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Best things to do & places to stay:

Last updated: 03 November, 2022
Expert travel writer: Anna Brooke

Most people come to the lush valleys and hills of the Loire to visit the fairytale chateaux – more than a thousand of them, earning a 280km swathe of the Loire Valley a UNESCO World Heritage Site listing.

What’s less well known is that this family-friendly region, often dubbed the ‘garden of France’ for its vast agricultural output, has rich, fertile soils that produce superb local food and wine, and support some of the world’s finest decorative gardens. It’s a region of idyllic landscapes – peppered with a fascinating troglodyte (cave) cultural history – and authentic French villages.

The famous ‘La Loire à Vélo’ route allows you to see and experience at leisure by bike.

Orientation

Located west of Paris and spanning two administrative regions (the Centre and Pays de la Loire), the hub of the Loire Valley is centred along the Loire River roughly between Chambord to the east and Angers to the west, but also its tributaries the Loir, Cher, Indre and Vienne.

In-between are beautiful historic towns such as Tours, Amboise, Blois, Saumur and Chinon, and legendary chateaux hidden amidst a landscape of river floodplains, vineyards and forest.

The bucket list experiences our writer says you must do in this destination

10 Must-see Chateaux of the Loire Valley

Loire Valley, France

The Loire’s extraordinary chateaux are a vision of architectural splendour and stunning gardens, and offer an insight into the lavish lifestyles of France’s 16th- and 17th-century royalty and bourgeoisie.

Best for ages: 18+ | £11

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Overview >

Other worthwhile experiences in this destination if you have the time or the interest

Inside view of the sculpted arches and glass windows from the early 13 century inside the cathedral
Experience

Chartres Cathedral

Chartres, Centre-Val de Loire, France

This historically important Gothic cathedral is famed for its rare medieval stained-glass windows and floor labyrinth.

Best for ages: 18+ | Free

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A view of Chateau Chenoncea from the river where a girl is kayaking
Experience

Kayaking on the Loire River

Vineuil, Centre-Val de Loire, France

Paddling along the Loire is a dreamy was to see its waterfront chateaux, plus the region’s rich flora and fauna. Loire Kayak offer trips ranging from 1 hour to up to 8 days (with camping).

Best for ages: 10+ | £14 | 1 hour - 8 days

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A huge mechanical elephant with a wooden exterior at Machines de l’Île, with tourists walking inside the small balcony area
Experience

Machines de l’Ile

Nantes, Pays de la Loire, France

Unprecedented, Jules Verne-inspired family attraction with monumental mechanical animals to ride, from elephants and sea snakes to giant spiders. 

Best for ages: 4+ | £7

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Our selection of the best Viator tours of this destination, plus helpful tickets and transfers

3 Loire Valley Castles Small-group by Minivan with Tickets & Wine Tasting

3 Loire Valley Castles Small-group by Minivan with Tickets & Wine Tasting

Paris

A high-quality Live-guided Small-group trip for 4 to 7 clients, to Chenonceau, Amboise and Chambord, Tickets included by Mercedes Minivan, e...

€235 | Rating 4.18 / 5 [32 ratings]

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Tour supplied by:

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Amboise Discovery Segway 45mn

Amboise Discovery Segway 45mn

Tours

At the controls of your Segway Segway, enjoy a fun and unusual experience! Follow your guide to discover the hidden stories of the city of A...

€28 | Rating 5 / 5 [56 ratings]

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Loire Valley 3 Best Castles & Wine Tasting Small-Group Day Trip from Paris

Loire Valley 3 Best Castles & Wine Tasting Small-Group Day Trip from Paris

Paris

Stroll through the châteaux of Chenonceau, Chambord, and Amboise on this full-day tour from Paris to the UNESCO-listed Loire Valley. Admire ...

€235 | Rating 4.76 / 5 [273 ratings]

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Loire Valley Castles Day Trip with Chenonceau and Chambord from Paris

Loire Valley Castles Day Trip with Chenonceau and Chambord from Paris

Paris

Majestic castles, famous wines and Renaissance masterpieces make up this unforgettable trip to the charming Loire Valley. Enjoy skip-the-lin...

€181 | Rating 4.15 / 5 [837 ratings]

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Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay in this destination

La Demeure de La Vignole

Turquant, Pays de la Loire, France

This quirky, rustic-chic hotel in a troglodyte hamlet has a cave pool and makes a good base for sightseeing.

Official star rating:

Les Hautes Roches

Rochecorbon, Centre-Val de Loire, France

A cosy hotel just outside of Tours, with luxurious ‘troglodyte’ rooms carved into the neighbouring cliff.

Official star rating:

Chateau de Beauvois

Saint-Etienne-de-Chigny, Centre-Val de Loire, France

Stately chateau hotel in a magical woodland setting where Louis XIII once came hunting.

Official star rating:

Domaine de la Tortiniere

Veigne, Centre-Val de Loire, France

Relaxed, stylish family-run chateau hotel, well located in the heart of the Loire Valley.

Official star rating:

When to go

The ideal time to travel is May, June or September, when everything is open, the days are long, and the principal sites are less crowded than in the peak season of July and August. In the winter low season between November and February, many hotels and restaurants close, but you get the charming chateaux almost to yourself, and warming log fires are lit in those of Chambord and Amboise.

Getting there and away

Most international flights arrive at Paris Charles de Gaulle (260km from Tours). Some budget airlines fly to Tours airport in the heart of the region or Nantes (about 100km from Angers).

It’s also easy from Paris by train, with frequent high-speed TGVs to Tours (1 hour 15 minutes) and Angers (1 hour 35 minutes); slower regional trains stop at smaller stations. By car from Paris it’s 237km (2 hours), or 260km from Caen port.

Getting around

Although the main centres can be reached by train, you need a car to make the most of the area, with all the main car hire companies at Tours station.

Cycling is the other best option, with more than 800km of well-marked, car-free trails running the length of the Loire River and its tributaries, supported by bike-friendly hotels and facilities. Bike-carrying TER regional trains run near the central section of the Loire à Vélo bike route.

Where to stay

A good road network means it’s easy to explore the whole region from one reasonably central base. Tours is the geographical centre, but it’s not a great place to stay (poor hotels, traffic jams). Small historic towns and villages, like Amboise, Saumur, Chinon or Azay-le-Rideau, offer a feeling of the local lifestyle and provide a good base for touring the region.

Another good option are the historic chateaux sprinkled across the countryside, many of them converted into hotels. A stay provides a unique glimpse of the grand country house lifestyle, complete with sumptuous rooms and grounds.

Where to eat or drink

 

Our writer’s recommended itineraries for this destination