Just two hours southwest of Paris you’ll find the Loire Valley. This UNESCO heritage-listed site spans 280 kilometers along the Loire River and is dotted with hundreds of fairytale castles (aka “chateaux”) and local wineries.
If you’re looking for a beautiful region to road trip in France then the Loire Valley is the perfect place! It’s also a great second destination to add on to a Paris getaway as we did. PS you can read my Paris Travel Guides here.
Our time in the Loire Valley was short and sweet. Even though we had only two days, I still feel like we were able to get a good sense of the region and see many top sites.
Loire Valley France Travel Guide
HOW TO GET THERE
Getting to the Loire Valley is quite easy from Paris.
We chose to rent a car and drive ourselves the two hour trip, however public transportation is an option too. Buses and trains depart daily for Tours– the largest city in the Loire Valley.
However, once you arrive in the Loire Valley you will need to rent a car or hire a driver. The Loire Valley is comprised of many small towns and the famed chateaux and wineries are spread out across the region. A car is necessary to get from place to place! We really enjoyed driving here– the roads were easy to navigate and there wasn’t any traffic or congestion.
What to Wear
We visited in mid-October and temperatures were in the mid 60s fahrenheit. I packed clothing that was similar to what I would wear at home in New York at that time of year. Lots of cozy sweaters, boots that were comfortable for walking (you’ll likely be doing a lot!) and layering pieces.
The Loire Valley is known for its incredible Michelin-star restaurants so I would check the dress code if your itinerary includes any fancy dinners.
Where To Stay
You won’t find many recognizable chain hotels or resorts in the Loire Valley. Bed and breakfasts and converted chateaus-turned-boutique-hotels are more of the norm. Usually we are able to decide on a hotel quite quickly when planning a trip, but we went back and forth on where to stay for our two nights in the Loire Valley.
Our biggest challenge was finding a hotel that was in a convenient location for touring chateaux and wineries, but also had multiple nearby restaurant options for dinner. Since our time in the Loire was so limited, we wanted to avoid any unnecessary driving. During the day we knew to expect 30 mins – 1 hour+ drives between wineries and chateaux, but in the evenings we wanted to be able to go back to our hotel to wash up and be able to drive to dinner in under ten minutes.
After a lot of research, we decided to book a room at Chateau des Arpentis near the medieval town of Amboise. Staying there would allow us to get to many of the top sites in the Loire Valley in under an hour. We’d also be able to have dinner every night at one of Amboise’s handful of highly-rated restaurants. We were also really intrigued by the history of the chateau. The chateau itself dates back to 1313 (!!!) and throughout the centuries it changed hands between many French aristocrats. The 75 acre property is surrounded by a moat in the middle of a forest (totally felt like we were in a movie!) and is incredibly gorgeous. It was restored in 2007 and since then has been open as a boutique hotel.
We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of our room. During our research we noticed that many hotels in the region had sub par reviews and the interiors looked a bit dated. Our suite at Chateau des Arpentis was cozy, very clean and decorated in a traditional style that didn’t sacrifice modern comforts. The hotel also had free wifi, our bathroom had a free-standing shower (not always common in European hotels) and a yummy continental breakfast was included with our stay.
The property manager was also very helpful and spoke English. He was able to answer all our questions, provided us with recommendations of what to do/where to eat and happily called to make all of our lunch and dinner reservations.
What To Do
If you’re visiting the Loire Valley, you’re likely coming to do two things: drink wine and explore the region’s fairytale castles.
Tour Historic Loire Valley Châteaux
The Loire Valley is known as the “Valley of the Kings” for good reason. For centuries it was the playground of French aristocracy looking for a place to relax away from the bustle of Paris. Because of this there are literally hundreds of extravagant chateaux in the Loire Valley– aka 14th century vacation homes. What a life right?
Fast forward to 2019, you’ll find that many of these incredible chateaux are now landmarks open to the public. Since we had just under two days, we decided to focus our time on three different chateaux: Chateau Chambord, Chateau Villandry and Chateau Chenonceau.
^^ The magnificent Chateau Chenonceau
We really enjoyed touring all three, but our favorite was definitely Chateau Chenonceau. It had the most interesting location– literally built on top of the river Cher! The interior rooms were completely restored and styled with furniture and decor that made you feel as if you had stepped back in time to the Renaissance. Even though it was raining on the morning we visited, we still left completely in awe of the grounds and gardens.
The Loire Valley Châteaux We Visited:
+ Chateau Chambord
+ Chateau Villandry
+ Chateau Chenonceau
More Popular Loire Valley Châteaux (if we’d had more time!)
+ Château Royal de Blois
+ Château de Chaumont-sur-Loire
+ Château de Cheverny
+ Château de Amboise
+ Château de Sully-sur-Loire
+ Château d’Azay le Rideau
+ Château du Clos Lucé
Go For A Wine Tasting + Vineyard Tour
While touring chateaux was the priority of our trip, we still wanted to make time to do one wine tasting– ideally at a winery that was also once a historic chateau. There’s no shortage of vineyards in the Loire Valley, but not all can offer a 2-for-1 duo of being a historic castle AND having wine.
Château de Minière hit all the marks for us! It was conveniently located in the Loire Valley town of Bourgueil, between Tours and Saumur, just 25 minutes away from our final chateau tour of the day at Chateau Villandry.
We stopped in without having a reservation and right away were warmly greeted by the winery manager Jean Pierre. Over the next 2.5 hours we indulged in a tasting where we sampled Château de Minière’s red, white and rosé varietals.
Looking for another Loire Valley chateau winery recommendation? During our research Domaine du Closel popped up frequently as a top spot to visit, though I can’t speak to it personally.
Explore The Small Town & Villages Of The Loire Valley
You won’t find this in Paris! The Loire Valley is known for being home to some of the most charming villages and small towns in France. While driving from chateau to chateau we passed through the ones I’ve listed below. We also had dinner every night in the lovely town of Amboise near our hotel.
WHERE TO EAT
Chez Bruno (Amboise) – This was our favorite meal in the Loire Valley! At Chez Bruno we feasted on pumpkin soup, lamb and homemade creme brûlée. The setting and atmosphere of the restaurant was super cozy too!
L’Epicerie (Amboise) – Another delicious dinner spot in Amboise. The menu consisted of traditional French fare where you could order dishes a la carte or a prix fix 4 course. I opted for the latter 😛 They also had the most epic cheese selection for dessert!
Bigot Chocolatier (Amboise) — Ok we didn’t actually eat a meal here but I’d highly recommend stopping in for a sweet treat. Bigot is a famous chocolate shop in the region that’s been owned by the same family for over 100 years!
La Cabane à Matelot (Bréhémont) – Great spot to stop for seafood along the Loire river. It’s only open a few days a week and the menu is very small because the chef cooks whatever has been freshly caught that day! It was all in French so I’m honestly still not sure what we ate, but it was tasty!