This is the land of fairytales. From the time the Loire Valley was the home of the country’s royals, the stretch of 170-miles in central France is filled with hundreds chateaux (castles). It is difficult to choose which sites to include in your itinerary due to the sheer number of places, as I discovered from my week-long road trip through beautiful, flower-filled countryside. Here’s what you can do in France’s Loire Valley, from Sancerre to Tours.
The medieval village is situated on a hilltop and is surrounded by vineyards stretching as far as the eye can view. That’s Sancerre. It is located on the eastern edge the Loire Valley, just two and a half hours train from Paris. The nearest train station is Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire, from which there is a shuttle that takes you to the village. Renting a car is as simple for tourists. There are many rental car companies in Gien. You can also find dainty French GIEN china dinnerware in the town. They also deliver.
The Maison des Sancerre offers information about Sancerre wines
Top wine experts praise the Sancerre region as the home of French Sauvignon Blanc wines. They are known for their fresh white fruit notes. Take a self-guided tour of the Maison des Sancerre interactive displays to learn more about Sancerre wines. This includes a 3-D animated ride that follows a bee through the wine-making process. It is especially fun for children. On the terrace overlooking the vineyards, enjoy a glass Sancerre, Bien sur.
Brush up on your plant names at Chateau de la Bussiere
Chateau De la Bussiere, the birthplace of Laure Bommelaer is located on a lake that she used to paddle when she was a child. A tour with her will give visitors an inside look at what it takes to run a chateau today.
Laure and Bertrand, her husband, took over her parents’ business in 2012 and worked hard to restore the castle and add guestrooms on the top floors of the main chateau. These rooms look out onto the lake below and the forested surroundings.
Bussiere was built in the 12th Century. It had been originally constructed with ramparts. A musketeer purchased it and made it a more relaxed place. It’s now a full-fledged museum for fishing with impressive displays of memorabilia dating back centuries. This includes a rare specimen coelacanth, an ancient fish whose fins look almost like human limbs. Even though I am not a keen angler, the quirky features of this place will entice even the most uninterested visitors.
The rest of the chateau is available for visitors if that fails to do the trick. There’s a small circular library, a large dining room, and a table with rotating displays from the finest Gien China.
Notable are the gardens at Bussiere. There are many things to see in the gardens at Bussiere, which were designed by Edouard André and Le Notre, both renowned landscape artists. The 18th-century vegetable and flower garden has 42 varieties of apples. It is lovingly maintained by a team gardeners who have an enviable glow at-one with nature.
Get on a bicycle and meet the Loire’s winemakers
The pandemic taught us one thing: to slow down and enjoy the small things in life. For centuries, the Loire’s followers have preached slow tourism. It’s easy to see why. The cycling route, which runs approximately 500 miles from Nevers at the Loire-Burgundy frontier to Saint Brevin at the Atlantic Ocean, is a great example of this. Map your route combining chateaux and wineries like Domaine des Pierrettes, where the personable Annick Dubreuil will welcome you with her stock of professor-turned-wine-maker tales inspired by how she and her husband became self-taught winemakers. You should book your wine tastings and tours in advance, as some winemakers may only be open to the public on request.
Chateau de Pelesselieres has a huge abandoned chapel and two-tone irises.
“I spend wonderful afternoons in my backyard, watching all the life around me. Emile Zola said, “As I age, I feel that everything is slipping away and I love every detail more.” You can see him wearing thick-rimmed glasses, skinny jeans and knee-high rubber boots as he walks through his garden, taking in every single flower and tree as if it were the first.
Pascal first saw the Chateau de Pesselieres with its 55 acres in 2005. The chateau and its river had fallen into ruin, with its largest and oldest trees barely visible. He tells us that “it was love at the first sight.” He was right to persevere. The remains of a centuries old garden were revealed beneath the shrubbery. Pascal and his family, as well as a dedicated team of gardeners, have worked tirelessly to restore Pesselieres’ original beauty.
Officially listed as one the most extraordinary gardens in France, visitors can relax to the sounds of birdsong and the light breeze. Time seems to magically disappear as you look for subtler colors and aspects of the natural world.
You will pass an abandoned chapel, which is currently home to an elusive owl. The castle’s maze, rare box trees and giant irises in different seasons (end of May) can be admired. Also, visit the kitchen garden which was recreated in 18th-century style. Pesselieres, a labor of passion with a story that may inspire you to pursue your dreams, is not on the Loire Valley checklist.
Stay: Get pampered at Les Sources de Cheverny
You won’t find many places to stay in Sancerre. But, if you drive further away from Cheverny, there are plenty of converted chateaux and guest houses that can be used as a place to stay the night. Les Sources de Cheverny is one such place.
Les Sources de Cadalie, a retreat on the Smith Haut Lafitte wine farm outside Bordeaux, has been reimagined as a cozy new location for their guests who want to escape the hustle and bustle of Paris. Alice Tourbier’s Les Sources de Cheverny, like their Bordeaux property, is based on a wellness component that includes vinotherapy. This is tied to Alice’s beautiful-smelling Caudalie Vinotherapy skincare line, which contains grape seed extract, with anti-ageing and antioxidant properties. Cheverny, which is located in the land of castles has the added benefit of having a restored chateau with a few guestrooms and a spa. There are also a few chill-out areas with an honesty bar, record player, and other amenities.
You can choose from one of the rooms or the wooden bungalows located in the meadow near the small lake. The rooms are open-plan and have a wooden deck on which you can receive a breakfast hamper each morning.
The spa, like at Les Sources de Caudalie is the reason d’etre. The signature en massage will massage your hands, feet and legs until you feel as if you are walking on air. This is a great way to start slowing down. Then, enjoy a relaxing session in the jade-green pool while the forest serves as your backdrop. Slip on some wellies and walk the dirt track through the trees if you are able to get up from your deck chair. For sunset, follow the path that leads past the cluster of rooms and onto 17 acres of vineyards. Watch everything turn golden as the sun sinks below the horizon.
It’s tempting to lounge in a bathrobe and ride from pool to pool, but instead opt to rent a bike to explore the area. Cheverny village can be reached by a 20-minute drive. The chateau that inspired Tintin’s Tintin illustrator Herge’s Marlinspike Hall ( Chateau des Moulinsart in French) is also within reach.
After your exploration, enjoy dinner at L’Auberge (a barn-like restaurant) that serves simple, but delicious, and local produce such as pork belly or lamb grilled.
Blois, the capital of the Loir–et-Cher region, is a hillside town on the Loire River with a late Gothic cathedral pinned at its cobblestone centre.
Chambord is the largest chateau among them all.
It is the largest castle in the Loire Valley. With its staggering size (426 rooms and 282 fireplaces, and no less that 83 staircases), unique Renaissance architecture and a medieval edge, it is undoubtedly the most magnificent. Chambord is the perfect chateau.
It was completed in 1547 by a mysterious architect, believed to be Leonardo da Vinci. King of France Francis I commissioned it. He is the king who put Loire Valley on (royal) maps.
Chambord, the largest of the Loire castles, has magnificent artworks from Chateau de Compiegne and the Louvre that are displayed in its lavishly decorated rooms. The incredible double helix stone staircase is worth a visit. It allows you to ascend one side of the building without being seen from the other.
Blois Chateau’s half in, half out staircase can be climbed
The Royal Chateau de Blois, another chateau, has a different style of architecture. It is cathedral-like and contains many buildings that were built over four centuries. This rich collection of French architecture offers a wide variety of examples. It is located in Blois’ city center and is well-known for its host of several French kings.
Joan of Arc was also blessed here in 1429, before she set off with her army to drive out the English from the French city of Orleans. It is also one of few chateaux with more rooms than Chambord (more 500), and 100 bedrooms each with a fireplace. The indoor-outdoor stone staircase, which allowed the king to see the whole court every time he climbed the stairs, is one of the highlights.
Take a look at Beauregard’s stunning portrait gallery
Next, we will be taking a detour from the beaten path with a stop at Chateau De Beauregard. It offers a glimpse into the life of a chateau with all its difficulties and ambiance, and is far from the touristy chateaux.
The castle, which was once the residence of a king’s minister, was built by a Secretary to State to King Henri I in 1545. It has been owned by the Gosselin family ever since 1925. Today, Guy of Cheyron Pavilion is a family member and lives in the chateau along with his wife and their two children. He also oversees its restoration.
Beauregard’s landmark is the Galerie des Illustres (17th-century gallery of portraits). It is the largest European gallery of portraits and measures 26m long. There are 327 portraits of famous people who lived between 1328-1643.
Beauregard’s gardens are surrounded by forest and are a great place to picnic. You won’t run into any noisy groups. Guy and his wife organize many events throughout the year. Antoine Schneck, a photographer with a high aesthetic sensibility, has his huge portraits adorn the walls of the chateau’s dining room. They echo the gallery des illustres but have a playful edge. Beauregard and its outhouses are also available for rent.
In the heart of the Old Town, dine at Le Petit Honfleur
Blois is close by, so Le Petit Honfleur, with its half-timbered façade (a nod towards Normandy’s architecture, where you will find Honfleur) is worth the stop.
The tiny wooden deck is hidden in the narrow streets of Blois’ old city. Diners travel from all over to enjoy the creative Normandy recipes of Chef Mickael Foubert, who uses only seasonal, local produce. The chef says that the place was taken over by the new owner after the former owner had retired. The concept is different now. It is based on low carbon footprints, zero waste principles, and a short farm-totable circuit.
After working in various restaurants in Paris, Mickael and wife decided to settle in the Loire region in 2019 with their two children.
You can make a courgette cappuccino, with crunchy hazelnuts, followed by a veal blanquette with risotto and a modern version of lemon tart.
Stay: Enjoy a Chateau All to Yourself at Les Grotteaux
My job allows me to visit many hotels, possibly hundreds. Les Grotteaux is easily in my top 10 list for France. It is one of those rare places where the owners are able to welcome guests in a way that is different from the more popular and trendier spots.
When Anne-Cecile and Gael were searching for a house to renovate in the area, they came across Les Grotteaux. While it was larger than they expected, the attraction to bring life back to this beautifully maintained mansion proved too compelling for the highly intuitive hoteliers.
This hotel is a landmark. It’s impossible not to list them all. This hotel is known for its stunning setting. Picturesque Les Grotteaux, a small chateau built as a library, is located in acres of gardens along its own river with a bridge.
You will feel completely immersed in your own chateau scene thanks to the exquisitely renovated interiors.
The perfect combination of Gael’s passion about the history and area, combined with Anne-Cecile’s exquisite taste in interior design make this the ideal home. The two living rooms are filled with light and feature a unique blend of British-meets–Gallic country chic. Cashmere throws in the living room and handwoven cushions that the couple collected on their travels make the space feel brighter. The five other rooms have muted tones. One even features a fresco dating back to the 1600s when the chateau was built.
Bed and breakfast – Anne-Cecile and Gael are more than happy to arrange dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant nearby. They can arrange anything you need for your guests, including massages and chateaux visits with some of the best guides around. There are tennis courts, an outdoor pool that is a good size and has a house with its own poolhouse. This makes it easy to spend a day at the chateau.
The medieval market town of Amboise, located along the banks the Loire River, is a charming spot that attracts people to its narrow streets and its chateau. It also offers a view of the Loire River from the top of the last tower. There are other attractions nearby such as Loire poster child, the Chateau De Chenonceau. Also nearby is the Clos Luce where Leonardo da Vinci lived his final years. The Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire which boasts exceptional art installations by award-winning artists.
The river is the best place to see the Chateau De Chenonceau
You must do one thing when you’re in the Loire Valley: Get in an electric self-drive boat to glide upstream on the River Cher to the stunning Chateau De Chenonceau, to see its white and shining facade as you turn around the last river bend.
The stone structure looms majestically over the river, its arches soaring above the water and perfectly placed towers. It was built in the late 1500s and modeled in a late Gothic or early Renaissance style. Catherine de Medici reportedly used it as her favorite place to live. She liked to take a dip under the castle’s arches.
It is the second most visited French chateau after Versailles. You can rent a boat to go drifting upriver with La Belandre, which will take you to the castle.
Enjoy the sun along the river at Les Caves Duhard
This beachy restaurant is perfect for lunching with fish and cold cuts. It’s located under stylish parasols that look out onto the Loire River. Pascal Mineau, a Loire native and sommelier, is all about local produce.
The Caves Duhard are also known as the Caves Ambacia. They are nestled inside a massive rock face, or a “troglodyte cellar,” if that’s what you want. Pascal took over the building and completely restored it. It’s now a stage where the region’s finest produce is showcased, as well as Pascal’s own wine from the best vineyards. Pascal is one of the most sought-after wine “editors” in the world. The boutique sells a few Caves Duhard-stamped bottles as well as vintages from 1874 and mustard, ham, and other delicacies.
Pascal is passionate about quality and sharing the wonders and beauty of the Loire Valley. He has created an interactive circuit that takes visitors through underground wine cellar tunnels to learn more about the region’s history, winemaking and culture.
For a final stop, grab lunch outside or upstairs at the indoor restaurant with wrap-around windows overlooking the water.
Step into Leonardo da Vinci’s old atelier at Clos Luce
The Clos Luce was Leonardo da Vinci’s final home. It is a modest chateau, but it is just as charming and charming as the blockbuster movies. Leonardo was invited to live here by King Francis I of France, his most famous patron. The Loire Valley was established under Francis I’s rule as a land of the kings. In 1519, the Clos Luce was home to the Italian master.
Carol, a Leonardo expert from the area, will accompany you to the chateau. He will paint a vivid picture not only of Leonardo’s final years but also of Loire Valley’s glory days as the Land of Kings.
You can see where the inventor-artist slept, painted and carried out scientific experiments. Follow the Clos Luce’s newly opened 5,380-sq. The museum and cultural center are located across the street from the garden. It will be possible to see 17 of Leonardo’s most famous works projected on the walls.
Enjoy the Loire River Views from Amboise Chateau
The former royal palace boasts chambers that feature paintings and sculptures dating back to the 16th century. However, the highlight of the Chateau d’Amboise is a view of the river from its highest tower.
You can stroll the gardens, which are meticulously designed and host many events during the summer months. For those who prefer a little more edge, you can visit the dungeon. Its cold white walls are covered with graffiti that was left behind by prisoners here hundreds of years ago. A small chapel is located on the site, where experts are not able to confirm that Leonardo da Vinci remains are buried.
The self-guided tour with a Histopad is half the fun. This touchscreen tablet gives you lots of trivia and information about the castle. It also scans the rooms in their original state, making the experience more real.
Chaumont-sur-Loire is the perfect place to go art-spotting
This sprawling estate is worth a full day of exploration. It breaks the mold of Loire chateaus with its collection contemporary art installations by award-winning artists such as Jean Dubuffet or Chiharu Shiota.
The castle, which boasts perfectly symmetrical Renaissance-style towers is the stuff of fairytales. Chaumont-sur-Loire is neatly packed between the river and its overhangs. There are acres of grounds where you will find a variety of gardens designed by artists.
The original chateau was built around 1000, and completely rebuilt in the 1400s. It has been in various hands since then. The most notable courtier of Henry II (House de Plantagenet), King from 1154 to 1189, was Catherine de Medici.
The chateau has added a modern twist to the Loire Valley mix by hosting a high-quality exhibition in the chateau, outhouses, and gardens that feature eclectic land art. Henrique Oliveira, Brazilian artist, has created Momento Fecundo a massive tree trunk that winds its way through one of the chateau outbuildings. Chiharu Shiota has created Direction Of Consciousness an installation of suspended thread that evokes the quality of memory. Chris Drury has created Mushroom Cloud a gigantic atomic mushroom made with more than 6,000 dried fungi slices, acrylic. The artist installed it remotely.
Stay: You can stay in Chenonceau’s former coach inn at Auberge du Bon Laboureur
This place is a refreshing escape from the more famous Loire Valley haunts. It has a laid-back atmosphere, strong sense of place and a nearby Chenonceau castle, formerly occupied by scouting inns.
The four-star Auberge du Bon Laboureur was built in 1786. It has a few comfortable and pleasant rooms. They are located in converted ivy-draped buildings. The hotel has been run by the Jeudi family over four generations and for more than 100 years. Their personal taste is evident throughout. It feels more homey than some of its more modern rivals, which have more minimalist interiors and muted colors.
The hotel bar’s beautiful outdoor seating area, surrounded by historic stone buildings, is the highlight. The hotel has its own access to an outdoor swimming pool located in a nearby garden. If you are staying nearby, stop by the gastronomic restaurant to enjoy the French cuisine of co-owner and chef Antoine Jeudi.
The Auberge is also just a 5-minute drive from Chateau de Chenonceau. This is a great option if you are keen to see it from the water.
The capital of Indreet-Loire’s Indre-et -Loire region, tour is located between the Cher river and the Loire river. It’s a vibrant university town and often considered the gateway to the Loire Valley’s castles. The main attraction of Tours is its Saint-Gatien cathedral, which reflects the diversity of architecture in France throughout French history, from Renaissance to gothic.
Chateau of Villandry’s maze will make you lose yourself
The Chateau de Villandry was originally a country home built in 16th-century with a crenellated tower. Its main feature is its sprawling gardens , a la Francaise and photogenic low box hedge maze. It was taken from its owner during France’s Revolution and was so appealing to Napoleon Bonaparte, he purchased it for his brother Jerome Bonaparte. Villandry was purchased by Joachim Carvallo in 1906. He is a Spanish researcher and doctor who restored the structure. The gardens were created in Renaissance style and are still one of the castle’s most prominent features.
Chateau Azay-le-Rideau is a Chateau built on an island
Chateau-de-Azay-le-Rideau, a smaller castle in the Loire Valley that seems to be floating on the Indre, is a 30-minute drive away from Tours. It is well worth the trip. It was built in the early 1500s and is a fine example of French Renaissance architecture with an Italian High Renaissance influence in its facade artwork. It is surrounded by a 20-acre park. In the sunlight, the river glows turquoise against the castle’s white stone.
Stay: Spend some time perched in the forest at Loire Valley Lodges
This place is more than a hotel. It’s a place that aims to re-connect with nature. Loire Valley Lodges was Anne-Caroline Frey’s dream hotel. It is a combination of the best parts from every hotel she has ever stayed in. The result is mind-blowing, and it’s for this very reason.
This hotel is known for its attention to detail, which you won’t find in other hotels. Each space was carefully designed and planned with stress-free urbanites and nature-lovers. It is a seamless experience to stay here. You can enjoy organic coffee and tea made from home, as well as small cups of milk (staunch-tea drinkers)! Personal touches such as hand-picked books, thoughtful notes and a variety of other items that help to bring those who are struggling back to their true essence.
The big box-tickers in each cabin are however the wrap-around windows, which give the illusion that you’re in the trees, as well as the bathroom with a hot tub that you can float in while you look up at the trees that are rustling beneath the blue sky.
Anne-Caroline selected an artist to design each cabin. Some of them have also contributed huge artworks that you can find all over the forest and in the main hotel building. This is the reception area, which also houses a boutique that stocks organic soap and made-in France eau-de- toilette. The back of the restaurant has an outdoor terrace that overlooks a swimming pool. There are also Nordic baths and smart black sun loungers.
You can also take a guided tour of the forest or get a relaxing massage in your own cabin. For a memorable time in the forest, do not forget to ask for directions.
This is a great place to start for reset, taking a deep breath, getting some focus and maybe even making those changes that you have been contemplating through previous lockdowns.