The Loire Valley is a jewel of France. I can’t believe it took me 30 years to visit this region that the French Royalty picked to build some of their best castles. From castles to wineries, we spent a lovely couple of days with this detour on our way from Bordeaux to Brittany. I know it can be overwhelming to only have two days in the Loire Valley. This article does not only include itinerary suggestions and tips to visit castles and wineries to visit but also features a castle map at the end.
How to pick which castles to visit in the Loire Valley?
There are so many castles to visit in the Loire Valley that you can’t see them all in one visit, especially if you only stay for a couple of days in the region. My biggest tip is to always double check if the castles you chose aren’t being renovated at the time of your visit to avoid disappointment. Otherwise, it’s hard to make a mistake when selecting a castle: they seem to all have their charms.
Should you follow the crowd to the most popular castles? Or go off the beaten track to visit one you’ve never heard of?
You could be surprised by how stunning the less famous castles can be. I had never heard of the Chateau of Sully-sur-Loire before receiving a photo from my mother a few days ago. It looks beautiful, don’t you think?
For your first visit, I suggest selecting at least one on a river (like Chenonceau or Azay-le-Rideau) and one with beautiful gardens (like Villandry). You can use the map below to see where all the castles are and their category.
Chenonceau and Chambord are the most touristy ones: not the best choices during the peak season if you want to avoid the crowds or if you are on a budget. But it’s always a hard call to keep these off the list: they are popular for a reason!
I preferred admiring the castles from the outside than spending time inside, mainly because my time in the region was limited. This can influence the ones you put on your list, and also your itinerary. Those castles located in the town centres (like Amboise or Chinon) make great stops after hours when other castles are closed for visitors.
If you love History or antique, you will want to go inside. Although it’s not what I’m most interested in, I still recommend entering in at least one historical castle. Some will send you a few centuries back in time as you imagine the stories coming alive in these rooms with the old furniture and decorations. Again, Chenonceau is a safe option. But I’m sure kids will love Usse.
There are many tours that you can join to visit the Loire Valley. Viator* offers a selection of trips from Paris that you can book online.
Two Days in the Loire Valley: Itinerary Suggestion
1. Amboise by night
We arrived in Amboise at the end of the day to sleep in a troglodyte home. Our tour in town with the illuminated castle was a great introduction to the Loire Valley. French luxury at its peak. We were in Amboise outside visiting hours so we could not check out the views the French kings had when they resided there from the 15th to the 19th century. The tomb of Leonard da Vinci is inside the castle.
We were in Amboise outside visiting hours so we could not check out the views the French kings had when they resided there from the 15th to the 19th century. The tomb of Leonard da Vinci is inside the castle.
If you’ve always dreamt of a royal experience sleeping in a Chateau, you may make your dream come true in Amboise. The stunning Chateau des Arpentis* was built in 1400 and has been transformed into a very stylish hotel. The rooms offer views of the beautiful park where deer and horses can be spotted. Click here for more information*
We opted for a cheaper option – but still original: a troglodyte room. It’s quite unusual to sleep in a cosy cave! Click here to have a look at Le Clos de L’Hermitage* for an example of troglodyte rooms.
2. The famous Chenonceau
Climbing the river, Chenonceau is a gorgeous symbol of the Loire Valley. I’ve heard before that Chenonceau is overrated and I disagree. It’s massive, with lovely gardens and full of History. Kind of hard to beat, honestly. Those who love Queen’s and King’s gossips will find it fascinating. As we were going from one room to another, each with its own story, I felt like being in a movie.
We went there as early as possible outside of peak season to avoid the crowd. If we had more time, I would have loved to paddle on the river to get different views of the massive and beautiful Chenonceau.
A good lesson for those planning a trip to the Loire Valley: check if the castles you plan to visit are doing renovations. Azay-le-Rideau was still open, so the trip was not for nothing, but it was not as lovely as on the photos I saw when planning the trip because most of it was under a scaffold.
The good news is that the castle is now renovated and will look beautiful for your visit!
4. Villandry and its stunning gardens
The castle of Villandry looks great, but you actually visit it to spend time looking at the gardens. The part made of vegetables was colourful and original. It’s nice to walk around the garden, but don’t forget to do the short walk behind the castle. It will take you up on a hill so you can see the gardens from a very different angle!
5. Loire Valley wine tasting and original dinner in Chinon
I initially wanted to add wine regions to the map below, but I decided not too when I looked at this vineyard map. They make wines almost everywhere along the entire Loire Valley region.
We weren’t sure when we’d have time to fit the wine tasting in the Loire Valley program. This activity is always challenging during a road trip, and we had already visited a few vineyard a few days before in Saint Emilion near Bordeaux.
Chinon was our only stop for wine tasting in the Loire Valley. We visited Le Domaine de Noire that we chose almost randomly while driving to Chinon, because of their original offer of organic wines and activities in wine tourism.
Our wine tasting ended up being a greater learning experience than a degustation – which we enjoyed a lot. The host shared his knowledge and explained the making and specificity of the region with pleasure.
We were lucky to try a new kind of wine they make in a giant amphora (instead of the usual barrel). Although it sounds very original (at least for France), it’s actually an ancient technique becoming trendy again. The Amphora was the wine we preferred. Unfortunately, they hadn’t bottled it yet so we could only enjoy the degustation sips!
The two other wines we tried were surprising. Both coming from the same grapes and the same hill, they had a very contrasting taste. It came from the difference in the soil at the top of the hill compared to the middle.
We didn’t have time to visit the castle, but we spent the evening in the lovely medieval town centre.
Our Airbnb host recommended having dinner at Dede La Boulange. The owner is an original character that creates a unique atmosphere to taste local food and drinks. You can only experience something like this in Chinon: Dede la Boulange is unimitable.Hotels in Chinon*
6. Usse, the Sleeping Beauty’s castle
Once upon a time, there lived a good king and a queen. Long story short (but you can read the full one here if you wish), their girl was the Sleeping Beauty, and Charles Perrault got inspired by the Castle of Usse when writing the fairy tale.
And when you visit the castle today, it’s mainly about her story. The experience is very different from the usual French royalty life.
We had a quick lunch stop in Saumur while driving west to reach Brittany. I am sure it’s a great destination for wine and castle lovers.
Perched on its hill, we could see the castle from many kilometres away. It was tempting us… but we were running out of time to visit the place properly.
If the views are already fantastic from the ground, I can only imagine how fantastic it is from the air… If you have the budget, there are a few options to get a bird’s view of the Loire Valley for a memorable experience:
My Loire Valley Castles Map
I create a map of all the Loire Valley castles that I organised in categories:
- The numbers are the castles I wrote about in this article
- The orange pins are the castles with great history and architecture
- The blue pins are the castles with a river
- The green pins are the castles with gardens
If the map doesn’t show, click here to view it.
It takes two to three hours to drive from Paris to the Loire Valley, depending on where you stop. If you don’t have a car, there are a few options to catch a train to Tours (35 minutes), Blois (1.5 hours) or Amboise (1h40). This website provides detailed information to go from Paris to the Loire Valley.
You can play with the SNCF website to find routes to go to the castles themselves, by train. I have identified a few on the map, like from tour to Azay-le-Rideau and Chinon. I also found buses, as a tour from Paris or by public transport from Blois.
You can visit some of the castles of the Loire Valley as a day trip from Paris. However, you may want to allow a couple of days there if you can, as there are many sites to visit. If you have more time, cycling holidays can be an original way to enjoy the flat region!
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