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Nestled in the heart of France, the Loire Valley is a treasure trove of stunning châteaus, picturesque landscapes, and delectable wines.
It’s a grand and captivating region that is one of the biggest UNESCO world heritage sites in the world, composed of 800 square km.
It’s easy to visit from Paris, and filled with captivating experiences from canoeing under castles to bike riding along the Loire River, the longest river in France.
The Loire Valley France was the last stop on our 4-week European trip. We’d just come off an incredible 8 Day Danube River Cruise with Avalon Waterways and were all wishing we had just gone straight home from there.
The Loire Valley was going to have to work hard to boost our morale. We did not have a great start, thanks to Parisian traffic (more on that below) BUT as soon as I jumped in that canoe to paddle under a fairy tale castle, I was glad we went to that extra effort to visit it.
There are memorable moments waiting for you in the Loire Valley, and to help you out, we have prepared a complete guide to visiting Loire Valley so you can experience memorable moments exploring the best chateaus in the region!
- How To Get To The Loire Valley
- How long should you visit the Loire Valley for?
- Things To Add To Your Loire Valley Itinerary
- Loire Valley Towns to Visit
- Where to Stay in Loire Valley: Tours
- Final Thoughts on a Two Day Loire Valley Castle Trip
- Group Tour of Loire Valley, France
- Heading to Paris? Don't miss these tips
How To Get To The Loire Valley
Before we get into what to see and so, let’s go over the best way to get to Loire Valley. We make the mistakes so you can avoid them!
Picking up a rental car from Charles de Gaulle Airport and driving to the Loire Valley was one of the biggest mistakes on our European trip.
It made total sense when we booked it. Instead of flying to Munich, Berlin, or Amsterdam from Hungary after our river cruise, we decided to reduce our flight costs and time spent in multiple airports and just fly back to Paris (where our return flight back to Raleigh was).
We figured we could then easily drive down to the Loire Valley from Charles de Gaulle, Paris, since the distance is only 213.3 km and is expected to take 2 hours (according to Google Maps). We planned to stay for three nights and then drive back to the airport when it was time to fly home.
It probably would have been quicker and cheaper to drive from Munich, because the traffic in Paris is an absolute NIGHTMARE! It took us two hours just to get through the ring road in Paris and there is no alternative route.
It also meant we had to return back to Paris earlier than we had planned to allow for the traffic chaos (it ended up being a straight run through but we didn’t want to risk missing our flight home).
Alternatives to driving from Paris
You do need a car to get around Loire Valley, and a Loire Valley road trip is one of the most scenic ways to see the vineyards and tapestries of fields as you get from A to B, so you will want to hire a car and drive, but you just want to avoid driving in Paris.
So we recommend you go from Charles de Galle, get the train down to Montparnasse and rent a car from there.
You will skip the insane Paris traffic as it’s below the ring road and should get out of the city pretty easily. You can get a rental car from any location south of the ring road.
You could also get a train down to Tours and then rent a car from there. Use Trainline to book train tickets and Discover Cars to hire a car. A car is the most flexible option for exploring the castles of the Loire Valley.
How long should you visit the Loire Valley for?
It’s worth spending at least 2-3 days in the Loire Valley region. I would have liked to have done some bike riding and wine tasting experiences (but we drank a lot on our European river cruise and were all wined out!) and possibly seen a few more castles.
We enjoyed visiting three of the best castles in the Loire Valley so we did not get overwhelmed. It felt like a very relaxing two days in the Loire Valley.
We focused our trip on one region of the Loire Valley – Tours, which is quite central, and close to many of the chateaus.
Some people visit the Loire Valley just for the day on tours leaving from Paris. This is an option if you just want to visit a few castles, although it would be a big day and I’d be worried about traffic consuming a lot of it. But, if that’s all you have time for, here are a few tours to choose from.
- Full-Day Loire Valley Chateaux Tour to Châteaux Chambord, Chenonceau, and Cheverny. See rates and availability.
- Loire Valley Castles Day Trip With Wine Tasting: Visit Chateaux Chenonceau and Chambord and the quaint town of Blois. See rates and availability.
- Small-Group Loire Valley Castles Full-Day Tour. Visit Chenonceau, Chambord, and Amboise. See rates and availability.
Best Time to Visit Loire Valley
The best time to visit would be in Spring time. The weather in April and May is warm but not too hot, and you also beat the summer crowds.
The weather is also pretty good in September and October, but just make sure you visit after the schools have returned in September so you can avoid the rush of tourists from Europe.
Things To Add To Your Loire Valley Itinerary
Now you know how to get there and how much time to spend, it’s time to map out your Loire Valley itinerary. Make sure to check out the following attractions and highlights!
1. Visit Three of the Best Chateaus in the Loire Valley
I know you want to make the most of your time and visit every single castle in the Loire Valley. Well, there are over 300 of them so that’s an exercise in burnout.
You will have a far better time, if you focus on just a few of the most beautiful and explore them at a slower pace while doing interesting things like wine tasting, horse-riding, and kayaking!
We don’t think you could get any better than these French chateaux in the Valley of the Kings.
Château de Chambord: UNESCO Grandeur
I was concerned that since we had spent an entire day at the Palace of Versailles – some would argue the best chateaux in France – I was worried, I would be ho-hum about these smaller castles in the Loire Valley.
But, no, I was quite impressed by the magnificence of Château de Chambord, which is renowned for its stunning blend of French medieval and Italian Renaissance styles.
There are many reasons, Chambord is considered one of the best chateaus in the Loire Valley.
It’s the largest of the castles, has UNESCO World Heritage Site status, its park is as vast as inner Paris, and is the largest enclosed park in Europe, and you can visit 60 of its 426 rooms!
With its fairy tale-like turrets, grand facades, and stunning landscapes it’s a photographer’s dream, so leave enough time to capture it from all the angles!
Much of the castle’s Renaissance-style design has been attributed to the innovation and imagination of Leonardo da Vinci. The most fascinating of which is the iconic double helix staircase in the center of the castle, which was inspired by nature’s spiraling forms.
The inside of the castle is quite sparse with furnishings and decor which is meant to accurately represent how it was during the time it was occupied by the French Kings. It served as a royal resilience and hunting lodge, notably for King Francois I.
I also loved walking around the rooftop terrace with its fairytale-like turrets, sky windows, and towering chimneys, and panoramic vista of the park and gardens.
There are many activities to enjoy on the castle’s grounds including renting boats on the lake, riding bikes around the property, or walking along the many trails.
We grabbed a quick take-out lunch from a bakery (boulangerie) in the small town near the Chateau before arriving. Had I known, there was a tiny village, Place Saint-Louis, under the castle that had a few eateries, and an ice cream shop. I would have eaten here to further soak up the regal energy. They weren’t too badly priced.
If you’re looking to do some wine tasting in the Loire Valley, allow room in your itinerary to do it here at Maison des Vins on the Place Saint-Louis in Chambord.
As we were wined out, we skipped it, which I regret. Chambord wines are natural, produced using organic eco-certified methods, with no added sulfites or artificial yeast. They are harvested by hand. I did pick up a bottle of white to take home as a gift for our pet sitter!
You can also stay at Relais de Chambord, a small luxury hotel, right near this castle.
Château de Chenonceau
Okay, this is the stuff fairytale castle dreams are made of. If there is one thing in the Loire Valley you must not miss it, a scenic canoe ride beneath the arches of Château de Chenonceau, a fairytale castle straddling the Cher River.
It’s an enchanting and unforgettable experience that allows you to appreciate the château’s beauty from a unique vantage point. It’s one of the best chateaux in the Loire Valley for couples looking for romance!
The château’s elegant façade and lush gardens create a picture-perfect scene, and the reflection in the water adds to its charm.
It was very difficult for me to find information on how to do this, so consider reading this post as a part of your lucky France travel planning day!
There are various canoe trips available ranging from half-day paddles down the river to short paddles departing from the rental location.
We recommend doing this first before exploring the castle. You’ll beat the crowds and the heat and you couldn’t ask for a better first impression.
We rented a 4-person Canadian canoe and opted for the short paddle, which typically takes around 1-2 hours to return (4km)
It’s an easy paddle and starts with only views of the river banks. Soon you’ll turn the corner and see the elegant facade of the “floating” chateau as it spans the Cher River.
Then you can paddle up and under the bridge and around the castle’s moat enjoying the views from every possible angle.
The only operator I found was Canoe Company. Located 2 km down the river from the castle. Their website was confusing and I didn’t know what tour or experience to book. I think it’s a translation issue on the website, it seems like they call the canoe trail a Walk!!
So we just showed up, arriving after breakfast, and hoped for the best. They had plenty of canoes available for rent and a group guided tour was about to go out. I still don’t know what time they run and how long they go for. You can also rent bikes and kayaks from here.
They have a terrine bar Bistrot Quai overlooking the Cher with tables in the garden under our willow. It might be a nice spot for a bite to eat after your canoe trip.
We stopped at a creperie in the small village of Chenonceaux just outside the entrance to the castle, which we were exploring next!
While Chambord was grand and impressive, Chenonceau was warm, inviting, and elegant. You could tell that this Loire Valley castle had a feminine touch.
It’s often referred to as the “Ladies’ Château” due to its association with prominent women throughout history including Catherine de’ Medici and Diane de Poitiers, who added their own touches to the château’s design and gardens.
The château’s picturesque setting, with its reflection in the river and charming gardens, creates a romantic ambiance that captivates.
As soon as you walk down the long avenue of trees, you feel the magic of this place. Forest and gardens filled with mazes and flowers, and secret walled gardens with draping willows line either side of the avenue.
Your timed entry ticket to tour the palace will determine whether you explore these before or after.
Tour the lavishly decorated rooms, including the Green Study, the chapel, the Catherine de’ Medici Gallery, the underground kitchens, and the Royal Chamber. Each room is a testament to the château’s rich history and opulence.
Most of the rooms offer great views of the river and gardens and all the boaters, kayakers, and canoeists paddling down the river.
I particularly liked walking through the Gallery which is within the arched bridge river that we canoed under.
You can walk out to the forested banks on the other side for more great views of the castle. It’s amazing how different this castle looks from all the different viewpoints.
Spend as long as you like strolling through the beautifully landscaped gardens, enjoying the flowers, fountains, and tranquil pathways. I liked the gardens far more here than at Chambord (like Versailles, I found them underwhelming)
We did attempt to do some wine tasting in the Domes Wine Cellar, but one was already in progress, and there was no one attending the desk to give us information on how we could join the next one or when it was. We ended up leaving as the girls were tired.
Château du Clos Lucé: The House of Innovation
Wow! That’s all I can say about the unexpected beauty and uniqueness of Château du Clos Lucé.
It’s a more softly-spoken beauty than the other Loire Valley castles. While I loved the grandeur and elegance of the other castles, the modest pink brick stone chateau was the one I could imagine myself living in, especially with its serene wooded gardens.
Don’t just take my word for it though. Follow the footsteps of one of the greatest minds of all time – Leonardo Da Vinci.
What makes this Loire Valley chateau unique – and unmissable – is that it’s where Leonardo da Vinci spent the final three years of his life. He arrived upon invitation from Francis I, where he could live freely to work, think, and dream.
He bought with him the Mona Lisa, the Virgin and Child with Saint Anne, Saint John the Baptist, and all his manuscripts. This is how these masterpieces ended up on display in the Louvre.
Leonardo was raised in the hills of Tuscany and had a deep connection to nature which inspired many of his drawings and inventions. The gardens on the estate were an important place for him to spend time. Gigantic-sized recreations of his paintings and drawings hang from the trees and are immersed in the forests and wetlands of the gardens.
There’s also a fun and educational walk along a landscaped trail that showcases his major inventions. It’s quite clever how they’ve created these life-size interactive machines based on his imaginings and drawings.
Even better, younger children will love collecting a scavenger hunt booklet upon entering the chateau grounds, which will help them engage with his different inventions and learn more about them.
Chateau du Clos Luce is especially valuable to visit with kids, especially if you homeschool. It’s the immersive learning experience all parents search for.
When we visited, there was also a special exhibition that took you through his anatomical investigations, including a room set up with 3D models to reflect the dissection of dead bodies he frequently did to learn about – and create detailed sketches of – the human body.
Much smaller than the other French chateaux, there are only a few rooms to visit in the 15th Century Clos Luce, which have been restored to reflect Da Vinci’s time in the castle.
You can tour the bedroom where he lived and took his last breath and the workshop where he imagined and created.
There is also an entrance to an underground passage, which legend says leads to the Royal Castle of Amboise that Francis I would use to visit Da Vinci daily.
Chateau du Clos Luce is the best castle in the Loire Valley for those who love science, invention, nature, and imagination.
Other Loire Valley Chateaus to Visit
Remember to choose your castles carefully, to avoid AFC overwhelm. Choose something unique and interesting to do in each one, so it’s not just wandering the halls of another opulent chateau wondering how they got away with leading such affluent lives when so many were starving.
Oh yeah, it’s called the French Revolution – I’ll show you the cake!
If you have more time, or insist on packing in more of the Châteaux de la Loire, here are a few other notable chateaus we had on our possible list.
- Château de Chaumont sur Loire dates back to the 10th century when it was originally constructed as a fortress strategically perched atop a hill overlooking the Loire River and the town of Chaumont. The château is renowned for its stunning gardens and the annual International Garden Festival, which attracts landscape designers from around the world, who create innovative and artistic garden displays.
- Château de Cheverny is famed for its opulent interiors and its role as an inspiration for Captain Haddock’s Marlinspike Hall in the Tintin comic books. It stands as the sole family-occupied château accessible to the public.
- Château de Villandry is famous for having some of the most beautiful and meticulously maintained Renaissance gardens in France, including stunning parterres, water features, and vegetable gardens.
- Château du Rivau feels like it’s straight out of a storybook with its turrets, pointed roofs, and romantic gardens including a stunning rose garden with over 450 varieties, whimsical topiary sculptures, and vibrant flowerbeds.
- Château d’azay le Rideau is a small and quaint chateaux that is renown for being one of the best examples of early French renaissance architecture.
- Château d’Ussé a beautiful castle that’s said to be the inspiration for the story of Sleeping Beauty.
2. Visit The Vibrant Place Plumereau
“How did we miss this?” Craig and I said as we turned the corner and stumbled upon Place Plumereau.
The evening before found a cute small street filled with international restaurants and a fun atmosphere. Well if you turn right, you will come across Place Plumereau, which takes it to another vibrancy level.
Even if you don’t stay in Tours, I recommend spending at least one evening in Place Plumereau.
Place Plumereau, also known as “Plumereau Square” or simply “Plum,” is a picturesque and historic square surrounded by half-timbered houses, many of which date back to the 15th and 16th centuries.
It was once used for executions during the Middle Ages and has witnessed many important events in Tours’ history.
These beautifully preserved buildings give the square a unique and enchanting atmosphere and draws in locals and tourists with its multitude of lively cafes, bars, and restaurants on the square and the surrounding cobblestone streets.
It’s an ideal spot to enjoy a leisurely meal, sip on a glass of local wine, or simply people-watch.
On our last evening, the girls stayed in the hotel with takeout (their choice) and Craig and I went into Tours, starting with a pre-dinner Aperol Spritz, and ending with a wine in Plumereau Place. And in between we enjoyed ….
3. Have A Delicious Prix Fixe Meal at Chez Tonton
We thought Place Plumereau was fun just on its own, but Tours really opened up for us as we started walking the streets surrounding the square.
It’s restaurant after restaurant along cute cobblestone streets, in between old stone churches and towers, market squares, and outdoor theaters.
That’s where we ended up, near a small market and church watching people stream into the Ukraine fundraising concert across from our patio table at Chez Tonton.
The owner of this restaurant told us Tours has more restaurants per capita than any other place in Europe!!
It really is an incredible place for dining and the atmosphere is buzzing so find one to suit your fancy. We can’t recommend Chez Tonton enough; it was where we had our best meal in France.
What is very common in Tours are restaurants that serve 2 or 3-course prix fixe menus.
Some are quite pricey, but Chez Tonton was more than reasonable with two courses for only €23 There’s no way you’d get similar quality of food at that price in the US for just one course!
And the servings were huge.
As it was our last night on our Europe trip we celebrated with a great bottle of local wine, and a two-course meal.
I had eggplant parmigiana (appetizer) and Salmon with soy ginger sauce for the main and Craig and beef and potatoes with a creamy herb sauce
Loire Valley Towns to Visit
With your less is more approach, you won’t have time to see every town, but there are two main towns you shouldn’t skip off your Loire Valley itinerary.
Only streets away from Chateau du Clos Luce is Amboise, a picturesque village nestled along the banks of the Loire River.
This magnificent Château Royal d’Amboise, home of French Kings for five centuries, sits on a rocky cliff 40m above the town and river.
If you’re up to checking another castle off your list, this château is known for its exquisite architecture, beautiful gardens, Loire Valley views, and historical significance.
We decided to skip the castle and instead stop in for lunch and a short river walk. We visited on a Sunday, so most of the stores were closed, but Amboise had some cute pedestrian streets, stores, and patisseries you may also want to explore.
Many restaurants line the small street underneath the castle. Walk along until you find one that suits your style. We chose a totally wrong dish – our sausage meal did not come out like we hoped – more like hot dogs. Gross.
So choose wisely and perhaps try some local dishes or some of the region’s famed wines.
A popular destination for wine tasting, which was on my list, is Caves Ambacia. You can tour the cellars and sample a variety of wines, including the local wines of the Loire Valley. See rates and availability here.
If you visit on the right day, you can explore Amboise’s lively markets, where you can sample fresh local produce, cheeses, and artisanal products.
As mentioned, we stayed in Tours, and loved having this as our base to return to and enjoy evening hours.
Tours boasts a long and storied history, dating back to when it was part of the Roman Empire due to its important crossing point over the river Loire. It was also an important center during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
We didn’t have time to visit any of the attractions in Tours, but you can visit several museums, including the Musee des Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts Museum) and the Museum of Natural History.
The stunning gothic Cathedral of Saint Gatie is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, with its magnificent stained glass windows and intricate sculptures.
The medieval Château de Tours witnessed important historical events such as the marriage of Marie d’Anjou to future king Charles VII and Joan of Arc’s return after leading the French to defeat the English army at Orléans.
One of the best coffees we had on our Europe trip was at Le Petit Atelier in Tours
The Loire River is particularly beautiful here with small islands in the middle of it, and we saw several people swimming in the river in the afternoon hours.
Tours is often referred to as the “Garden of France” due to its lush parks and gardens. Jardin des Prébendes d’Oé is a great spot to relax amidst lush greenery.
Where to Stay in Loire Valley: Tours
We decided to stay in the student-centric town of Tours. Tours is nestled in a great central location with easy access to many of the Loire Valley Chateaux.
I heard such mixed reviews about it that I was unsure if it was a good decision. We were debating over Tours and the much smaller nearby village of Amboise.
We decided on Tours, as we found a Chateau in Tours we could stay in using our mileage points. Because, when in the Loire Valley…. stay in a chateaux.
Be warned as soon as we checked into Château Belmont The Crest Collection, we realized it was kinda like lipstick on a pig thing.
Firstly, it was wonderful and our room for a family of four was very spacious and lovely. We also had access to a small wellness spa with a sauna. But, our room was in a modern hotel-style wing that had been added to the property, not in the chateau.
The actual Chateau Belmont is quite small, so to stay in the rooms within the chateau would have cost a lot more money. The chateau itself is pretty, the grounds lovely and there is a restaurant inside which had a lovely chateau feel – although quite pricey.
The chateau is on a small hill behind gates, so it does feel secluded. However, it was further out of Tours than we thought – only a ten minute drive and a thirty-minute walk. We would have loved to have been closer walking distance to Old Town Tours as it was pretty cool. See rates and availability for the Chateau Belmont here.
We did visit Amboise on our last day of this itinerary, and while I liked its small village charm, we are glad we stayed in Tours.
We found it a more vibrant place more suited to our personalities. See available properties for Tours, for Amboise, and for the Loire Valley. You can also use the map below to help you find the best Loire Valley hotel in the ideal location for you.
Final Thoughts on a Two Day Loire Valley Castle Trip
With this guide, you can map out the perfect 2 day Loire Valley itinerary, which will give you a taste of the Loire Valley’s remarkable châteaus, rich history, and gastronomic delights. Make sure to savor every moment of your journey through this captivating region.
If you have a little extra time, choose another unique castle to visit, or consider a fun activity like wine tasting, or bike riding along the Loire Valley.
While we had a tired and rocky start, but we created some wonderful memories as a family. The key was choosing a relaxed pace and avoiding Chateau fatigue.
Group Tour of Loire Valley, France
If you don’t want to tour this region on your own, and wish to incorporate other destinations in France, we highly recommend Globus Tours. They’re a long term partner of ours! You can see their Loire Valley tours here. And don’t forget our special discount below.
GLOBUS DISCOUNT JUST FOR YOU!
We’ve secured an exclusive yTravel discount: Save $100 per person on select 2023 and 2024 Globus and Avalon Waterway Vacations. Use the code: YTRAVEL when booking online at the Globus, Cosmos, and Avalon Waterways websites, by calling Globus and Avalon Waterways directly, or booking with a preferred Travel Advisor. Terms & Conditions.