Loire Valley travel guide

Oh là là – the Loire Valley is the epitome of sophistication – its UNESCO-listed portion contains over 300 chateaux and a glut of vineyards. Vacationing here in chateau splendour conjures visions of pre-revolution France: it’s a place where queens had poison cabinets, peasant girls had angelic visions, and Leonardo da Vinci spent his last days at a king’s right hand.
Welcome to the Loire Valley: a place with more chateaux than sense. It’s little wonder this area gets known as the ‘Valley of the Kings’.
Lots of people are here to cross chateaux off their lists, but there’s another side to Loire valley life. The lovely landscape is really great for cycling and walking vacations, and for simply spending time relaxing with your family. At the heart of the Loire valley’s charm is a gentle tussle between tamed and wild: formal French gardens and strict regiments of vineyards live next to deep, dark forests and a wild river. The ‘Loire sauvage’ has fought against the odds, and remains, for now, the last truly wild river in France.
Is/isn't...

The Loire Valley is...

Family-friendly French fun.

The Loire Valley isn’t...

For adrenaline junkies. Make like a royal and take it at a stately pace.

What we rate and what we don’t in the Loire Valley

Underrated

Cottage stays

With a wood burning stove, a stack of local firewood at the back door, and a backyard overrun with chickens and sunflowers, staying in your own cottage can feel wonderfully French. You’ll get privacy and peace and you’ll be able to cook some of the amazing ingredients you pick up in the market.

Cycling

It’s flat, it’s pretty, and there are plenty of excuses to stop: cycling in the Loire Valley is great if you’re less about pedal-to-the-metal étapes, and more interested in cycling from a lovely lunch spot to an even lovelier chateau, with a stop in a cave for a degustation in the middle. You can even hire an E-bike to make things even e-asier.

Family vacations

And baby makes three: take kids on your Loire Valley vacation, this lovely area is very family-friendly. But if you’re bringing the brood, don’t try and take them to three chateaux a day – not everyone will be as interested in facades and gardens as you are. Try canoeing, cycling, horse riding, swimming – and wildlife-spotting.
Rated

Tours

Tours is a lovely city which, despite the name, doesn’t feel tour-isty. This is probably thanks to its size and its large student population. There’s no chateau, but there are two impressive cathedrals and a museum of fine art. The Touraine region is great for wine plus, a number of regional specialties have made their ways into the shops in the town.

Vineyards

The Loire Valley’s 500 mile wine route is the longest in France. Its vineyards are a shade less famous than your Bordeaux or Burgundy bottles, but the wines are generally good value and easy to drink. If you head a little further east from chateau country you can enjoy the celebrated white wines made in Sancerre.

The Chateaux

From Villandry’s gardens to Chenonceau’s unusual arches, from Chambord’s wonderful symmetry to Azay-le-Rideau’s gorgeous setting, the Loire Valley chateaux really are magnifique. But don’t get caught between coach loads of visitors. Admire the big ones from the outside, but spend more time in less-visited, family-owned chateaux for a more personal experience.
Overrated

Chateau fatigue

The practice of seeing two or more chateaux a day can leave you exhausted. There’s really no ‘must-see’ chateau; they’re all pretty marvellous in their own ways. Pick a few that capture your imagination. Your favourite might turn out to be totally tiny – or only half there. Visit Tiffauges, where the ruined chateau was once famously inhabited by Gilles de Rais – the man who inspired the legend of Bluebeard.

High summer in Amboise

The city never wanted to be invaded by the English, let alone the whole world, yet by July the medieval streets of Amboise can be heaving. The same goes for the big-hitter chateaux. Everyone flocks to them in peak season. If you want to see Villandry’s gardens, Chenonceau’s arches and Chambord’s fearful symmetry minus the crowds, go in spring or autumn.

Flying into Tours

The Loire Valley is an hour’s train from Paris on the high-speed TGV. If you can get to Paris by train, you can get to the Loire by train, too. Lots of travelers opt to reach the region by rail; a flight is as unnecessary as it is bad for the environment. Instead, reduce your carbon footprint and get to see a bit of Paris whilst you’re at it.

Our top Loire Valley Vacation

Loire Valley self catering farm cottage, France

Loire Valley self catering farm cottage, France

Perfect Loire Valley country cottage for two

From 560 to750 per cottage per week (sleeps 2-4)
Accommodation
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Loire Valley or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Food, shopping and people in the Loire Valley

Eating and drinking in the Loire Valley

Rillette, a coarse pâté from the region, has made its way onto menus across the world. Rillons de porc – a speciality from Tours, comprises slow-cooked portions of pork belly. It’s less well known, but even more delicious.

Wine – red, white and sparkling – is all produced in the region. The Loire produces enormous quantities of sparkling wine. Crémant is very popular; it’s drier than prosecco, but cheaper than Champagne.

There are no fewer than five goat cheeses produced in the Loire Valley that have a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). These big five really are the real deal, sourced and produced all in the same site, using traditional methods: try Valençay cheese, Chabichou, Crottin de Chavignol, Selles-sur-Cher cheese and Pouligny-Saint-Pierre cheese.

Guinguettes are a local institution. People gather at these riverside bars to drink, eat and socialise. Order a friture comprised of little deep-fried river fish, and maybe do a bit of dancing as the evening progresses. There’s a great one at Tours: La Guinguette De Tours Sur Loire.
Poires tapées, are a local speciality. Pears are dried using an 11th-century method and then thoroughly soaked in wine and honey.

People and Language

Tours French is said to be the ‘purest’ spoken French in the country. Think of it as France’s version of Received Pronunciation. Don’t be outdone by these pure-speaking Tourangeaux, learn a little French to get by: say bonjour to greet people in the morning, bon journée in the day, bonsoir in the evening, or just salut – hi, at any time. And merci is thank you.
A bottle of wine: une bouteille de vin

When does the chateau close? à quelle heure ferme le château?
Famous historical figures passed through the Loire Valley throughout the ages, including Joan of Arc, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Richard the Lionheart and Leonardo da Vinci. The region is very in touch with its history and puts on plenty of historic re-enactments, medieval fairs and shows to help visitors engage with Loire lore. Son et lumière shows, projected on chateau walls in the balmy summer evenings, tell the region’s history with gusto.

Gifts & shopping

Whilst medieval-themed souvenirs besiege you in the chateau gift shops, you might prefer to head to Tours in search of the real thing: the city has streets of antique shops. Elsewhere, little Villaines-les-Rochers makes charming wicker baskets – perfect for your next riverside picnic – by twisting local willow. Look out for shop signs advertising ‘vannerie’ (basketry). And then there’s always wine: you can get some really drinkable bottles for under ten euros.
Leonardo da Vinci arrived in Amboise having travelled by mule across the mountains from Italy. He was 65 years old.

How much does it cost?

A baguette: 90p

A beer: £4

Entry to Chambord: £13

Visiting a cave for wine tasting: Free

A brief history of the Loire Valley

The Loire was an important prehistoric trading route between the Greeks and the Celts, and by 1500 BC the Gauls had moved into the region. Then the Romans came. Julius Caesar conquered the Loire Valley – and indeed the whole of Gaul – in 52 BC. Later, under Emperor Augustus, towns like Orleans, Tours and Angers grew and flourished. Christianity spread in the region in the 3rd century AD. In 397 St Martin, a Roman legionary, died in Candes – he was a deeply influential figure in the region and some say he even brought the first vines to the valley. You’ll still see his name everywhere, lent to schools, churches, towns and roads, and he’s the patron saint of Tours. Read more
Written by Eloise Barker
Photo credits: [Page banner: Daniel Jolivet] [Guide thumbnail: Dorian Mongel] [Is/isn't: Dorian Mongel] [Underrated: Nicolas Boullosa] [Rated: Chabe01] [Overrated: Anna & Michal] [People & language: Philippe49730] [How much?: Lou Stejskal]
Convert currencies