The Loire Valley is a recommended trip for all lovers of French art, history and culture: among medieval towns, Renaissance castles and Gothic cathedrals, you will take a trip back in time.
Most tourists undertake an itinerary of the Loire castles by car, usually starting from Paris. In fact, many choose to combine a visit to the French capital with the discovery of the Loire’s most famous castles, which are easily reached from the Ville Lumiere.
If, on the other hand, you are short of time, you can choose an organised tour that will take you to the best of the Loire Valley and its castles by optimising your transfer time.
The quickest way to reach the Loire Valley is to take a flight to Paris by landing at Paris Orly Airport or Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport. From there, after renting a car, you can start your Loire chateau itinerary, starting with an initial approach stage.
An alternative, compatibly with flights, could be to land in Paris and depart from Nantes Airport: in this way you will not have to go back to your starting point, saving time and optimising your trip.
The first stop on the Loire chateaux tour is the imposing Gothic cathedral at Chartres1, one of the most majestic in all of France. After admiring its exceptional, finely carved portal and its immense stained glass windows, we recommend a tour of the medieval old town, which is divided between the upper and lower town along the river.
In the afternoon you arrive at Orléans2, the birthplace of Joan of Arc. Visit its marvellous flamboyant Gothic cathedral and then focus on the historic heart of the city, strolling through the quaint streets, browsing murals and picturesque half-timbered houses.
It takes about an hour to reach the most visited and significant attraction in the entire Loire Valley, the Chambord Castle3. Scenic and majestic, the hunting estate of François I enchants visitors with its incredible architectural harmony, Leonardo da Vinci’s double helix staircase and panoramic terraces. All the splendour of the Renaissance condensed into one castle. Plan a whole morning to visit it.
The second stop of the day is Cheverny Castle4: luxurious, opulent and elegant, this manor, glittering with its white stone, inspired the Belgian cartoonist Hergé to create the castle of Moulinsart, mentioned in his famous comic strip Tintin. Also not to be missed are its five enchanting themed gardens.
The morning is entirely devoted to a visit to Blois Castle5, which contains the best of French architecture from different eras: in fact, its four façades represent the different periods and styles that followed in its construction. Leaving the château, explore the centre of Blois6, with the eclectic House of Magic and the Denis Papin Staircase.
The Chenonceau Castle7 will occupy you the rest of the day: its incredible gardens and long gallery on the Cher River will leave you speechless. The Château des Femmes is a real marvel for the eyes, especially during the flowering season.
The enchanting Amboise8 deserves a full day. In addition to the sumptuous Amboise Castle9, with its panoramic terraces overlooking the Loire, don’t miss a visit to the Manor of Clos-Lucé, where Leonardo da Vinci spent the last years of his life, putting his creative genius at the service of the court of François I.
If you have time, you can also visit the Manor of Chateau-Gaillard and the Chanteloup Pagoda, a few kilometres from the city.
This day is partly dedicated to exploring the historic town of Tours10: a lively, buzzing atmosphere combines with the beauty of its medieval historic quarters, full of colourful half-timbered houses.
A few kilometres away is Villandry Castle11: botany enthusiasts will be amazed by one of the most beautiful and elaborate Italian gardens in France. Take your time to admire them calmly and without haste.
Within the space of a few kilometres, you will be able to visit three magnificent châteaux: the Azay-le-Rideau Castle12, small and enchanting, reflected in the water, the Ussé Castle13, famous for inspiring the tale of Sleeping Beauty in the Woods , and the Chinon Castle14, a veritable military fortress dominating the town.
You can end the day by wandering around the picturesque medieval alleyways of Chinon15, which descend steeply from the castle promontory.
Arriving in the delightful town of Saumur16, you will pass through the enchanting landscapes of this valley, carpeted with vineyards.
After visiting the town and its castle, you could spend some time exploring the Troglodytic caves, a network of underground tunnels that stretch for kilometres. Or visit the castle of Brissac or the castle of Brézé.
The lively Angers17 perfectly combines tradition and modernity. There are many attractions to visit, first and foremost Angers Castle18, a massive and imposing medieval fortress with 17 towers, 50 metres high.
The castle houses an artistic jewel of unparalleled beauty: the Apocalypse tapestry, a 140-metre-long canvas narrating the Apocalypse according to St John, through a formidably vivid medieval tale.
We recommend devoting 2 days to the lively and imaginative city of Nantes19. A cradle of art and culture, Nantes perfectly combines its historical soul with its artistic vocation and industrial past. The result? A surprising city, capable of enchanting you with the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany, the Jules Vernes-esque atmosphere of its birthplace, the mechanical animals of the Isle of Nantes and the works of art scattered throughout the historic centre.
On the return trip to Paris, a perfect intermediate stop is the town of Bourges20: this enchanting medieval town will leave you speechless, for its majestic cathedral and its perfectly preserved historic centre, full of ancient palaces and colourful half-timbered houses.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article
If you don’t have a car and perhaps little time but still want a taste of the Loire Valley’s beauty, it might be a good idea to join an organised tour departing from Paris. Here are some proposals.