The Loire valley of France offers a decadent trip full of historic chateaux, traditional vineyards and gourmet outings. No wonder that the region as a whole was named a Unesco World Heritage site. Our 3 day itinerary shows you how to make the most out of your visit.
When to visit: The best time to visit the Loire valley is from April to October. However, be aware that in the months of July and August it can get very crowded because it’s the school’s summer holidays and families take time to travel. We went in the beginning of September and experienced very warm weather with occasional thunderstorms. Usually you can expect temperatures of around 22°C in September with 3-8 days of rain. With zero queues at major attractions and the chateau gardens in full bloom, we found late summer to be the perfect time to travel to the Loire valley.
How to arrive: You can easily fly to the Charles de Gaulle airport (CDG) in Paris and then rent a car to drive down to the Loire valley. You could start your trip from Tours which you would reach in less than 3 hours (240km) from Paris. You could also take the train from Paris Gare d’Austerlitz to Tours and rent a car here. Since we are based in the Netherlands we started our road trip from the Netherlands and drove down to Tours.
Driving in France: We experienced the road etiquette in France to be very good, where rules and speed limits are generally followed (130kph on motorways, 80kph outside built up areas, 50kph main roads within built up areas ). Beware of cyclists sharing the roads with cars. For Paris, take the A86 instead of driving on the boulevard périphérique, the dual-carriageway ring road known for bad traffic. Finally, don’t be surprised when you see French drivers notoriously leaving their indicators on after an overtake when driving on the outer lanes of the motorway. It’s a habit that developed due to the high fines for not using any indicators.
Where to stay: The first part of our trip we have camped at Les Acacias, which is located 8km from the center of Tours and offers tent and motorhome pitches as well as lodge stays. You can find out more about the campsite below. The second part of our trip we spend in a luxurious chateau, namely the Chateau de la Rozelle in Cellettes, which is close to Chateau Chambord, arguably the most famous of the Loire chateaux. If you dream of sleeping in a historic chateau, enjoy some decadent French food in a picturesque French small town, then definitely Chateau de la Rozelle is for you.
For how long to visit: The Loire valley offers a lot. There are so many chateaux, vineyards, cute French towns like Amboise or bigger cities like Orléans or Tours to visit, that you could really expand your trip in order to see everything. However, we just wanted to enjoy a short weekend trip so we opted for 3 days, which offered a condensed form of everything that’s good about the Loire valley.
Day 1: Tours
Arrival & Camping at Les Acacias
The Loire valley is full of campsites. We have decided to stay at Les Acacias due to its close proximity to Tours. The facilities are a bit out-dated but clean. On the grounds you will find a playground, washers, dryers, a reception with a small shop and a pizza automaton with surprisingly good pizza. Beware that the Aldi marked on Google as the closest grocery store does not exist. The same way goes for Auchan, which is just a regional distribution warehouse and not a store. The closest supermarket, which does exist is E. Leclerc. Thank god for the pizza automaton!
Getting to Tours
Unfortunately, Camping Les Acacias no longer rents out bicycles. You have to go to Ride in Tours for that. A daily rental is around €15 or €35 if you want an electric bike. It will take you around 26 mins. to cycle from the campsite to the center of Tours. There is a also a bus stop close-by. Ask the reception for directions or check filbleu, the local bus company. Unfortunately, filbleu was on strike when we visited Tours and the bus schedule was reduced, so do check in advance for possible strikes before you come (they are very common in France).
Cycling to Château de Villandry
We took the bus to Tours and went straight to the tourist center. There we purchased a combi ticket for a bicycle hire and the entrance to the Villandry gardens for only €17 total. This is cheaper than purchasing both separately. It took us a little more than 1 hour to cycle to Villandry. The route was very scenic and with the downloaded app Loire à velo it was easy to find our way there. On the way back we stopped at À la soupette de mémère, a cute French food court right next to the Loire river where locals were enjoying organic ice-cream, crepes, coffee or beer while gazing at the Loire.
Château de Villandry
Château Villandry is famous for its magnificent gardens. You can spend 2 hours wandering the herb garden where exotic herbs like chocolate mint and purple basil are grown, adore the ornamental garden, try to spot all the vegetables grown in the vegetable garden, get lost in the labyrinth section and laze on a bench in the sun garden. The 10 gardeners that take care of the garden are roaming around ready to answer any questions you may have. Outside the château, there is a nice a café where you can have lunch before continuing your journey.
After the Chateau Villandry we cycled right to Chateau Gaudrelle (15 min. bikeride away from Tours), which is actually no chateau at all (turns out, chateau simply means ‘estate’ in France). Chateau Gaudrelle houses wine cellars carved in limestone, offers informative wine tastings and English-speaking tours of the vineyard and cellar (those must be booked in advance). The Loire valley region is mostly known for white wines and if you’re interested in learning about what the best wines are to bring back home, check out our Loire valley wine guide.
Old Town of Tours
In the afternoon we had some time to explore Tours. You should definitely check out the Cathedral that was build between 1170 and 1547 and showcases the evolution of Gothic art due to the long time it took to complete it. Les Halles, known as the ‘belly of Tours’, is an indoor market that offers fresh produce, charcuterie, cheeses, seafood, local specialties and luxury chocolate. The old town is located around Place Plumereau and boasts with historic renaissance buildings, in which you will find cute French shops, restaurants and bars.
Dinner at Guingette de Tours sur Loire
Guingette de Tours sur Loire is almost a cultural institution in Tours. This is where the locals gather in the evening to listen to live music, dance a round of Salsa, meet with friends under willow trees and string lights, enjoy exotic cocktails and local beer, eat a croquet (grilled sandwich) or a delicious 3 course dinner. The prices are affordable, the portions are big, the crowd is hip (Tours is a student city) and the setting directly next to the Loire river could not be better. Beware that dinner starts at 7:30pm and reservations are recommended.
Day 2: Amboise & Château Chenonceau
On the second day we drove to Amboise, which took half an hour. You could also cycle there and be in Amboise in around 90 minutes. We took the car, because rainfall was on the forecast for that day. Arriving in Amboise we were quite relieved for having done so, since it’s a bit more hilly than the other cities of the Loire valley. Besides being a cute little, medieval French town, Amboise is famous for the Chateau d’Amboise, the 15th century residence of King Charles VIII featuring Lenodardo da Vinci’s tomb and for Chateau du Clos Lucé.
Galettes at Comptoir de Mamie Bigoude Amboise
We arrived around lunch time in Amboise and headed straight to a galette/crepe restaurant Comptoir de Mamie Bigoude. There we had galette végétarienne and one galette with cheese and ham. Both service and the food were very good. We learned that a galette is made out of buckwheat flour and usually served with savory fillings while a crepe is made out of wheat flour and served sweet with jam or chestnut cream. If you haven’t tried crème de marrons yet, make sure you do that while in France. You can also check out our grocery guide featuring all the food to bring back from France.
Château du Clos Lucé
Chateau du Clos Lucé was Leonardo da Vinci’s home until his death in 1519. Today, it houses his inventions and designs. The ticket is quite expensive (€18) but the exhibitions and especially the park with working models of his ideas make it worth the price. If you BYOP (bring your own picnic), you can have a nice lunch on the sundeck chairs in the adjacent park with the view on da Vinci’s chateau and afterwards stroll down the same paths that da Vinci took 500 years ago.
Château de Chenonceau
Chateau de Chenonceau was build in the 16th century during the golden age of France. King Henry the 2nd gave it to his mistress. Chenonceau was owned by several women who transformed the chateau over the course of time. Out of the three chateaux we visited this one was the most picturesque. You can skip the gardens but make sure you get the audio guide. It offers a good narration of the history of the chateau. It will take you around 2 hours to see everything.
Wine Tasting at Caves du Père Auguste
We spend the end of the day at Caves du Père Auguste, a vineyard that is 5 min. away by car from Chateau du Chenonceau. If you would like to do a tour of the cellar and the vineyard you have to book in advance. For a simple wine tasting you can come in without a reservation. The owner speaks very limited English, so it’s handy if you know some French. If you’re a fan of wines with a lot of tannins, you will find the wines to your liking. We can recommend the Malbec which we picked up from here.
Day 3: Château de Chambord & Château Stay
One of my favorite things to do when I’m in a foreign country is to go to the local supermarket. With all the different brands, different products and so many new things to try, it remains one of my highlights of travelling no matter where I go. Traveling by car has the advantage that you can go full out with your shopping and bring lots of regional products back home. However, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the big selection of products available in the hypermarchés. That’s why we created two guides for wine and French food shopping in the Loire valley.
Château de Chambord
The last castle we visited was Chateau de Chambord. This was definitely the grandest of all the chateaux. The ticket price is quite high (€14.50) and so is the audio guide (€6.50), which in our opinion was not really worth it. It was a huge tablet that you had to hold in your hand and offered too many features that distracted from the chateau itself. Since Chambord has 440 rooms, you will need to reserve at least 3 hours for this visit. Treat yourself to a nice lunch on the chateau grounds afterwards to feel like a proper aristocrat.
Wine Tasting at Christoph et Christelle Badin
After Chambord we went to the final vineyard which proved to be the best one, namely Christoph et Christelle Badin. The vineyard is very small and located in Cormeray. We truly enjoyed the Cheverny and the Cour-Chverny as well as the Pinot noir. The owner only spoke French but that did not hinder our experience at all. We also picked up some local organic honey with thyme and can definitely recommend a visit.
Château de la Rozelle
The final night of our Loire valley trip we spend in an authentic French chateau in Cellettes, the Chateau de la Rozelle. On the last evening we enjoyed an amazing 3 course French dinner with authentic foie gras, French pork medaillons and a delicious créme brulée. If you want to relax, escape the hustle and bustle of city life and feel like a proper French king or queen, then this is the best place to come to. It certainly was a very royal finish to our amazing Loire valley weekend trip!