Loire Valley, France

Great French Food Starter Le Pot de Lapin Restaurant
Great French Food! 
- Starter at Le Pot de Lapin Restaurant
Loire Valley, France (5/12-16/2013) – The Loire Valley is France’s past and current fantasyland – a traveler’s paradise brimful of history, great food & wine, medieval castles, extravagant Renaissance chateaux, picturesque villages, beautiful country roads, lush forests, and romantic places to stay!

Main Old Town Square Cinnon Loire Valley France
Quaint Villages
- Azay-le-Rideau, Loire Valley, France
Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Loire Valley is certainly the land of France’s rich and famous. For centuries kings, queens, and nobles established extravagant castles and chateaus in this strategic area near Paris, France’s capital. With such outlandish displays of wealth, Pat says no wonder the peasants revolted.

Beautiful Forested Country Roads Loire Valley France
Beautiful Forested Country Roads 
- Loire Valley, France
Today the Loire Valley is a wonderful place to visit. Between visiting these historic fantasy chateaus and castles you travel on beautiful winding country roads with roundabouts surrounded by lots of trees, forests, lakes, and beautiful open fields. On the way you can stop at quaint villages and old farmhouses, stay in atmospheric lodging accommodations, and enjoy some of the best French food and wine to be had. It is best to rent a car because you can see and do much more.

Loire Valley Wine Region map
Loire Valley Wine Region
The Loire Valley is also one of France’s top wine producing areas including cremant (sparkling) wines – do try them! For red wine lovers, cabernet franc is produced in the Saumur-Champigny, Bourgueil, and Chinon regions. For whites, Vouvray’s chenin blancs and Pouilly-Fume’s sauvignon blancs are world famous. Stop at some of the Maisons des vins (wine houses) that display signs for tastings and enjoy some. Tourist information offices can help you with maps of the wine areas including the Loire Valley wine route called Route Touristique des Vignobles.

Saumur Loire Valley France
Saumur - Loire Valley, France

Amboise  Loire Valley France
Amboise - Loire Valley, France
Travel tips on where to stay... The town of Saumur is a very good place to base your explorations of the western Lorie Valley. Saumur also has some very excellent restaurants and is the center of excellent wine tasting drives with unique chateaus to visit. The quaint village of Amboise, with its plentiful lodging and dining offerings, is a good place to base explorations of Loire Valley’s eastern side where the large most popular chateaux exist.

Chateau de Beaulieu  Where We Stayed Near Saumur
Chateau de Beaulieu 
- Where We Stayed Near Saumur
Living Room Chateau de Beaulieu
Pat Meeting New Friends in Living Room 
- Chateau de Beaulieu
Dining Room Chateau de Beaulieu
Dining Room - Chateau de Beaulieu
There is a wide range of hotel types to choose from in the Loire Valley. We highly recommend the experience of staying in a smaller chateau. Just outside of Saumur, we loved our stay in the Chateau de Beaulieu (see photo). It is member of Bienvenue group of Chateaux – a nice selection of authentic historic chateaus that you can stay in. Like many of the other chateaux you can stay in, the Chateau de Beaulieu is decorated with comfortable homey antique furniture with romantic rooms facing out to the Loire River. It was wonderful to sit by the warm fireplace meeting interesting quests from all over the world. One of the best reasons to stay here is the owner, Mary, who goes out of her way to help you enjoy your daily explorations in the area. She gives great advice to custom-make your days the way you want them. We highly recommend the Pot du Lapin Restaurant in Saumur.

Here are some of our favorite Loire Valley chateaux we visited:

Map of Loire Valley France
Map of Loire Valley - France
Hundreds of chateaux dot the Loire Valley comprising a thousand years of astonishingly rich architectural and artistic treasures with their sky-topped turrets and glittering banquet halls. The first were fortifications, with moats, drawbridges, and arrow slits. The more extravagant construction took place later, in the 1500’s and beyond, with over-the-top Renaissance flare as French kings and nobility went on a building spree, each trying to outdo the other. That spree ended in the 17th century when French royalty choose to stay in Paris and neighboring Versailles.

Some of our favorite major chateaux were the large ones located in the eastern side (Chaumont, Chenonceau, Cheverny, and Chambord) and the medium sized in the west (Azay-Le-Rideau, Villandry, Breze, and Langeais). Here is a brief review the chateaux and castles we visited:

Chateaux located in the eastern side around Blois and Amboise (see photos):

Chateau Chaumont-sur-Loire Loire Valley France Chaumont
Chateau Chaumont-sur-Loire - Loire Valley, France
Chaumont-sur-Loire – Chaumont is wonderful place to visit with its large medieval appearance furnished nicely with paintings depicting how they lived. At Chaumont, we were able to see much more of the chateau than others including many rooms that had not been restored. An especially nice experience is visiting the gardens during the special Festival International des Jardins held from late April to mid-October. When we visited, 26 different artists presented smaller unique artsy gardens depicting a theme – the experience is delightful.

Chateau Chambord Loire Valley France
Chateau Chambord - Loire Valley, France
Chambord – Chambord is one of the crowning examples of French Renaissance architecture. Everything about it was designed to impress – we were. Chambord is the most visited and largest of all the Loire Valley chateaux. Built in the 16th century by a king with its 429 rooms with 365 fireplaces, it was the most ambitious (and expensive) architectural projects ever attempted by any French monarch. Because they do not have a recommended path to visit, we do recommend getting the audio guide. The place is so big it is nice to have some idea of what you are seeing.

Among Chambord’s most intriguing features is a double-spiral staircase, the so-called Lovers' Stairs, with duel sets of steps that never meet (apparently one for the king's wife and the other for his mistress). Leonardo da Vinci, who moved to France in 1516 at the request of the king, is credited with the stairs’ design. Ironically, people, even the king who built it, did not like staying at Chambord finding it too draughty. Although most of the original furnishings were taken, many rooms have interesting furniture and paintings to see. Also, there are nice restaurants outside for lunch or snack.

Chateau Cheverny Loire Valley France
Chateau Cheverny - Loire Valley, France
Beautiful Grounds Cheverny
Beautiful Grounds at Cheverny
Cheverny – We liked this elegant chateau decorated with some of the best furnishings, tapestries, china, and art in the Loire Valley. Built in 1634, it is surrounded by lush parkland. They keep 100 French hounds on site and there is nice brochure to guide your visit. We liked the optional boat ride to that takes you through a special part of the extensive grounds.

Chateau Chenonceau Loire Valley France
Chateau Chenonceau - Loire Valley, France
Chenonceau – Built over the Cher River and surrounded by beautiful gardens and forests, Chenonceau is easy to love being one of the most elegant and unusual in the Loire Valley. History abounds here. After being taken over from King Henri II’s mistress by Queen Catherine de Medicis, Chenonceau later became a center of fashionable 18th-century society and during WWII people say it was used as an escape route between free and occupied France for many fleeing Nazi occupation. Before leaving, visit the beautiful 16th-century farm and try the garden maze – it is easier than it looks.

Medium-sided chateaux located in the western side around Saumur (see photos):

Beautiful Gardens Vallandry Loire Valley France
Beautiful Gardens at Villandry 
- Loire Valley, France
Villandry – Villandry has one of the most beautiful gardens in the Loire Valley. Travel tip: Climb the stairs to top of “Keep” to see overview of gardens – it is a better perspective than walking through the gardens. Villandry was one of the last major Renaissance chateaux to be built in the Loire Valley.
The gardens surrounding the chateau are a unique example of ornamental French-style Renaissance and have been modified over the year with the nomadic garden today with more wild nature featured.

Azay-Le-Rideau Loire Valley France azay le rideau Chateau
Pat Waving at Azay-Le-Rideau 
- Loire Valley, France
Azay-Le-Rideau – Built in the 1500’s on a natural island in the middle of the Indre River, romantic water-ringed Azay-Le-Rideau was one of favorite Loire Valley chateaux. We also liked the natural forest fields around it. You walk through a cute village to get there.

Breze – Breze is interesting because of tunnels under it. The western Loire Valley has a unique history of cave living called ‘culture troglodyte’. You can walk through a troglodyte dwelling below the chateau that was converted to use for living, storage, and defense.

Langeais - Built in the 1460’s, Langeais is a great example of a late medieval castle complete with drawbridge. It is very well preserved and furnished very nicely showing you how they lived.

Sleeping Beauty Chateau d'Usse Loire Valley France Chateau
'Sleeping Beauty' Chateau d'Usse 
- Loire Valley, France
d’Usse – d’Usse inspired the classic fairy tale Sleeping Beauty castle. It is fun to see. The outside is more impressive than the inside. If you are pressed for time, this would be a good chateau to view from the outside without an interior visit.

Le Clos Luce – A visit to Le Clos Luce in Amboise is fascinating to learn about the creations dreamed up by Leonardo da Vinci who lived here in his final years. We liked the models developed from his drawings (tank, car, etc.) and the walk through the beautiful grounds.

We also visited Chateau Saumur and Abbaye de Fontevraud. Impressive and after seeing the above chateaux, worth a visit if you are in the area.

Cramant Sparkling Wine Gold Flakes Gratein & Meyer Saumur France Loire Valley
Cramant (Sparkling Wine) 
with Gold Flakes 
- Gratein & Meyer, Saumur
Wonderful French Food
Wonderful French Food!
Street in Amboise Loire Valley France
Street in Amboise 
- Loire Valley, France
General Loire Valley Travel Tips... Visiting the Loire Valley during the peak season (Summer – July & August) can be very busy with traffic, higher prices, overwhelming crowds visiting the chateaux, full restaurants, advanced reservations necessary, etc. Visiting during the ‘shoulder’ seasons (May/June and September/October) is much better. When we visited in early May we walked right up to buy our tickets and had many places to ourselves with choices of restaurants booked the same day and hotels the day before. The weather cooperated with us but you should be prepared for rain some days. Be nice and many waiters will assist you with the French-only menus. Eat a lot of French food – it’s wonderful!

Main Old Town Square Cinnon Loire Valley France
Main Old Town Square 
- Cinnon, Loire Valley, France
French Children Loire Valley France
French Children 
- Loire Valley, France
Driving Travel Tips... It is best to rent a car because you can see and do much more. The fast toll highway (A85) with no towns to interrupt is an excellent way to make longer journeys, especially at the end of the day when you want to get back to your hotel and put your feet up. The free, but slower, highway (D952) north of the Loire River is quicker than traveling on the south side of the river – but don’t miss the wonderful villages, etc. on the south side. We started adding some “lost time” for finding Chateaux, etc. and actually enjoyed getting lost because we saw beautiful countryside and wonderfully quaint villages. Invest in a detailed road map of the Loire Valley to assist you in finding places. Consider getting a small car to find parking more easily in these old towns. Wait to enter a roundabout until it is clear on all lanes. Normally, continuing straight on roundabouts is a good strategy if they are not signed. When using toll roads, the North American credit cards without the chip do not work and some do not take cash, so be sure to have some Euro coins with you.

Please see our other 10 travel posts on beautiful France:

Paris, France

Mont Saint Michel & Saint Malo, France

Strasbourg - Alsace, France 

Alsace Wine Villages, France

Bordeaux, France

Bordeaux Wine Country, Saint Emilion, Paulliac, & Cognac, France

Burgundy & Cote d'Or Wine Country, France 

Chablis, Dijon, & Vezelay, France

Champagne Route, France

Reims (Champagne Capital), France

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