Loire Valley

Best places to visit in the Loire Valley

The Loire Valley is not only rich in castles, but also offers postcard-perfect villages, towns and landscapes that will make your trip varied and rich in emotions.
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The Loire Valley region not only offers a triumph of magnificent medieval and Renaissance castles, but also a variety of harmonious landscapes traversed by waterways and gentle vineyards, picturesque villages and towns rich in art and history.

This sinuous and enchanting valley that follows the course of the Loire River is France’s largest UNESCO Living Cultural Heritage site.

Thanks to the high presence of castles of incredible architectural value, enchanting historical towns such as Blois, Chinon, Tours, Orléans and Saumur and a delightful natural landscape, the Loire Valley is an admirable example of the fusion of art, history and nature.

Within a radius of just a few kilometres, a marvellous corner of the Loire Valley sums up all the beauty of the French territory and constitutes a complete picture of the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment.

City

Nantes

On the borders of southern Brittany, Nantes is the capital of Loire-Atlantique. With a glorious past in river trade, it is a city rich in cultural ferment: it has been able to reinvent itself and skilfully mix old and new, revitalising abandoned neighbourhoods and disused factories.

The historical centre, characterised by the imposing Castle of the Dukes of Brittany and the majestic Cathedral, boasts several old quarters, including Le Bouffay famous for its half-timbered houses and lively nightlife.

But it is art, above all, that enchants visitors: the city is dotted with contemporary installations while the Giant Machines of the Isle of Nantes mix the worlds of Jules Verne, who lived here, with the inventions of Leonardo, creating a fabulous and almost dreamlike mechanical bestiary.

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Orléans

Despite being one of the few Loire towns without a castle, Orleans is a city full of charm, art and history: an imposing cathedral, picturesque half-timbered houses, museums and flower-filled parks. The Sainte-Croix cathedral is certainly the city’s major attraction: the Gothic style enchants with its complexity and the coherence of every element, from the rose windows to the richly ribbed vaults.

At the House of Joan of Arc, on the other hand, you can retrace the young heroine’s stage in the city: there are numerous references in the centre such as her statue on Quai Fort de Tournelles, from where her assault started, or Place du Martroi with its equestrian statue or the streets where she was carried in triumph.

Admire the works of great painters such as Correggio, Tintoretto or Velàsquez at the Musée des Beaux-Arts and enjoy a relaxing stroll along the river on Quai du Chatelet or Rue de Bourgogne, discovering old mansions and pleasant little shops.

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Blois

Overlooking the river, the city of Blois enchants with its intriguing and magical atmosphere: castles where crimes were committed, museums of magic, old houses with slate roofs. A truly unique place to stay.

The Gothic-style cathedral is one of the highlights of your visit to the city, along with the Beuvoir Tower from which you can enjoy a splendid view and the two most beautiful half-timbered houses, the Maison des Acrobates and the Maison Denis Papin.

Not to be missed is the Maison de la Magie, the museum dedicated to Robert Houdin, the father of magic: a stop that will make young and old alike dream and transport you to an astonishing world.

Wine lovers, on the other hand, can stop at the Maison du Vin de Loire et Cher.

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Amboise

Amboise, a refined town overlooking the Loire and dominated by its famous castle, reveals all its beauty from the other side of the river, offering a picture postcard panorama.

The town holds historical and artistic importance: Leonardo da Vinci spent the last years of his life here. In the Chateau du Clos Lucé, Leonardo’s last home where he designed his last inventions and where he died, it is possible to see some of his most ingenious intuitions: 40 fantastic machines built by IBM following the great artist’s writings in minute detail.

For a dip into oriental atmospheres and a different visit, you can instead admire the Pagode de Chanteloup, surrounded by nature, overlooking a small lake and the only remaining vestige of the castle of the Duke of Choiseul.

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Tours

The sparkling young city of Tours impresses with its lively atmosphere and historic quarters full of charm and history: a splendid Gothic cathedral, half-timbered houses, flower gardens and lively little squares with outdoor tables.

In the old town, wandering through the narrow streets of the centre, you can admire shops and bistros where you can browse or taste local delicacies. Place Plumerau is an example of this atmosphere mixed with the liveliness of university students and the beauty of the slate houses that hide delightful little corners like Place St Pierre de Puellier.

The Saint-Gatien cathedral is the centrepiece of your visit to the city, with its flamboyant Gothic style and marvellous stained glass windows, towering over the old town with its timeless beauty. Not far from the cathedral, close to the river, there are some old streets that escaped the bombings: rue de Colbert is certainly one of the oldest and in a shop on the street Joan of Arc had her armour made.

Works by Rembrant and Monet can be admired at the Musée des Beaux-Arts.

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Angers

Angers is a lively city full of history and charm where old and modern blend perfectly. You will find waiting for you a beautiful riverside promenade, half-timbered houses, an imposing castle, open-air cafés, interesting shops and lots of parks where you can stroll in relaxation – excellent ingredients for a pleasant and cheerful stay!

The right bank encompasses the old town, castle and cathedral while the left bank is occupied by the delightful Doutre quarter.

The ancient fortress of Angers shows visitors all its impressive grandeur with its 17 50-metre-high stone towers that run along a perimeter of more than one kilometre: they can be admired in all their strength by following the patrol path. Inside the walls, wonderful gardens and the graceful royal lodgings where a wealthy court life was consummated.

But the real jewel of the castle is kept inside the walls, the Apocalypse Tapestry: an immense tapestry that will leave you speechless thanks to its 103 metres, second in size only to that of Bayeux. With its spectacular colours and elegant weaving, a vivid and exciting narrative is created that tells the story of the fall of Babylon in an atmosphere of terror and panic very similar to a film performance.

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Bourges

The wonderful medieval town of Bourges attracts thousands of tourists every year. There is so much to see in Bourges: the imposing Gothic cathedral with its marvellous stained glass windows, the half-timbered houses in the picturesque alleys of the centre, the medieval palaces and the Roman walls.

The historical centre is a tangle of medieval alleys with picturesque half-timbered houses, among which the Bourges Cathedral stands out: a magnificent example of French Gothic, one of the largest in Europe, famous for its wonderful stained-glass windows that create fabulous plays of light and colour inside the church.

Don’t miss a walk along the Roman ramparts to admire the splendour of ancient Rome in this region.

Bourges is also an excellent base from which to explore the surrounding area, surrounded by vineyards and forests and full of castles, abbeys and magnificent gardens.

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Chartres

Although not exactly on the classic Loire Valley itineraries, the wonderful city of Chartres is worth a diversion or a stop (especially if you are travelling to/from Paris) for its architectural and artistic beauty.

The neighbourhood around the cathedral and along the river Eure is worth a visit and a walk. The best view of the cathedral is from the footbridge over the river to the other bank.

The most picturesque street in the centre is undoubtedly Rue de Ecuyers, with its old houses and charming corners.

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Saumur

Saumur offers its visitors one of the most romantic and evocative views in the region, especially at sunset when the Loire is tinged with red. The pointed towers of the castle and church contrast with the dark slate roofs reflected in the waters of the Loire: not to be missed!

In addition to the magnificent castle, the town of Saumur offers a historical citadel full of winding streets, old houses and picturesque corners that will take you back to medieval times, such as Rue Saint-Jean and Place St. Pierre.

Take a stroll to admire the town hall in a style somewhere between Gothic and Renaissance and the exquisitely medieval Saint-Pierre Church.

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Le Mans

Slightly off the beaten track in the Loire Valley, the lively town of Le Mans is famous throughout Europe for the 24 Hours of Le Mans, a famous automobile race.

In reality, Le Mans has an interesting and rich historic centre, with the imposing Gothic Cathedral of St Julian, ancient walls dating back to the Roman Empire period and a large urban park, l’Arche de la Nature, with more than 500 walking and cycling trails.

Villages and hamlets

Chinon

Chinon is one of the most picturesque and romantic towns in the Loire Valley, thanks to its ancient streets sloping down to the banks of the river Vienne and the large castle that dominates the town and offers magnificent views from the bridge. All around are vineyards as far as the eye can see and a part of the region full of charm and beauty.

Besides the magnificent castle, don’t miss the Gothic church of St. Maurice and the flamboyant Gothic church of Saint-Etienne.

As you stroll through the winding lanes of the old town, admire the Palais du Bailliage, a former court of justice and two picturesque corners, the Grand Carroi, the town centre that still retains the oldest houses, and theEmpasse des Caves-Painctes, a small road leading to the Painted Cellars, where wines were stored and where the rituals of the Brotherhood of the Bakers are still celebrated today: visit with tasting!

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Loches

The enchanting town of Loches will take you on a trip back to the Middle Ages thanks to the old town perched on the Indre river, surrounded by a mighty ring of walls and ramparts: you will be enchanted by the beauty of its old houses dotted with bistros, shops and markets.

It is worth a trip over the walls to admire the view as far as Porte des Cordeliers.

There is a priceless panorama from Loches Castle and a visit will leave you impressed with its two parts: the Vieux Logis, an imposing and massive manor house, and the Nouveau Logis, in Gothic style and with a residential function. The medieval keep, famous for its terrible dungeons, from which no one ever got out alive, can be visited and there is a beautiful view of the gardens from the top.

Argenton-sur-Creuse

This town of medieval origin is also called the Venice of Berry and is divided in two by the Creuse, the river that runs through the old town.

This delightful village bewitched Antoine de Saint-Exupery, the author of The Little Prince, and it will enchant you too if you decide to take the little walk that connects the Vieux Pont and the Pont Neuf: you can admire a beautiful panorama with the Gothic church, old houses, mills and houses reflected in the river water and then go back up to the upper town.

In the surrounding area, don’t miss the Roman settlement of Argentomagus: built on a vast plateau, this archaeological nucleus preserves small treasures such as a theatre, a bridge, a notary’s house, a fountain and a settlement with a necropolis. The medieval village of Saint-Marcel is also worth a stop to admire its pretty streets and fortifications.

Gien

Gien is a beautiful town overlooking the Loire: the view from across the river is unmissable and you can admire the church and castle that dominate the town. The church dedicated to Joan of Arc is unfortunately only a perfect reconstruction of the original, but inside there is an interesting exhibition illustrating the life of the heroine.

In the immediate vicinity, the church of Germigny-des-Pres, a very rare example of Carolingian architecture with a magnificent mosaic and Byzantine interiors, and the Basilica of Saint-Benoit-sur-Loire, a masterpiece in Romanesque style characterised by porticoes, cloisters and aisles in white stone and a unique crypt, are worth a visit.

Nearby there are also two small châteaux, the Chateau de Blancafort, set in 5 hectares of parkland and overlooking the Canal de la Sauldre, and the Chateau de la Verrerie, an enchanting manor house surrounded by the forest of Ivoy and now used as a luxury hotel.

A very special place is the Pont-Canal de Briare . Built in 1896, it is a masterpiece of engineering: it is a canal flowing over a bridge over the Loire. It can also be travelled on tourist boats.

Finally, don’t miss a walk to Aubugny-sur-Nère, a small village with characteristic half-timbered houses.

Sancerre

The perched village of Sancerre overlooks a magnificent panorama where the lush vineyards stretch as far as the eye can see. The best view of the vineyards can be admired from the Esplanade Porte César while, to appreciate and taste the wines of Sancerre, you can visit the Maison des Sancerre: the estate offers a walk through the vineyards, tastings and the chance to learn wine-making techniques and notions.

Also worth a visit is the Tour des Fiefs, the only remaining tower of the town’s old castle, which offers a beautiful panoramic view from above.

This small town will captivate you with its placid tranquillity, picturesque corners and numerous local craft shops.

The area around Sancerre is home to a number of small but charming châteaux such as Chateau de Menetou-Salon surrounded by forests and vineyards, Chateau de Maupas set in a park with French-style flowerbeds and Chateau de Boucard, the most picturesque, with its moats and fairytale castle turrets in perfect medieval style.

If, on the other hand, you want to take a magnificent walk through fragrant gardens, you can go to the Jardins Artistiques de Drulon where art blends with nature and the Jardins du Prieuré Notre-Dame d’Orsan, created by monks to meditate and live in serenity with cloisters, labyrinths, orchards and mystical spaces.

Lavardin

The romantic village of Lavardin is dominated by the ruins of its medieval castle, perched on a rocky promontory. Taking a path behind the village church, you can admire the troglodytic houses and former cellars carved into the rock where many of the villagers still live today. The view of the Loir river from the Gothic bridge is not to be missed.

In the surrounding area, you can reach the village of Villiers-sur-Loir for a ride through the vineyards. Also worth a stop is Les Roches-l’Eveque, which preserves a number of particularly impressive troglodytic dwellings, as well as the village of Troo, laid out on several levels linked by picturesque passages, ancient lanes and passages dominated by a medieval fortress.

If you are still not tired of the castle, we recommend the Manoir de la Possonnière, in Renaissance style with an Italian flavour, and the Chateau de Poncé sur le Loir, elegant, refined and surrounded by geometric gardens.

Romorantin-Lanthenay

This delightful town is located in the heart of the Sologne and is an excellent starting point for exploring the area. Criss-crossed by the Sauldre River that divides into many canals dotted with old mills, the town is embellished with Renaissance palaces and old houses. Don’t miss a walk along the river and the bridges from which you can enjoy splendid views.

The Sologne Museum dedicated to local culture and territory is located in three different atmospheric venues: the Moulin du Chapitre, which illustrates the area’s natural features, castles, local life and ancient trades; the Moulin de la Ville, on the other hand, tells the story of the city and the presence of Leonardo da Vinci, who designed a royal palace and canals here; and finally, the Tour Jacquemart with temporary exhibitions.

Vendôme

Another delightful Loire town is Vendome, built on a series of small islands on the Loir, connected by bridges and full of old houses with slate roofs.

One of the town’s treasures is undoubtedly the Abbey of the Trinity, one of the most famous in France thanks to a particularly precious relic: the tear shed by Christ on the tomb of Lazarus. The complex includes the late Gothic abbey church, a magnificent 16th-century cloister and a museum.

For a nice walk with a panoramic view of the city, you can go to the Public Gardens, which slope gently towards the banks of the Loir. The view of the castle ruins perched atop a hill on the Loir is also very scenic.

Gargilesse-Dampierre

An enchanted and delightful village whose picturesque streets have inspired poets and painters such as George Sand and Claude Monet.

In addition to the splendid Romanesque church, you can admire a castle, the former residence of the local feudal lords, which houses a beautiful park that descends to the river from which you can enjoy a beautiful panorama.

Literature enthusiasts can also visit George Sand’s house, a cottage that was the setting for his novels.

Châteaudun

The old town, at the foot of the castle, is particularly delightful and worth a visit for a pleasant walk along the Loir. The most picturesque streets are undoubtedly Rue du Chateau, embellished with old half-timbered houses, Rue de la Cuirasserie and Place Cap de la Madeleine with its Augustinian abbey and town hall.

Venelle des Ribaudes is also interesting for its view over the valley and the promenade along the castle promontory. Lovers of the genre, on the other hand, can visit the Foulon Caves that extend below the town.

Bazouges-sur-le-Loir

This enchanting village looks like something out of a fairytale book. A spiky fairy-tale castle reflected in the river, surrounded by French-style gardens, old mills, lush nature and a beautiful village enclosed around a Romanesque church.

Born as a fortress, the castle was later transformed into a stately and elegant residence. If you want to visit it, don’t miss the Angevin chapel and the magnificent gardens.

Abbeys

Abbazia di Notre-Dame de Fontgombault

22L'Abbaye, 36220 Fontgombault, Francia

Fontgombault Abbey is a true masterpiece of Romanesque art: imposing, linear and splendid in its simplicity. A corner of peace and silence surrounded by greenery and overlooking the Creuse.
Still inhabited by monks, it reflects all the serenity of places of faith: you can listen to Gregorian chants, walk in the cloisters and savour the silence and peace.

Abbazia di Noirlac

23Noirlac, 18200 Bruère-Allichamps, Francia

This magnificent Cistercian abbey dazzles brightly in the country landscape thanks to its white stone and its old-world atmosphere.

Midway between the Romanesque and Gothic styles, it retains all the spirit of monastic life: simplicity of form, purity of line and a silent atmosphere. A walk through the arched cloisters is worth the diversions.

In addition, from spring to autumn, events and music festivals are organised to brighten up the warm summer evenings.

Abbazia di Fontevrault

2449590 Fontevraud-l'Abbaye, Francia

Fontevraud is not just an abbey but a true monastic citadel, the largest complex in the whole of France, a place with a cosy atmosphere that has remained intact despite the passage of centuries. Founded in 1099 as a boarding school to provide lodging for widows and young girls of the aristocracy but later suppressed by the French Revolution and then converted into a prison by Napoleon, it only returned to its former function in the 1960s after a long process of restoration.

In addition to the chapter house, don’t miss a visit to the Gothic-style refectory and the magnificent Romanesque kitchens with eight immense fireplaces. Finally, the Romanesque church is truly impressive and certainly worth a visit.

Map

In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article