The Loire Valley is known worldwide for its beautiful castles. But that’s not all this French region has to offer. You can also find good wines, delicious cheeses, beautiful historic towns and excellent bike routes.

Find out everything about the Loire Valley in our post – where it is, its main cities, which castles to visit, how to get there, etc.

Loire Valley in France

The beginning of the golden period of the Loire Valley – which left us the legacy of the hundreds of Renaissance castles that today make this region famous – is marked by the end of the 100 Years War, around 1450.

A few years earlier, Joan of Arc had led the battle that ended English rule over that part of France. From that moment on, the French kings, enchanted with the beauty of the region, transferred the capital of the kingdom to the Loire Valley, more precisely to Tours. Afterward the aristocracy, in order to be close to the court, followed in its footsteps and also settled in the region. As a result… there are castles everywhere!

Since 2000, the Loire Valley has been listed as UNESCO world heritage for several reasons:

  • The richness of its architectural heritage, especially its castles.
  • Historical cities such as Blois, Chinon, Orléans, Saumur and Tours.
  • The cultural landscape along the Loire River.
  • The cultivation of the land, witnessing the man’s interaction with his environment over 2,000 years of history.
  • The history inscribed in its monuments, expression of the ideals of the Renaissance and of the Age of Enlightenment

Loire Valley map

The distance between Paris and the Loire Valley is about 200 km. The region spans 280 km, along part of the Loire river (the longest in France), between the towns of Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes-sur-Loire.

Map of the Loire Valley, which spreads from Sully-sur-Loire to Chalonnes-sur-Loire

Main towns in the Loire Valley

  • Tours

Largest city in the Loire Valley, Tours was the capital of France from 1430 to 1530. It is usually the gateway for those who want to visit the region from Paris.

What to see in Tour: the historical center, called Vieux-Tours, includes the oldest quarters of the city, born between the Roman period and the 14th century. Namely, these quarters are: Saint-Gatien, Saint-Martin, Saint-Julien, Notre-Dame-la-Riche and Saint-Pierre-des-Corps.

Plave Plumereau, in Tours, main city of Loire Valley

  • Blois

Certainly the most populous city in the Loire Valley. In 1498, with the crowning of King Louis XII, Blois – more specifically the Castle of Blois – became the main royal residence of the kings of France.

What to see in Blois: the castle of Blois (read about it below), the King’s Gardens, the Gardens of Ancien Évêché, the Denis-Papin steps, Maison de la Magie (House of Magic).

Blois, in the Loire Valley. Photo: Jean-Philippe Thibault and Joël David (Blois official website)

  • Amboise

First of all, Amboise is famous for its two castles: the royal castle – which dominates Amboise from the top of its plateau, and where kings Charles VIII and François I lived – and the castle of Clos Lucé, where Leonardo da Vinci spent his last days.

What to see in Amboise: the castles of Amboise and Clos Lucé (read about them below), the Clock Tower, the Saint-Florentin church and the Saint-Jean chapel.

Amboise, in the Loire Valley. Photo: Gillard&Vincent

  • Orléans

During the Middle Ages it was, together with Paris and Rouen, one of the richest cities in France, thanks to its privileged position on the banks of the Loire river (major shipping and freight transport hub).

Orléans is closely connected to the figure of Joan of Arc who, in 1429, led the French army to victory over the English at Orléans.

What to see in Orléans: the Sainte-Croix Cathedral, the Museum of Fine Arts; the House of Joan of Arc.

  • Chinon

Due to its privileged geographical position, Chinon played an important defensive role in the Loire Valley’s golden age. Furthermore, this area is famous for the production of Chinon wine.

What to see in Chinon: the Royal Fortress and the fortified city, the Saint-Mexme Collegiate church, the Sainte Radegonde chapel, the churches of Saint-Etienne and Saint Maurice.

  • Angers

Historic capital of the duchy of Anjou, Angers was one of the European intellectual centers in the 15th century.

What to see in Chinon: the medieval fortress castle (read about it below) and its famous Apocalypse Tapestry.

What to do in the Loire Valley?

Our infographic below summarizes what to do in the Loire Valley. Click here or on the image to download it.

infografico vale do loire

Castles in the Loire Valley

The Loire Valley has the largest concentration of castles in the world: no less than 300! Not by chance, we know this region as the Valley of castles.

Among these, there are 11 royal castles and 21 nobility castles that we consider of great historical and architectural importance.

Royal castles

  • Chenonceau, France’s most romantic castle

Many castles are surrounded by lakes or were built near the rivers. But Chenonceau is the only castle literally built on the waters of the Cher River.

Aerial view of Chenonceau Castle. Photo: Marc Jauneaud (from Chenonceau official website)

The domain stands not only for the architectural beauty of the castle, but also for the surrounding French-style gardens.

And it is not only the setting that makes Chenonceau the most romantic castle in France. The castle was the epicenter of the crazy love story between King Henry II and Diane de Poitiers, his lover. Before you visit Chenonceau, do not forget to read more about this incredible love story.

  • Chambord, the castle symbol of the Loire Valley

Chambord is the greatest and most famous castle in the Loire Valley, and third largest in France. Symbol of the French Renaissance, its construction started in 1519, by order of King François I, and ended a century later, during the reign of Louis XIV.

Chambord, most famous castle in the Loire Valley. Photo: Filipe Xavier

In truth, Chambord was not conceived as a royal residence, but as a castle for the practice of hunting. And, believe it or not, François I only stayed in the castle for 50 days!

The name of the architect who conceived the project is uncertain. Nevertheless, we know that Leonardo da Vinci designed the staircase in double helix, masterpiece and central point of the castle.

Below are some numbers to give you an idea of the castle dimension:

    • 426 rooms (60 open to the public)
    • 282 chimneys
    • 83 stairs
    • 4.500 art objects
    • More than 300 salamanders, emblem of the reign of François I, carved on the ceilings and walls of the castles.
    • The 5,440-hectare property is protected by a 32-km wall. Certainly the largest intra-wall park in Europe, as huge as the city of Paris.

The forest, where the kings of France used to hunt, is now open to the public.

    • Distance from Paris: 177 km
    • Visit duration: approx. 2,5 hours
    • Website: www.chambord.org
  • Amboise, cradle of the French Renaissance

The Amboise Castle, originally built in the 11th century as a fortress, became part of the French royal family only in 1431.

Amboise castle, cradle of the French Renaissance. Photo: Mat Distef  from Flickr

Specifically, it was thanks to King Charles VIII, born and raised in Amboise, that the castle became one of the cradles of the Renaissance in France: after a trip to Italy, the king brought back with him many craftsmen and artists to work on the restoration of Amboise.

The Terrace of Naples houses the first Renaissance garden of the Loire Valley, from the late 15th century, and has three viewpoints overlooking the Loire. Its creator, Dom Pacello da Mercogliano, abandoned the medieval tradition of the enclosed garden and innovated by opening windows to the landscape.

Also, Leonardo da Vinci spent the last years of his life close to Amboise, and his tomb is now in the chapel of Saint-Hubert.

  • Blois, favourite residence of the kings of France during Renaissance

Blois is a magnificent architectural synthesis of the Loire Valley castles. Its 4 wings, around a courtyard, form a unique example of how the French architecture evolved from the 13th to 17th centuries. The building evokes, through its diversity of styles (gothic, Renaissance and classical, with some medieval component), the life of 7 kings and 10 queens of France.

The courtyard of the Blois castle and the Renaissance wings (left) and Gothic (right)

The 4 wings and their architectural styles are:

    • The 13th-century Medieval fortress
    • The Louis XII Gothic wing, from the 15th century, where the Museum of Fine Arts is located (with artworks from Ingres, Rubens, Boucher, etc
    • The François I Renaissance wing, from the 16th century, where the royal residences are: the queen’s chamber and gallery, the king’s chamber and room, the council chamber, the Valois’ chamber, etc.
    • the Gaston of Orleans Classical wing, 17th century.

Located in the heart of the château, the Foix terrace overlooks the old town and offers a breathtaking panoramic view of the Loire river. The area includes two gardens, the Gaston-d’Orléans garden and the Anne-de-Bretagne garden.

    • Distance from Paris: 185 km
    • Visit duration: approx. 2,5 hours
    • Website: chateaudeblois.fr

Castles of the nobility

  • Cheverny, Tintin’s castle

For those of you who’ve read the Adventures of Tintin, Cheverny will look familiar. In fact, the castle inspired Hergé, the author of the comic book, for Moulinsart’s château, the country house of Captain Haddock.

Cheverny Castle. Photo: dvdbramhall from Flickr

Designed by architect Jacques Bougier between 1620 and 1640, the present castle was a forerunner of the French style that gained strength in the kingdom of Louis XIV. At that time, sobriety and symmetry became the keywords. Today, it is the largest private castle still inhabited in the Loire Valley. The family, who has owned the castle for more than six centuries, is still living here, in an area closed to the public.

Surely the great attraction is the interior decoration with preserved furniture from the 17th century, which witnesses the French lifestyle.

  • Clos Lucé, Leonard da Vinci’s last home

Clos Lucé was the royal summer residence from 1490 until the end of the 17th century, when it passed into the hands of the noble Amboise family. The castle was Leonardo da Vinci’s house: he spent the last 3 years of his life there, from 1516 to 1519, upon invitation of King François I.

Aerial view of Clos Lucé Castle. Photo: Gillard et Vincent

In Clos Lucé we visited the council rooms, the kitchen, the oratory, the rooms of Anne of Brittany and Marguerite of Navarre and the room where Leonardo da Vinci died. The first floor bedrooms were restored in 2011 with period details and artifacts.

In the basement, there are 40 models that IBM made from Leonardo’s sketches and drawings; there are also some 3D animations bringing Da Vinci’s inventions to life and allowing the public to see them working.

Surrounding the chateau, there’s the Leonardo da Vinci Park, where you can find 20 giant machines (recreated from sketches) representing the genius’ inventions. Moreover the Leonardo Garden, a real open-air museum, offers the chance to explore nature as Leonardo observed, loved and portrayed it.

  • Azay-le-Rideau, the castle-island

Built on an island on the River Indres, Azay-le-Rideau is one of the symbols of French Renaissance architecture. Originally a medieval fort, the castle was entirely renovated in the 16th century, acquiring the style of the time.

Azay-le-Rideau, the castle-island. Photo: Luis Sanz from Flickr

Unlike Chambord, the castle and its domain are small and you can easily combine its visit with another castle in the region.

  • Ussé, the castle of Sleeping Beauty

Once upon a time, there was a fairy tale castle overlooking the rivers Indre and Loire… and it was so marvelous that Charles Perrault took it as inspiration for his tale of Sleeping Beauty.

Ussé castle, who inspired the Sleeping Beauty castle. Photo: Aga Marchewka from Pixabay

Like many other castles in the Loire Valley, Ussé was built in the Middle Ages as a fortress. In the 16th century, it was subjected to a major renovation, acquiring the architectural style typical of the French Renaissance. Then in the 17th and 18th centuries, it became a luxurious private residence. Visiting the interior of the castle is a nice experience to appreciate the beautiful furniture of the time.

Medieval castles:

  • Angers

Built in the 13th century, this giant fortress castle is punctuated by seventeen schist and limestone towers stretching for almost half a kilometer.

Angers fortress-castle. Photo: jpbrehaut from Pixabay

Within the area delimited by the walls we find ruins dating from the 9th to the 18th century: the walls of the grand hall, the steam room and the small chapel of Saint Laud.

The moat surrounding the castle was never filled with water, and today it has been transformed into beautiful French-style gardens.

However the great star of the Angers castle is the Apocalypse Tapestry; commissioned by Duke Louis I of Anjou in the second half of the 14th century, the tapestry illustrates the story of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelation by Saint John (the final book of the Old Testament). Due to its dimensions (140 meters long), its age and its stylistic quality, it is an extraordinary masterpiece of medieval art.

Garden-castles

  • Villandry, the garden-castle

Villandry is one of the unmissable castles in the Loire Valley. However, the real star of the castle is not the palace, but its gardens.

The beautiful gardens of Villandry Castle. Photo: Rene Rauschenberger from Pixabay

The gardens are open to the public all year round. But of course, it’s better to visit from mid-spring to early autumn.

  • Rivau Castle, the fairytale gardens

Built in the 13th century as a fortress, Rivau Castle, like several others in the Loire Valley, was transformed into a Renaissance castle in the 16th century.

Rivau castle has 14 gardens called Fairytale Gardens. Photo: Jürgen Mangelsdorf from Flickr

The Laigneau couple acquired and renovated the castle in 1992. Its 14 gardens – now labelled “Remarkable Gardens” by the Ministry of Culture of France – were created by landscape designer Patricia Laigneau. Although they are contemporary gardens which evolve with the seasons, various medieval fairy tales and legends inspired them:

In the gardens you can not only admire more than 450 varieties of perfumed roses, but also spot 20 monumental artworks by contemporary artists such as Fabien Verschaere, Cat Loray, Jerôme Basserode, Frans Krajcberg and Philippe Ramette.

  • Beauregard Park and Castle

This Renaissance castle, built in the 16th century and declared a Historical Monument, is mainly known for its Gallery of Portraits. In fact this gallery, 26 meters long and 6 meters wide, tells 315 years of French history through 327 portraits of important political personalities of France and Europe.

Aerial view of the Beauregard park and castle

But Beauregard has also a large park whose main attractions are:

    • Portrait Garden: designed in 1992, it is a tribute to the magnificent Gallery of Portraits. Each of the 12 little gardens, symmetrically distributed, is associated to a color: by connecting them, you get a stone path. Its creator, landscape gardener Gilles Clément, dared to combine characteristics of the traditionally opposed French and English gardens. On the back is also a rose garden.
    • The Prunus Alley: Near the Portrait Garden, there is a magnificent boulevard flanked by a series of cherry trees coming directly from Japan, called Prunus Kanzan. Truly a pink spectacle at blooming time!
    • The little Children’s Grove and the Cedars of Lebanon: This part of the park is dedicated to the children of the families who once owned the castle – in fact, at the base of each oak there is a plaque with their names. Not far from there, you can also admire magnificent cedars from Lebanon (a very rare and ancient species): some of them are over 250 years old!

Wines from the Loire Valley

Due to the cold climate of the Loire Valley, the wines produced here are rich and sweet.

The Loire Valley wine region is large and well distributed along the Loire River – you will notice many vineyards on the way from one castle to another. There are 4 sub-regions:

  • In the Nantes vineyards, the climate is oceanic. In other words, autumns and winters are mild, while summers are hot and often very humid – Some wine names: Coteaux d’Ancenis, Muscadet, Gros Plan du Pays de Nantais etc.
  • The Anjou vineyards enjoy an oceanic climate with mild winters, hot summers, plenty of sunshine and small variations in temperature – Some wine names: Anjou, Bonnezeaux, Coteaux du Layon, Saumur, Savennières etc.
  • The vineyards of Touraine are at the crossroads of oceanic and continental influences – Some wine names: Bourgueil, Chinon, Coteaux du Loir, Jasnières, Touraine, Vouvray etc.
  • In the Centre-Loire vineyards, the hills provide a barrier to winds blowing from the west; consequently the climate becomes semi-oceanic and seasonal variations are more pronounced – Some wine names: Châteaumeillant, Pouilly Fumé, Reuilly, Sancerre etc.

This large range of microclimates contributes to the wide diversity of the region’s wines: white wines represent 45% of production; rosés 22%; reds 21% and sparkling wines 12%. The Loire Valley region is the 3rd largest wine producer in France; the 1st white wine producer in the country and the 2nd rosé.

The 3 main varieties of grapes for the production of white wine in the region are: Melon de Bourgogne (30%), Sauvignon Blanc (28%) and Chenin Blanc (27%). And the 2 main grape varieties for red wine production in the region are: Cabernet Franc (56%) and Gamay (18%).

The wine route, with dozens of producers offering wine tasting, is a must for those looking for more than castles. On the Vins du Val de Loire website, you can consult the route map and plan your tastings. Tip: in October, it is grape harvest time.

Gastronomy in the Loire Valley

France is famous for its variety of regional products and local gastronomy. Specifically, some of the products and culinary delights for which the region is famous are:

Rillettes and rillons

Rillettes and rillons are classic methods of preserving meat: both are made of relatively fat pork, slow cooked until the meat is falling off the bones and tender, and then sealed under a layer of the fat to prevent deterioration.

For rillettes the meat is cooked, shredded, and then remixed with fat; as a result, its rough texture is perfect for spreading on bread. The rillettes have their origin in the fifteenth century in the province of Touraine, the most famous being the rillettes of Tours, less fatty than the other rillettes produced in France.

Rillons are actual chunks of meat, roasted very slowly until tender. Generally, they look a bit like slab bacon and you can eat them hot with potatoes.

Rillettes, typical product of the Loire Valley

Black truffle

The black truffle is produced by a winter fungus that lives in symbiosis with the roots of a truffle tree, most often an oak tree. They are found and harvested with the help of trained dogs between December and March. The peak of the black truffles in the Loire Valley took place at the end of the 19th century in the town of Richelieu. Re-launched in the 80’s, Touraine’s truffle is super in vogue today.

Cheese

Goat cheese is a typical specialty of the Loire Valley. The villages on either side of the Loire River produce goat’s cheeses of different sizes and shapes. In particular, there are six AOC (Appellation d’Origine Controlee) cheeses: Sainte-Maure de Touraine, Selles-sur-Cher, Valencay, Pouligny-Saint-Pierre, Chabichou du Poitou and Crottin de Chavignol.

And is you want a real gourmet experience…  taste cheese and wine coming from the same region!

Goat cheese produced in the Loire Valley

  • Crottin de chavignol is a cylindrical goat cheese produced in the town of Chavignol. It gave birth to the famous French salad with the same name. If you want to visit a producer, the address is: Les Feulards, 18240 Savigny en Sancerre.
  • Pouligny Saint Pierre, nicknamed the Eiffel Tower or Pyramid because if its shape. It is produced in 22 small towns located in the Brenne Regional Park. The address to visit a producer is: Ferme de Bray, 36220 Martizay.
  • Sainte Maure is a blue-grey mould covered long truncated log of goat’s cheese. On the first weekend of June, every year, the city of Sainte Maure hosts the Cheese Producers’ Fair. In Sainte Maure you find several producers who sell directly to the public.
  • Selles sur Cher has a flat shape and a grey crust, obtained with powdered and salted charcoal. The regions of Sologne, Touraine and Berry are the main producers. Delicious, it has a little hazelnut taste. You can find it at Palais du P’tit Chèvre, 38 rue de la Caillette, 41130 Châtillon sur Cher.
  • Valençay, with its pyramid shape, has a rind of natural mold covered with salted powdered charcoal. Napoleon really appreciated it! You can find Valençay (and the others mentioned above) at Anjouin Cheese Factory: Route de Saint Loup, 36210 Anjouin.
  • Chabichou du Poitou has a thin rind of white, yellow or blue mould and a delicate slightly sweet flavour.

Poire tapée

The poire (pear) tapée is a culinary specialty of the province of Touraine, of which Rivarennes, a small town near Azay-le-Rideau, is the capital. First, fruits are peeled and placed stalk down in racks, and then spend several days in wood-fired ovens. Once they’ve dried out, the pears are flattened out using a specific wooden tool, the “platissoire” (to speed up dehydration) and placed in a warm room before being packaged. You can taste them dry or rehydrated in wine, syrup or boiled. The pear tapée appeared in the 16th century and its production was very important in the 19th century. Then industrialization, the import of foreign fruit and the two World Wars made this speciality almost disappear. At the end of the 20th century, its artisan production was resumed in Rivarennes.

Loire Valley by bike

A charming (and unforgettable) option is to visit the Loire Valley by bicycle.

The region is traversed by EuroVelo 6, a 3,600 km cycle lane that crosses France (from east to west) and 8 other countries, connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea. Since the Loire Valley is mostly flat, it is one of the main destinations for bikers – there is more than 800 km of marked cycle lanes!

The Loire Valley is an ideal place to explore by bike. Photo: Filipe Xavier

Riding through the Loire Valley by bicycle is definitely an immersive and profound experience. Because you travel more slowly, you feel closer and more connected to nature, to its smells and sounds.

Loire Valley itinerary

When to visit the Loire Valley

Like the rest of France, the best time to visit the Loire Valley is from April to October, the warmest months of the year.

Specifically, the months of May, June, September and October are the best, as the temperatures are mild and there are less tourists. On the other hand, in July and August the heat can be strong and, being school holidays, the risk is that everything (hotels, castles, restaurants, roads) is more crowdy.

And is it worth visiting the Loire Valley in winter? If you come to France in winter, it is worth visiting the region, even if only the main castles. Just be aware that nature will not be as exuberant as in spring. But in case of snow, prepare yourself to admire breathtaking landscapes.

Which are the best castles in the Loire Valley?

In brief, the best castles in the Loire Valley are the royal ones:

  • Chenonceau, the most romantic and loved by tourists
  • Chambord, the largest and most emblematic of the region
  • Blois, a great symbol of French history and its architecture until the 16th century.

Besides them, we can mention Cheverny for its historical interior decoration, Clos Lucé for its connection with Da Vinci and Villandry for its beautiful gardens.

How to get to the Loire Valley from Paris

  • Take a train from Paris to Loire Valley (Tours, Amboise or Blois) and then rent a car to travel around the region. The train ride takes about 2 hours. Click here to check train schedules and ticket prices, and buy yours in advance to ensure lower prices. Click here to search for car rentals.
  • Drive from Paris to the Loire Valley on the A10 highway. The journey takes from 2h30 to 3h depending on the destination city. Click here to check car rental prices and book yours.

Loire Valley: how many days?

  • 1 day in the Loire Valley

Since the region is about 200 km from Paris, it is possible to make a return trip on the same day. Many tourists choose this option. In this case, it is possible to visit two castles.

  • 3 days in the Loire Valley

If two castles are not enough for you, we recommend spending three whole days. This way, you will be able to visit many of the castles listed above, as well as the historical cities of Blois and Tours. Our suggestion is to visit two castles a day.

  • 5 days in the Loire Valley

If you have even more time, and really want full immersion in the region, an unforgettable option is to visit the Loire Valley by bike. During a five-day bike tour, you can visit 3 of the above mentioned castles (Chambord, Chenonceau and Cheverny).

Loire Valley: accomodations

Castel Hotels:

  • Hôtel Château de Verrières & Spa Saumur

5 star hotel located in the city of Saumur, in the Loire Valley. Situated in a 2 hectares park, the hotel also has a small spa. For more information and reservation, click here.

Hôtel Château de Verrières

  • Château de Rochecotte

4 star hotel located in the city of Saint Patrice, in the Loire Valley. The property is situated in a 20 hectare park and has an Italian terrace and a heated outdoor pool. For more information and reservation, click here.

Hôtel Château de Rochecotte

  • Château D’Artigny

5 star hotel located 15 km from Tours, in the heart of the Loire Valley.  Surrounded by a 25 hectare park, the rooms are situated in the castle, in the Ariane Pavilion or in Casa Frangrance. Before your reservation, make sure you know where you would like to stay. For more information and reservation, click here.

Hôtel Château D’Artigny

Hotels in the main cities:

  • Tours

    • Hotel Ronsard: independent hotel situated in the historic center of Tours. Click here for more information and reservation.
    • Hotel Oceania L’Univers Tours: 4 star hotel with spa, sauna, pool, bar and restaurant. Located in the historical centre of Tours. Click here for more information and reservation.
  • Amboise

    • Le Clos d’Amboise: situated in a 17th century mansion in the centre of Amboise, the hotel is surrounded by a vast garden. Also, iIt has a swimming pool and a sauna. Click here for more information and reservation.
    • Le Pavillon Des Lys: 4 star hotel located in the city center of Amboise, 5 minutes walk from Amboise Castle. Click here for more information and reservation.
  • Blois

    • La Maison du Carroir: sophisticated Bed&Breakfast with a charming indoor garden, located 10 minutes walk from Blois Castle. Click here for more information and reservation.
    • Castel de la Comtesse: nice Bed&Breakfast located 10 minutes walk from Blois Castle. For reservation, click here.

Read more about the Loire Valley