How on earth we pack everything into our France travel guide is beyond me however, pack it all in we do and if you’re looking for what we rate & what we don’t as well as Responsible Travel’s best & worst high and low lights then read on to discover France like a local, cuisses de grenouilles and all.
The Loire Valley map and highlights
Approximately a fifth of the Loire River falls within the prestigious UNESCO-listed Loire Valley region, which sits between the cities of Orleans in the east and Angers in the west, with Tours in-between. Dotted along the river’s length are a whole heap of smaller towns with medieval leanings, geranium-filled window boxes and exposed timber beams. Then there are vineyards, forests and parks. In short: there’s plenty to do once you’ve found your way out of the (literal) maze in the castle grounds. The most famous chateaux in the area are Chateau de Chambord, Chateau de Chenonceau, Chateau d'Azay-le-Rideau and Chateau d’Ussé, plus Chateau de Villandry for its gardens.
Our Loire Valley Holidays
The pretty town of Amboise straddles the Loire, contains two chateaux, and is within arm’s reach of plenty more. It’s got plenty of medieval heft – thanks to twisting streets of half-timbered housing and especially thanks to Chateau d’Amboise, which sits within the town, and adds an extra bustle to its streets. This city really is in the centre of it all and tourists come in droves in summer – in our opinion, it’s best avoided at this time.
This Loire-side city is less central to the valley than Amboise, but perhaps benefits from being quieter. It’s got a chateau – once the seat of the deadly Medici family – a medieval town, and a lovely riverside setting. You can cycle from Blois to Chaumont-sur-Loire in just over an hour.
Chateau de Chambord is a whole destination in itself. Its magnificent design – flawlessly symmetrical, with spindly turrets, makes it a crown in a valley of kings. It has 426 rooms and 77 staircases, plus enormous grounds. Once you’ve made it out of the grounds, in the wider region around Chambord you’ll find the chateaux of Beauregard, Cheverny, Troussay – plus many more. And yes, you’re right – Chambord liqueur is made here.
Not satisfied with just having a chateau, Saumur has the added prestige of being both a centre for delicious sparkling wine production, and for Cadre Noire, a prestigious military riding academy. Saumur is to the west of many of the Loire Valley chateaux, but just an hour’s cycle from Fontevraud Abbey, where a Who’s Who of Medieval celebrities have their tombs.
Approached from the other side of the river, Tours is a splendid sight, its two cathedrals standing tall above a city full of overhanging medieval buildings. It’s the biggest city in the Loire Valley area, and was once the capital of medieval France. In the evenings, the student population spills out across the old quarter’s Place Plumereau, whilst the riverbank is the city’s terrace in summer.
6. Wine villages
There’s more than one map of the Loire Valley. If you prefer Chenin Blanc to Chateaux, you might want to ask for a map of the wine routes. Many of the smaller villages in the valley are centres for beautiful wine – just follow the signs to the nearest ‘cave’ ask for a tasting. Vouvray, just outside Tours, makes a sparkling wine, whilst Chinon concentrates on red.
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More about Loire Valley
The Loire Valley has a continental climate but the river and the Atlantic breeze help stop it becoming horribly hot. It’s lovely and sunny in summer, and not too cold in winter.
The Loire Valley is one of the highlights of France. Along the valley of the country’s longest river lies a rich seam of spectacular castles and pretty towns dating back hundreds of years.
A sleeping beauty, an inventor who wrote backwards, a deadly queen, and a peasant girl who defeated an army: the Loire Valley has centuries of bedtime stories in store.
Less of an athletic endeavour, more a gentle way to explore the châteaux, vineyards and cuisine of France’s Valley of the Kings, Loire Valley cycling holidays are the epitome of active relaxation.
"A well spent day brings happy sleep” is written on the wall at Chateau du Clos Lucé. You’re going to make the most of every day on your Loire Valley walking holiday.
The Loire Valley is chateau central. The accident of geography, battles between armies and the patronage of royal families brought fantastic castles into the area.
The Loire Valley is well used to being admired by travellers, and doesn’t present many challenges to its visitors. It’s easy to reach, easy to get around, and has plenty of splendid hospitality.
Everyone’s here to enjoy the Loire Valley: from the region’s glorious castles to its lovely vineyards, its medieval towns and its pretty countryside.