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35 Best things to see & do in Loire Valley

  • Loire Valley, France

Last updated: 15 June, 2024
Expert travel writer: Anna Brooke
  • Loire Valley, France

Three cyclists, cycling down a road in Loire Valley towards Chateau Chambord

Bucket List Experience

‘La Loire a Velo’ cycle route

La Loire a Velo is a waymarked cycle route that meanders for 900km along the River Loire – France’s longest river – with a prime central section amid the famous chateaux of the Loire Valley.

Much of the route is on car-free ‘green ways’, other sections are on quiet low-traffic roads. Supported by a network of cycle-friendly hotels and facilities, it’s a rewarding, family-friendly way to discover the Loire, drawing three-quarters of a million cyclists a year.

The best – and most popular – stretch is the central, 300km-long UNESCO-listed Val de Loire section, from Beaugency to Nantes. If you have only a few days, concentrate on the 50km-long Val de Loire section between St-Dye-sur-Loire near Chambord and Amboise.

Good for age: 13+

Duration: 1 day-2 weeks

  • Loire Valley, France

Loire’s strikingly beautiful chateaux are a rich architectural legacy, left by the French royalty and bourgeoisie in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Some were built originally as feudal strongholds, but most as lavish summer residences set amid beautiful game-filled forests, close to the centre of power in Paris.

Many were ransacked or destroyed during the French Revolution, and some are still private homes, but many others are open to the public as hotels and museums.

Adult price: £11

Good for age: 18+

  • Chenonceaux, Centre-Val de Loire, France

View of the Chenonceau Chateau arches from the river

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Chateau Chenonceau

Chenonceau is widely known as the ‘ladies’ chateau’, owing to the succession of extraordinary women integral to its history.

Built in 1513 by Katherine Briçonnet, it was given by Henri II to his mistress, the legendary beauty Diane de Poitiers, before his widow Catherine de Médicis grabbed it back after his death.

It was then inherited by Louise de Lorraine, wife of Henry III, the third son of Catherine of Medicis. After Henry III’s assassination, a traumatised Louise de Lorraine turned to prayer, becoming known as ‘the white lady of Chenonceau’. Last, but not least, it was saved during the French Revolution by then-owner Madame Dupin, who managed to reason with the mob.

The Loire’s most visited chateau can feel overrun, yet remains magical for the sheer ingenuity of its spanning the River Cher, for its fine late Gothic and Renaissance architecture, and for outstanding collections of furniture and art.

Adult price: £10

Good for age: 18+

  • Chambord, Centre-Val de Loire, France

External view of the chateau rear from the river

Bucket List Experience

Chateau Chambord

The largest chateau in the Loire, and the most excessive of all King François I’s architectural ventures, this 16th-century Renaissance colossus contains an astonishing 440 rooms, 84 staircases, more than 800 sculpted columns and a forest of fantastical chimneys.

Its centrepiece is the spectacular double helix staircase, designed, it is thought, by Leonardo da Vinci, but it also houses an outstanding collection of 4,500 items of furniture, tapestries, antiques and objets d’art.

Adult price: £10

Good for age: 18+

  • Loire Valley, France

Overhead view of shaped hedged flowerbeds encapsulating flowers

Bucket List Experience

Gardens of the Loire Valley

Maine-et-Loire, usually referred to as Anjou, is often dubbed the ‘Garden of France’ – with a temperate climate and fertile soils. It’s France’s leading producer of everything from apples and hydrangeas to bedding plants and bulbs. Orchards, fields of vegetables and vineyards carpet the rolling countryside.

It also has a long tradition of fabulous decorative gardens, ranging from the classic gardens of historic chateaux and manor houses, laid out in ornate geometrical patterns, to rare plant collections, rose gardens, Oriental gardens, and even Europe’s first plant theme park.

Good for age: 18+

  • Amboise, Centre-Val de Loire, France

Poised imposingly above the Loire River, Amboise today may be only a fraction of its original size, but it still gives the feel of a royal residence.

First constructed under the reign of Charles VIII in the late 15th century, it became a favoured place of residence for French kings and queens from then on until the 19th century. The website lists the long list of illustrious guests and their biographies that stayed here.

Today you can wander from vaulted medieval guardrooms with suits of armour to tapestry-hung halls, to the red silks and mahogany of Restoration monarch Louis-Philippe. Interactive multi-media exhibits and audio guides in English on iPads bring the castle’s history to life. The occasional balcony or roofs offer panoramic views across the region fit for a king.

Adult price: £12

Good for age: 18+

  • Loire Valley, France

A vineyard in foreground, a picturesque small chateau in background

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Loire Valley Wine Region

The Loire Valley is a remarkable and vast wine region, including several wine regions situated along the Loire River.

It encompasses a mind-boggling 63 appellations (47 in the core Tours, Saumur, Anjou area) and more than 7,000 wine growers, producing all types of wine from sweet white Coteaux de Layon, dry white Savennières and sparkling Vouvray, to hearty red Borgueil, Saumur and Chinon. Loire wines tend to exhibit a characteristic fruitiness with fresh, crisp flavours.

Vineyards dominate the landscape, troglodyte wine cellars are dug into the soft tufa rock, and there are signposted routes and welcome signs to help you, making this a fascinating – and easy – wine region to explore.

Min age 18

Good for age: 18+

  • Saumur, Pays de la Loire, France

Saumur castle and Saint Peter's church being reflected on the Loire river during a blue summer's day

Bucket List Experience

A day in Saumur

This postcard-perfect, medieval town clustering along the Loire River is a historic and aesthetic gem, and worth a special visit.

Once you’ve wandered through character-filled streets, lined almost exclusively with buildings constructed in the Loire’s iconic Tuffeau stone, wine-tasting cellars await in and around the town.

Saumur is one of the region’s largest wine areas, with multiple wineries offering visits and tastings, several located in troglodyte cellars and tunnels.

You could also stop by the Chateau de Saumur, mounted majestically above the town. It’s just as impressive inside, home to fine medieval architecture and a decorative arts museum.

Good for age: 18+

  • Loire Valley, France

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Bucket List Experience

Troglodyte Loire

The mysterious but fascinating troglodyte world of the Loire is the fascinating underside of all those lovely white stone chateaux.

Thousands of kilometres of tunnels – originally dug out of the soft, underlying, tufa strata as part of Middle Age stone quarries – became chapels, houses and farms to create the largest troglodyte region in Europe. Some are still lived in, while others have been converted into hotels and restaurants, dramatic wine cellars (providing ideal conditions for storing wine), mushroom farms and even a zoo.

Good for age: 18+

  • Villandry, Centre-Val de Loire, France

Red flowers and green shrubs in square hedged patterns in front of chateau

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Gardens of Chateau Villandry

Considered by some to be the world’s most beautiful garden, the grounds of this UNESCO-listed chateau are a must-see.

Created and owned by the Carvallo family, the terraced Renaissance gardens include an ornamental garden, with sculptured hedges, a medicinal herb garden, and a tranquil water garden.

The undisputed star of the show, however, is the stupendous kitchen garden, transformed into a geometrical feast of cabbages and pumpkins, zigzags of leeks, patches of peppers and other colourful vegetables.

Adult price: £6

Good for age: 18+