Figures of the Loire Valley: As you meander through the stunning Châteaux and fabulous cities of the Loire Valley, think of those who you might have rubbed shoulders with throughout the centuries. Jacques Coeur, Catherine de Medicis, Diane de Poitiers, and Francois I were all historical figures residing in the Loire Valley. Also, Francois Rabelais, George Sand, and Leonardo DaVinci were a few artists who found inspiration in the Loire Valley.
Festivals: Liven up a trip to the Loire Valley by attending one of the hundreds of energetic and exciting festivals that occur during the year. More Information: www.valdeloire.org
Castles: Along the lush Loire River Valley, more than 1,000 châteaux bathe in their own beauty and stunning grandeur. In the past, these châteaux were home to royalty and historical figures but today, more than 120 are open to the public. Each château has its own history and its own unique characteristics, which makes seeing them even more exciting. Marvel at some of the grandest and most beautiful architectural structures in France. If you want to visit the castles of the Loire Valley click here for a great day trip from Paris.