The Centre-Val de Loire is a wonderful region southwest of Paris in central France, and is easily accessible by train from the capital. The Loire River Valley surrounds the Loire River, and this area of France is known for its castles, vineyards, beautiful villages, rich architectural heritage, and cultural monuments. Strikingly, the entire Loire Valley between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – the largest such area in France. The Loire is the perfect destination for everyone who wants to explore France on two wheels, or just get out of Paris for a day to visit the French countryside.
Attractions in the Loire Valley
The Loire River
The Loire River is the largest river located entirely in France, and its majestic waters carry fresh breezes in all seasons. The terrain surrounding the river can only be described as wild and natural; you may often find signs indicating goats are grazing nearby.
The biking paths found along La Loire are well-kept and accessible for both families with small children and more experienced bikers on longer journeys. La Loire à Velo is a 560-mile bike route that passes through untouched nature in the scenic valley, and if you are not up for the challenge of biking the entire route, even a couple miles along the path will be a pleasurable experience.
The river’s wild look is supported by folklore that claims the river Loire is the last river in Europe not to be canalized, although the Loire-Anjou-Touraine Regional Natural Park says otherwise. Most of the well-known historic towns in the Pays de la Loire sit right on the river, including Orléans, Blois, Tour, Angers, and Nantes. Because of this, all of these towns and the beautiful villages nearby share the trait of being on a beautiful, wild river that is pleasant to walk along and which necessarily affects the vibe of the towns themselves.
Loire Valley Vineyards
When you hear Loire Valley, you might first think of wine. The region is known for its quality vineyards, and a visit to the area wouldn’t be complete without a visit to a winery. The region is also great for longer stays, and you could even participate in a work-for-housing exchange through WWOOF in the farms and vineyards of the Loire Region. Several castles in the region also produce wine on their grounds, and the option to do a wine tasting in a centuries-old castle offers you an unforgettable taste of French culture.
The first French cathedral to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres, is regarded as the most well-preserved example of Gothic cathedral in France. The cathedral is an important religious site, and mass is held every day. For information on tours in English for both the cathedral and crypt, check out their website here. Before beginning your tour of the great Gothic cathedrals of France, which should start with the Chartres Cathedral, you can read Auguste Rodin’s book that pleads for the cessation of Gothic restoration.
Château de Chambord
The famed Château de Chambord celebrated its 500-year anniversary in 2019 and is the one of the prized châteaux of the Centre-Val de Loire. A previous hunting ground for French kings over the course of centuries, the surrounding land, castle included, is now a beloved cultural site for play and exploration for tourists and locals alike. The famous spiral staircase was inspired by Leonardo da Vinci, and is a Renaissance masterpiece that you can still climb today. As with most beautiful châteaux, the castle grounds have gardens that have been transformed by brilliant landscape designers into a place of great beauty, to rival even the gardens of Versailles.
Where Can you stay in the Loire Valley?
There are plenty of places to stay the night in the Pays de la Loire, and various types of accommodations to choose from. If you are staying in one of the larger towns, such as Orléans, Tour, or Blois, there are plenty of hotels and bed and breakfasts to choose from.
Stay in a Castle
When visiting a region known for its magnificent châteaux, you may wish to stay in one yourself, such as this one in Chinon, part of the Touraine province. While you are near Chinon, you can visit “la boule de Chinon,” the nuclear reactor site-turned-history museum in 1986. Additionally, Chinon is known for its red wines, so we’d recommend a visit to the Domaine de Noiré for a riverboat gastronomic experience on the Loire, or an affordable wine tasting. A lot of the Centre-Val de Loire is composed of small towns with a strong rural identity and deep history. Exploring this unique side of French culture is a wonderful experience in the Loire Valley, and the plethora of unique Airbnb and hotel options in the area provides the perfect chance to do just that.
Just a few other castles in the region that double as hotels include the Chateau du Rivau, The Domaine de la Tortinière, Chateau Hotel de la Bourdaisière, Chateau de Pray, Chateau des Tertres, Chateau de la Grille, and the Chateau de Rochecotte.
Bed & Breakfasts and Hotels
Alternatively, you may be interested in a chambre d’hôtes experience in Chartres, or a boutique hotel in Orléans. The cities are lively, especially in the historic downtowns, and are full of small shops and visitors. Because of this, there are always several options for places to stay, but most of the hotels and bed and breakfasts are small, so it’s recommended to reserve them well ahead of time.
Glamping and Unconventional Stays
There are a number of unique and fascinating places to stay in the Loire Valley. Stay in a prehistoric cave-turned-B&B at the Amboise Troglodyte. Rock gently to sleep on a charming houseboat on the Loire River with La Batelière sur Loire. Wake up to serene lake views and picturesque water lilies from a floating cabin with Le Clos de la Loutre. You can even spend the night sleeping in a wine barrel at Vignoble Marchais. There are also numerous glamping options, including the fairytale-esque “Magic Cabin” with L’Escale des Châteaux de la Loire, charming log cabins accompanied by wine barrel saunas with Huttopia, and lakeside bubbles where you can stargaze all night at Bulles de Sologne.
Things to do in the Loire Valley
Visit the City of Orléans
Orléans, the namesake of New Orleans, Louisiana, is the perfect day trip for history lovers. Joan of Arc liberated Orléans from British invaders during the Hundred Years’ War between France and England. She was burned at the stake in Rouen in 1431, at the age of nineteen. Orléans continues to honor her legacy and spirit.
There is a massive statue of Joan of Arc in the main square, Place du Martoi, which depicts the young woman on a horse, sword in hand, but if you spend the day here, it is guaranteed not to be the only statue of her likeness that you encounter. Every spring the city puts on a Joan of Arc Festival, and the Maison de Jeanne d’Arc is a museum dedicated to her life.
Eat at a Michelin-starred Restaurant in the Loire Valley
The Loire Valley is home to 21 Michelin-starred restaurants, so there is no shortage of incredible food available if you know where to look. In Orléans, you can visit the Michelin-starred restaurant Le Lièvre Gourmand, which is located directly across from the Quai de la Loire. If in Blois, make a reservation for Fleur de Loire, which has two Michelin stars and a Michelin green star for sustainability. Or stop by Le Georges in Chartres, which has been in operation since 1900!
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Attend the Festival de Loire
In late September, Orléans is hosting its biennial Festival de Loire, from September 20-24, 2023. The festival celebrates the heritage of the Loire River, and the river navy. (Think of it as a French Fleet Week.) This year’s celebration will focus on the St. Lawrence River of Canada, and sailors of the Basque Country. This is a great chance to understand the importance of the Loire to the Centre-Val de Loire identity and culture.
Enjoy a Glass of Sancerre
If you are a fan of dry white wines, you have to head to the town of Sancerre in the Loire Valley. You may even want to follow this road trip to visit all the best wineries in the area. Sancerre is one of many French AOCs (Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée), so any Sancerre you drink in restaurants around the world is coming from this area southeast of Orléans. There are over 330 wine growers that comprise this appellation, and vineyards have been cultivated on the soil since ancient times. After enjoying a wine tour, Le Jardin de Marie is a beautiful garden only a few miles away where you can enjoy the diversity of flora with a nice wine buzz.
Enjoy a Bike Tour: Two-Day Itinerary
If you only have a weekend to explore and you’re interested in an active adventure to see some châteaux, we have just the itinerary for you. It will take you to great architectural monuments, includes two days of exploration and biking, and only one night in a hotel. If you leave Paris on Saturday morning, you can be back by Sunday evening.
Take the train from the Gare d’Austerlitz in Paris to Blois. In Blois, rent bikes at Détours de Loire, a five-minute walk from the Blois train station, and start exploring the Loire Valley on two wheels! You can start the journey by biking to the Château de Chambord, and you’re sure to enjoy the ride through the grounds, passing through the forest and by the garden. From there, bike to the beautiful village of Tour-en-Sologne, stay the night at the Hôtel du Château, and then spend the next day exploring the Château de Cheverny. Ride back to Blois, return your bikes, and explore the Château Royal de Blois in the centre-ville by foot before catching your train back to Paris in the evening. If you are in Blois one summer evening, be sure to catch the light show they host every night from April 8 to September 24, which brings to life the castle’s history through projected imagery.
Go to the Léonardo da Vinci Burial Site
Following the Loire River for an hour and a half on bike from Tours will take you to the Château d’Amboise. Leonardo da Vinci’s tomb is located in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert, on the château grounds. The chapel is currently being renovated and is not currently accessible, but it is scheduled to open again to the public in the spring of 2024, so plan now for next year’s visit to France. The castle was once the residence of Anne de Bretagne, and while walking around this château, you can trace its presence throughout French history.
FAQ – Travel Guide to the Loire Valley, France
Is the Loire Valley worth visiting?
For lovers of wine and beautiful châteaux in France, the Loire Valley is a must visit. The region is especially worth visiting for anyone who wants to explore provincial France on bike.
How far is the Loire from Paris, France?
Many of the major towns of the Loire Valley are accessible in a little over an hour from Paris by train, and a couple hours by car if you decide to road trip.
BlaBlaCar is a nice rideshare option around the region if you don’t wish to rent a car. Given the region’s proximity to Paris, there are lots of people and cars moving between the city and countryside and for a small price, you can catch a ride.
Which château should I visit in the Loire Valley?
The Château de Chambord is a widely loved château in central France that is worth a visit for its majestic surrounding nature and historic staircase.