The Loire Valley: what to do, what to see…

This region of France does it big: 280 kilometers (173 miles) of landscapes of classified UNESCO World Heritage Sites. As a backdrop, Europe’s longest river, the Loire, flows past some 20 castles open to visitors—there are hundreds of stories and histories to be discovered, fragrant gardens to inhale, forest to explore and wines to taste. Go back in time in the Loire Valley, always ready and waiting to offer you its jewel-like heritage. 

Not to miss sights in the Loire Valley

• The castle of Chambord

If the Loire Valley castles are a meal, Chambord is the main course. As early as 1519, Francis Ist transitioned this hunting palace into the symbol of his power, much like Louis XIV would do with Versailles.The monumental châteaux is designed around the famous staircase with double revolutions, influenced by Leonardo da Vinci. Inside, one can visit 60 rooms that house a rich collection of 4500 art items. The 5,000 hectare (12355 acres) forest encircling Chambord is a hunting reserve populated by deer and wild boar.

• Castles, large or small

These 22 castles, scattered along the Loire and its tributaries, tell a significant chunk of the history of France. Many were built during the Renaissance, in the 15th and 16th century, when the court of the kings of France settled in the Loire Valley, a territory now inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Whether they have been inhabited by sovereigns or nobles, these castles are majestic and awe-inspiring, hiding treasures and hoarding a sense of history.

• Château de Chenonceau

Perhaps the most delicately beautiful of the Renaissance châteaux, the graceful galleries of Chenonceau span the Cher, home to a priceless art collection. Beloved by the women who reigned as mistress here, like Diane de Poitiers, Catherine de Medicis, Louise de Lorraine and Louise Dupin, each of which brought their own touch to the layout of the building, the furniture and the gardens.

• Le château royal d’Amboise and Clos-Lucé

Charles VIII and François Ist both took up residence in this medieval fortress above the Loire. The first one transformed it into a Gothic palace; the second one graced it with an Italian air, inviting Leonardo da Vinci (who is buried there) to be the artist-in-residence. An underground gallery then connected the castle to the Château Clos-Lucé, a nearby pleasure palace where the Italian genius lived for three years, leaving behind his workshop, sketches, models and inventions when he passed.

• The castle and gardens of Villandry

The castle was built in 1532 on the site of a fortress, which a Spanish-American couple rennovated in the 20th century. In addition to the interior decoration, the beautiful themed gardens, including a green maze and a decorative vegetable garden, will amaze you.

• Château d'Azay-le-Rideau

Built in the 16th century, the Renaissance château of tufa stone sits on an island in the middle of the Indre like a toy castle placed on a mirror. Today, the living room of the Marquis of Biencourt has regained its splendor, with more than 80 pieces of typically 19th century furniture and art.

• The Royal Castle of Blois

No less than 17 kings and queens inhabited the château between the 13th and 17th centuries. Through its royal apartments and Museum of Fine Arts, housed in one of its wings, the Château de Blois stores untold secrets of 400 years of French history.

• Tours and Saint Gatien Cathedral

Old Tours is paradise for lovers of heritage—and terraced cafés! Go to Plumereau square (Plum' for those in the know), bordered by 15th century half-timbered houses, where the numerous cafés-bars are lively at all hours. You'll also love the Saint-Gatien Cathedral, built in the 12th century, and its superb 13th century stained glass windows.

• Nantes

In Nantes, bounce from one effervescence to the other. Visit the medieval castle of the Dukes of Brittany, walk the shopping galleries of the Pommeraye Passage, embark on a poetic journey in the Carousel of Marine Worlds and the Machinery Gallery. Immerse yourself in culture at the Arts museum, which exhibits 12,000 works over seven centuries. Nantes is a whole destination in itself!

• Tours

Recently opened in the historic center of Tours, the CCC OD (Centre de Création Contemporaine Olivier Debré) puts a spotlight on contemporary artists, as well as on the works of Olivier Debré, a master of abstraction. After the culture, soak in the nature: go for a walk in the Parc de la Gloriette, the green heart of nearly 200 hectares (about 500 acres) south of the city.

• The cellars of Sancerre

Among the wines of the Loire, Sancerre occupies 3,000 hectares (7500 acres) of vineyards on the left bank of the river, along the Cher. The vineyards here have been awarded the label «Vineyards and Discoveries», a guarantee of quality hospitality in wine tourism. It is up to you to choose among the 15 or so winemakers who love to share their passion from generation to generation. The vintners here serve subtle whites, amazing reds and fruity rosés.

The Château de Chenonceau (External link)
The Royal Châteaux of Amboise and Clos-Lucé (External link)
The Château de Villandry and its gardens  (External link)
The Château d'Azay-le-Rideau (External link)
The Château de Chambord  (External link)
Tours tourism (External link)
Nantes tourism (External link)
The Olivier Debré contemporary arts centre in Tours (External link)
The cellars of Sancerrre (External link)
The Royal Château de Blois (External link)

Things to do in the Loire Valley

• Sniff each flower at the Chaumont-sur-Loire Garden Festival

Since 1992, from April to October, this international festival puts the art of Loire Valley gardens in the spotlight, held in the 10-hectare (24 acre) park of Chaumont-sur-Loire. Go there to fill up on ideas, discover new landscape creations from around the world and dream about experimental gardens.

• Conquer the Royal Fortress of Chinon

From its rocky promontory, the fortress has had a strategic location since ancient times! This stronghold has been the setting for many territorial wars and historical events. Joan of Arc met King Charles VII there to ask for troops to deliver Orleans from the yoke of the English. Today, we can discover the fortress via an "escape game," in the footsteps of a secret chapel. Study your grimoire and get started!

• Marvel at the technical feats of the Scénoféerie de Semblançay

Every summer, at the foot of the Semblançay castle north of Tours, this live show traces the great historical fresco of Touraine from the Gallo-Romans to the Revolution. Overall, there are 450 actors in costumes, 60 fighters and stuntmen and 15 horses that will bring unforgettable moments to life in the midst of fireworks, flames and fountains.

• Venture on the wine trail in search of its delicate juices

Chinon, Bourgueil, Saumur, Vouvray, Muscadet—these are just some of the various appellations of the Loire Valley, scattered over 300 kilometers (180 miles) between Blois and Nantes. White, red, rosé, mellow, quiet or sparkling, their diversity will delight your taste buds.

• Admire the castles from the top of a hot air balloon

From a bird's eye view, the landscape looks so different! The balloon brings a breath of new sensations. Flying over the castle of Chenonceau or Chambord in tranquility, glide above the sandy shores of the Loire, and glance over the vineyards stretching out to the forests teeming with wildlife.

• Cool off at Malagué Lake

In Chaumont d'Anjou, a recreation base is located at Lac Malagué amid a 8 hectare (20 acre) wood. Swimming is supervised by lifeguards in summer, and many activities are offered: canoeing, stand-up paddling, peddle-boating—perfect for a break en famille!

• Take your time at the Terra Botanica Garden in Angers

This vegetation-themed park traces the long journey of plants, brought from the whole world over by explorers to bloom in the gardens of the châteaux. Hundreds of thousands of species are exhibited—take your time to discover the giant greenhouses, explore the tropical jungle, climb into the static air balloon or even discuss the blooms with park's gardners.

• Follow the curves of the Loire by bike

If you're feeling athletic, you can follow the longest route of the river for 900 kilometers (560 miles), starting from Cuffy in the Cher and ending in St Brevin! If you'd prefer shorter paths, from one castle to another: there are 14 routes in the Loire Valley, with over 400 kilometers (250 miles) of trails or small well-marked routes. This is the perfect opportunity to stretch your legs and feed your mind.

Getting to the Loire Valley