07 October 2016 by Jess Boston
Top 10 recommendations when visiting the Loire Valley
The Loire is the longest river in France and, together with its tributaries, it forms the Loire Valley. The river valley region is a unique and beautiful landscape dotted with impressive chateaux, famous vineyards, historic cities and lush countryside. The whole area was given UNESCO World Heritage site status in 2000.
There are many wonderful places to visit along the Loire river route as it winds across western France to its final destination flowing into the Atlantic Ocean beyond Nantes. You can take a weekend break at one of the cultural cities on its route, explore the chateaux and castles on day trips, take wine tours, follow miles of cycle paths admiring the scenery or even take a river cruise to see the sights from the river itself.
Top 10 Loire Valley attractions
Here are our top 10 recommendations for some famous and not so famous places that you might like to include on your Loire Valley holiday itinerary:
The beautiful Chateau Chenonceau dates back to the 11th century and stretches across the River Cher on delicate arches. Discover a fascinating and scandalous history told out in the buildings and gardens designed by Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici reflecting their bitter rivalry for the affections of Henry II.
One of the most fabulous and flamboyant French castles, Chateau Chambord was designed in the Renaissance style as a hunting lodge for King Francois I. It’s a fairytale castle with beautiful architecture and interiors set in an enormous parkland that includes landscaped gardens, forests and countryside.
Chateau Villandry gardens
Most chateaux have impressive formal gardens, but none more so than Chateau Villandry. The formal gardens with geometric designs lined in low box hedge, ornamental water and flower gardens and even the vegetable garden are a must-visit for horticulturalists.
There are so many vineyards to choose from in the Loire Valley – it’s France’s third largest wine region after all with 70,000 hectares of vines! From niche varieties to famous names like Muscadet and Vouvray you are spoilt for choice!
To narrow things down head for Chinon if you enjoy red wines, Anjou for floral rosé, Sancerre for crisp white wines and Saumur for excellent sparkling wines (although most areas produce several types of wine from different grapes so you will always get a good variety to taste!).
Angers is a must-visit in the Loire Valley, steeped in history it is home to Angers Castle where you can see the incredible Apocalypse Tapestry (the longest tapestry in the world) and Cathedrale St-Maurice with its stunning stained glass windows.
There are also several impressive chateaux just outside the city including Chateau de Serrant and Chateau de Brissac. The city itself is a vibrant mix of architecture from through the ages and the botanical gardens, art galleries, boutiques and restaurants make it a wonderful place to browse and explore.
Once a favourite with the French monarchy Blois has the splendid Chateau Royal at its heart. This gorgeous palace is well worth a visit with the architecture matched by impeccable Renaissance interiors featuring painted ceilings, tiled floors and stained glass. The ‘Son et Lumiere’ show is a tourist favourite.
Away from the castle the narrow medieval streets create a maze filled with boutiques, café s and restaurants to discover. The Magic Museum is very entertaining for adults and children alike…watch out for the cheeky dragons!
Orléans played a pivotal role in the Hundred Years War where Joan of Arc fought with the French army to attack and overcome the British army who were besieging the city. Her success is commemorated with a statue in the city’s beautiful market square.
Browse the market, enjoy a coffee or glass of wine at a pavement café or take a bus or cycling tour of the city. There are two botanical gardens, cathedrals and churches, medieval architecture and even a beach! Charlemagne is the finest beach on the Loire river with golden sand and safe swimming for a proper beach-day far away from the sea!
Get on your bike!
The Loire is lined with over 650km of cycle paths making it the perfect place to take a bicycle adventure! Pack a picnic and make a day of it choosing from riverbank routes that offer beautiful scenery from terrain that’s suitable for casual cyclists and family groups, to more challenging, longer excursions through vineyards, woods and countryside exploring the beautiful nature of the region.
Take a river cruise
Relax as you sail down this famous river taking in the fabulous scenery with its chateaux, vineyards and wildlife. Some cruises even include fine dining or wine-tasting to add to the pleasure! You can find departures from most of the major towns and cities on the river including Nantes, Angers and Saumur.
A particularly special experience is the trip in a traditional replica barge from Chisseaux that sails right under the famous arches of Chateau Chenonceau!
See the caves that made the Chateaux
It’s a lesser known fact that the Loire region is peppered with man-made caves where the stone used to build the famous Chateaux was quarried. La Cave des Roches in Bourré is one of the most impressive – it’s hard to believe the excavations were made using only simple hand tools and the brute strength of the hundreds of villagers that worked here!
Some caves are now used as wine cellars or in cultivating mushrooms, but until the 19th century many were homes with as much as half the population of Saumur living in these troglodyte dwellings. A recent interest in eco-homes and eco-tourism has seen many restored into restaurants, B&Bs or self-catering accommodation.
A fascinating insight into the past of the ‘ordinary’ people who worked so hard to make building the imposing Loire Chateaux possible.