Known as the garden of France, the Loire Valley in the centre of France is a lush green land with rich vineyards, charming towns and magnificent châteaux.
There are over 300 chateaux in the region- far too many to visit in one holiday. Choose a few, take your time and really enjoy them. Some of the best include Château de Villandry with its superb Renaissance gardens, romantic Château de Chenonceau and Château de Chambord, the largest and most extravagant of them all.
Once you’ve had your fix of châteaux there’s plenty more to see and do in the Loire Valley. Explore the lively cities of Tours and Orleans, and the delightful towns of Saumur, Amboise and Blois. The mild climate is perfect for outdoor activities too. Walk or cycle through beautiful gardens or take to the water for a leisurely jaunt down the river. And of course, no visit to the Loire would be complete without sampling the excellent local wines.
In and around Amboise
Upstream of Tours is the relaxed town of Amboise, set on the banks of the Loire nestled under a fortified château. The town comes alive on a Sunday for the riverside market which is always good fun. Also worth a visit is Clos-Lucé, a graceful manor house on the outskirts of Amboise, said to be where Leonardo da Vinci spent the final few years of his life. This has now been turned into a museum exhibiting the artist’s inventions.
Near Amboise, romantic Château de Chenonceau is the most popular in the region attracting 600,000 visitors every year. The gorgeous château stretches across the river Cher and is surrounded by elegant formal gardens. The Renaissance building has been transformed over centuries from a modest manor into a palace designed purely for pleasure. There are many beautifully furnished rooms to explore plus a waxwork museum, restaurant and play area for young children. You can also buy wine from Chenonceau’s own vineyards.
Fun for children around Amboise
If you are travelling with children, there are a number of fun attractions in the Amboise area. Parc des Mini-Châteaux gives you the chance to explore over 40 of the Loire châteaux in miniature. This popular park also has a miniature train and children’s dressing up costumes. Another winner with families is Aquarium de Touraine. The aquarium has more than 10,000 fresh water fish on display in 35 tanks, the largest collection in Europe.
Blois to Orléans
Further north, situated between Tours and Orléans is the bustling town of Blois. Considered the tourist capital of the area, it has narrow winding streets and picturesque old buildings. Look out for Maison des Acrobates, a half-timbered medieval house, ornately carved with acrobats and jugglers. Château de Blois is located in the centre of town, a unique combination of three distinctive architectural styles of Gothic, Renaissance and Classical.
The city of Orléans lies at the northernmost point of the Loire River, around 80 miles south west of Paris. Known as the ‘city of roses’, there is a stunning Gothic cathedral and beautiful gardens to explore. One of Orléans most famous residents was Joan of Arc – a national heroine who triumphed over the English in 1429. Her legacy is honoured throughout the city with statues and museums.
Whether you are travelling as a family or a couple, the Loire is the perfect holiday destination. The combination of fascinating architectural history, stunning countryside and a relaxed way of life makes for an enjoyable getaway.