13 November 2015 by Jessica Boston
Top 10 Things to Do in the Loire
The Loire is a beautiful region of France. The gorgeous countryside is studded with chateaux and historic sites, there are fields of vines and the rivers are great places for wildlife spotting and recreation. No matter how many times you visit, there will always be something new to see and explore!
To start you off here are ten ideas for places to go and things to do in the Loire:
1. Chateau de Chenonceau
The Loire valley is packed with chateaux, you could fill a whole holiday visiting a different one each day! From battle strongholds to beautiful palaces and intriguing ruins there is so much to see. If you only have time to see one, we’d recommend Chateau de Chenonceau.
Chateau de Chenonceau is a stunning building arching right over the Cher River. Both inside and out, this chateau is a must-see. With a royal history stretching back to the 15th century, Chenonceau passed through the hands of a succession of courtly ladies; Katherine Briconnet, Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici, who each added to and embellished the house and gardens. Take a tour with a free audio guide to hear the full story and discover more about the exquisite furniture, tapestries and paintings that line the rooms.
The grounds are almost as impressive as the chateau with formal gardens designed by Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici, huge flower gardens that contribute to the displays in every room of the chateau, a maze constructed to Catherine de Medici’s original plans and 70 acres of wooded parkland.
In July and August you can see the Chateau by night. Lit up against the darkness it’s an unforgettable sight.
2. Donkey trekking, Tour-en-Solange
It may not be the first thing that comes to mind but a donkey trek is a fabulous way to see some of the nature and impressive chateaux of the Loire valley. Dos d’ane is situated between Chambord and Cheverny and there is a wide choice of trekking routes to choose from ranging from a half-day excursion to more lengthy tours.
The treks are suitable for children as young as two and all equipment is provided. As you wander through the woods with your friendly donkey, you’ll catch glimpses of ancient sites and chateaux making it easy to imagine the people who have lived here through history. Take a picnic and enjoy a peaceful day getting back to nature. With a donkey to lead or ride on (and carry your picnic for you!) it’s a fantastic activity for all the family.
3. Royal City of Loches
The medieval city of Loches is a treat for history lovers. The royal city is surrounded by an ancient wall 4m thick and includes the Anjou family palace that was built around 1200. There is also a castle keep complete with dungeon, and a city centre with cobbled streets and plenty of beautiful architecture.
Visit the imposing ‘Donjon’ or castle keep and explore its many rooms that date back as far as the 900s. There are towers with beautiful views of the valley, atmospheric dungeons and winding stairways to climb.
The Palais is not as grand as other chateaux in the region but its simplicity gives you a fascinating insight into the huge contrasts in architectural style between 1200 and 1700.
The walled city is lined with restaurants, cafes and boutiques and the market on Wednesday and Saturday is a great place to shop or sightsee.
4. Parc des Mini-Chateaux, Amboise
If you want a quick way to see all the famous chateaux of the Loire, you can visit them in miniature at this old-fashioned yet charming park. The chateaux are scale models of the real thing and seeing 45 castles like this really shows what an important and influential area the Loire has been throughout history. It’s a great way to pick which chateau you’d like to see for real.
As well as the models there are landscaped gardens, some smaller rides and activities for children and a restaurant. If you are staying in the area you can save money by getting joint tickets for Parc des Mini-Chateaux and the nearby Touraine Aquarium.
5. Le Parc Aventures, Orleans
This exciting adventure park offers a full day of fun for all the family. There are ten different adventure courses including aerial slides, rope ladders and treetop walkways. Some are smaller courses suitable for younger children or the less confident climber. You can have unlimited access to the equipment for one flat entry fee making it great value for money too.
The park also has a paintball zone and a fantastic aqua park with inflatable assault course and bubble zorbing on the lake, as well as more traditional sailing and canoeing.
6. La Forteresse du Faucon Noir
‘The Black Hawk’ was a name given to the Count d’Anjou Faulk III Nerra, a formidable fighter, crusader and one of the greatest feudal lords. He built this stronghold in 991 making it the oldest dungeon fortress in France. Today you can visit the fortress and get a taste of medieval life by taking part in crafts and viewing demonstrations, duals and re-enactments with blacksmiths, potters, candle makers and knights. See the weapons of the age in action with the trebuchets, swords, armour and crossbows, and take a tour of the gruesome dungeons and torture chamber. A fascinating insight into bygone times with plenty of hands-on activities that really bring the past to life.
7. Visit the vineyards
No trip to the Loire would be complete without a tour of one of the many vineyards there. The valley is home to some of the biggest names in wine including Sancerre, Anjou, Chinon, Muscadet and Vouvray. Many vineyards big and small offer tours and tastings, ask at the local tourist office for details. Chateau Gaudrelle makers of Vouvray wine, Pierre et Bertrand Couly in Chinon and Plou et Fils in Amboise are a few of the producers who are known for providing a great visit. They offer informative tours and presentations explaining the science and heritage of winemaking in the region, enthusiastic wine tasting sessions (often with local specialities to snack on) and are great value for money if you decide to stock up. Go in October if you want to see the grape harvest in progress.
8. Snail Farm, Loir-et-Cher
The Loire region produces some of the best fruit and vegetables in all of France… perhaps unsurprising then that it is also home to an exceptional organic snail farm! Farmer Lisa Lamontre set up the farm and works with local producers to create delicious snail recipes that are available to try at the farm. Tours are by appointment throughout the summer and last around two hours. You’ll get a chance to see the fascinating stages of farming these unusual creatures and finish with a tasting of the farm’s products with a glass of local Pineau d’Aunis Gris.
9. River canoe trips
Whether you are an enthusiast or a beginner, a canoe trip on the Loire or one of its tributaries is a great way to see the region in all its natural glory. From the river you’ll see chateaux, quays, riverside caves used as wine cellars, sand banks, islands and unspoilt countryside that’s home to many wild birds.
There are plenty of companies offering canoe hire or accompanied tours, the easiest routes drop you upstream so you can float down with the current watching the world go by.
10. Cycle the Loire
There is an 800km cycle route stretching along the Loire from the Atlantic coast all the way to Cuffy in Cher. If that seems like a bit of a trek, choose a section that’s more suited to your holiday and pack a picnic for a great day out. The cycle route is well maintained and it’s easy to hire bikes, helmets and anything else you may need. There are themed routes to choose from and information about the area so you can learn about the region and the sights you see on the way.
Contact the local tourist office for details of seasonal events, festivals and markets, and take your pick of the fantastic activities and sightseeing opportunities here to have an unforgettable Loire holiday.