Often when we travel, we have only a few days to get in all the places we wish to visit. This is why when an either-or choice is to be made, the Loire Valley sometimes gets overlooked in favor of Paris. Still, the Loire Valley is just a few hours by car from the city of light and less than two hours by train, making it a relatively easy detour or a good primary trip destination.
UNESCO designated the entire region of the Loire Valley as a world heritage site. Throughout the green valley along the river, castles serve as monuments to the aristocratic families who once lived there. The region saw its heyday in the Renaissance with such residents from the pages of history as Diane de Poitiers, the mistress of King Henry II of France, and Leonardo Da Vinci, among other artists of the Renaissance
For a storybook world more real than Disney, the Loire Valley is a must-visit destination, the inspiration for many fairy tales, with its charming villages, tree-lined roads with canopy archways, and pastoral settings along the river.
While the castles are the primary reason to visit the Loire Valley, they aren't the only draw. The towns, (Amboise comes to mind), feel like you've stepped straight into a fairytale scene with important historic sites, such as the last home of Leonardo da Vinci, just a short distance from the castles. Many of the towns offer Son et Lumière shows, featuring residents of the town as performers.
The Loire Valley also can claim to have among the most beautiful gardens in the world, such as those at Chateau de Villandry where gardeners care for linden trees by hand along with a 250,000 flowers and vegetables arranged in box hedges.
Tips on Visiting the Castles
While one-day tours take travelers from Paris by coach buses and multi-day tours with small groups are also available, we prefer to travel independently for more personal attention.
Renting a car or hiring a private driver allows you to explore the region at your leisure and to visit the Loire Valley over multiple days, privately, for real sense of place and to tap into the slow speed of life there. You'll have more serendipitous opportunities to visit tucked away wine caves carved into the side of hills or a sprawling winery that offers tours through the vines.
On some occasions when we've toured the Loire Valley, we paid the entrance fees at each castles. This can get tedious and more expensive than it needs to be. An option that provides more value is to buy a tourist pass, which allows you to visit multiple castles at a discounted rate and breeze in through entrances without having to stop at the box office.
For a birds-eye view of the magnificent chateaux and a five-star experience, you can take a hot air balloon ride. The tour starts by meeting your guide, continues with a flight over the Loire Valley, castles, and gardens, and ends with a glass of champagne with your small group.
For an experience that's an authentic reflection of the culture and history of the region, we opt for castle and manor hotels with gracious staff and local owners. We love the charming, unassuming Pavillon des Lys Hotel, a small hotel in Amboise owned by a chef who serves the meal of lifetime.