The Loire being a must in the Loire Valley - as its name indicates - you can't miss it. What about getting a different perspective and sailing on the river for a couple of hours? What is more, on a traditional boat, like the ones used up to the 19th century by watermen who used to transport goods up and down the river.
Millière Raboton and Moments de Loire are two companies based in Chaumont-sur-Loire. They offer guided tours on the Loire all year long. The opportunity for you to discover the history of the river, the animals and the plants encountered in this preserved environment... and to enjoy wonderful river landscapes. Different types of tours are offered, at dawn, during the day or at dusk. They are open to both grown-ups and children. Reservation required.
You want to get off the beaten path? This activity is made for you! Imagine canoeing in the early morning on the Cher river to slowly approach château de Chenonceau, only surrounded by the songs of the waking birds. A peaceful and quiet moment, out of time, with just a dozen other people to make the most of nature and this exceptional place. Once the sun has risen, breakfast is eaten in the canoes, with a direct view on the castle. And if there is not too much wind, you may enjoy the flight of hot-air balloons above the river. You'll be accompanied by a local guide in love with his region. So, tempted?
Les Mariniers du Jean Bricau
Another boat ride, in another beautiful place, to discover a unique architectural element, and to meet some friendly locals! Departing from Véretz, you will be greeted by the pilots of the 'Jean Bricau', a traditional wooden boat from the Loire Valley. You'll sail up the Cher river to discover one of the 16 astonishing and unique needle dams which punctuate the river every 4 kilometers between Saint Aignan and Tours, making the river navigable from late June to mid-October. Depending on the tour chosen, you may have the opportunity to pass the lock, on the outward journey, then on the way back. The rides- from 1:15 to 3 hours - will also allow you to discover the history of the lovey village of Véretz, its castle, its old mill...
After a day visiting chateaux or touring vineyards and wine cellars, why not enjoy a relaxing moment at Nadia's Russian sauna? It is called 'bania', and unlike Swedish sauna, it uses moist heat to thoroughly cleanse the skin. This body care is complemented with a massage made with oak or birch tree branches, to detoxify and tone the body. Nadia's bania is located near Loches, south of Tours. A unique place in the Loire Valley and in France !
If you get to come on a tour in the vineyard with Myriam, you will get to see rock-hewn cellars as well as former dwellings dug in the limestone. These are part of the traditional habitat in the Touraine region. Until the beginning of the 20th century, farmers, vinegrowers, craftsmen, fishermen... generally did not have enough money to build themselves a house. The cheapest - but not the easiest - way to make oneself a home was to dig rooms in the limestone.
In Azay-le-Rideau, la vallée des Goupillières allows you to discover 3 farms and their rock-hewn dwellings. Even though anyone will enjoy a visit to this unique place, this is a perfect visit for families as children will appreciate the numerous animals living on the site, some of which are local and old species.
Every year since 2016, from June to September, the city of Tours has been organising Sound and Light shows on some of the landmarks of the city. The architectures of the cathedral of Tours - dedicated to Saint Gatien - and of the Archbishops' Palace - which now hosts the Museum of Fine Arts - have been enhanced thanks to these 20-minute shows. On summer nights, just after sunset, you will be able to discover these monuments in an original way. Here is a glimpse of what you could see. For sure, you are going to be amazed!
I first visited this château in August 2016... and I loved it! I went back there several times since then, eager to have my friends discover this wonderful place.
Château Gaillard is a place filled with history, a peaceful paradise at the heart of the town of Amboise - even though you can't see the chateau from anywhere in town - and a wonderful place which awakens all your senses!
In the Loire Valley, the first Renaissance gardens were designed and created at Château Gaillard. Charles VIII had it built in 1496. He surrounded himself with Italian artists and a gardener, Dom Pacello de Mercoliano, who remains famous for introducing the first orange trees in France - at Château Gaillard of course!
The current owners bought the place in 2011 and launched an impressive restoration campaign, hiring dozens of local craftsmen. Impressive!
Another chateau I visited for the first time in 2016.
Chateau du Rivau is lost between wheat fields and vineyards, a few miles away from the medieval town of Chinon. A limestone fortress, of which only a few rooms are open to visitors. But above all, a magnificent park planted with century-old trees, and 14 contemporary gardens, that host works of art that will take you back to childhood, as they evoke fairy tales.
Chateau de l'Islette witnessed the passionate love between the French sculptors Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel.
The guided tour focuses on the two artists, who came to l'Islette to spend time together and to find some inspiration.
You will understand why when discovering the bucolic setting of this private chateau, that the owners leave in springtime - they live in a house at the back of the park - to open it to visitors.
You are allowed to bring your picnic and to enjoy it in the park.
Some deck chairs are available for you to enjoy the peaceful surroundings.
It is the castle that is the closest to our family estate. Why not bike to Chançay and spend the day there, combining a visit to the castle and a wine tour with Myriam, while planning between the two activities a picnic in the vineyard which I will be happy to prepare for you?
The château de Valmer is best known for its 16th and 17th century Italian gardens. 5 hectares of gardens - of which 1 hectare of vegetable garden - on 8 levels of terraces: it is a place where you will enjoy strolling and lingering. The castle, today inhabited by the owners, was once the manager's house. The Renaissance castle unfortunately burnt down in 1948. You may have the chance to meet the owner, Monsieur de Saint Venant, who will tell you about this regrettable episode, of which he still has vivid memories. Otherwise, an exhibition of old photographs scattered throughout the gardens allows you to imagine what Valmer was in the past.
This Historic Monument built between the 14th and 16th centuries is today a 3-star hotel. You will not be able to access the interior of the castle, unless you come to have dinner at the restaurant.
On the other hand, the 55-hectare park and the gardens are open to the public and will allow you to spend a relaxing and rejuvenating moment in the open air. From May to September, you can also eat in the tea-room or the tomato bar. The castle is indeed renowned for its tomato conservatory, which brings together a unique collection of 700 species. Every year, visitors flock to the various tomato and plant festivals organized by the owners.
This castle is, above all, a place for accommodation and events. You have the possibility to rent several 'gîtes', some of which have a large capacity. A large room can be rented for weddings, seminars...
This castle, built from 1465 by King Louis XI for his treasurer, stands out for its brick architecture, which gives it finesse and elegance. The beautiful park and gardens are open to visitors (€10 for the entrance ticket).
Castles inevitably come to one's mind when the Loire Valley is mentioned. Each year they attract thousands of visitors from all over the world. When people ask me where I come from and I quote the city of Tours, they sometimes have trouble locating it, especially foreigners. But as soon as I specify that it is the region of the Loire Valley castles, immediately, I notice a little spark in their eyes. Either because they have already visited the region and marveled at it, or because they plan to visit it. In any case, it is a region that many have heard of and that makes people dream.
In addition to the hyper-touristic castles - we present our favorites below, the Loire Valley is full of lesser-known private castles, which are nevertheless often open to visitors. Some more confidential places to get off the beaten path and discover less crowded places of the Loire Valley.
If there is only one to recommend, it is this one! It is my favourite of all the chateaux of the Loire Valley... probably because I worked there when I was a student. Also because it offers a very complete visit: there is everything you want to see in a Renaissance chateau in Chenonceau - beautiful architecture, stunning site, flowery gardens, lots of furniture and tapestries... and a lot of history as well.
Chenonceau is built astride the Cher river, which makes it a unique work of art in the world. It is a ladies' chateau, as most owners throughout history have been women, and also because of its elegance and refinement. It has belonged to the Menier family since 1913. The ancestors of the current owners - 2 sisters - offered himself the chateau after making a fortune producing chocolate (the Menier brand is still very well-known by all the French cooks and chefs).
Built in the 1510s by one of Louis XII's councellors, this chateau perfectly embodies the classical style of the Renaissance architecture. It is located on an island in the middle of river
Indre, which allows the reflection of its symmetrical façades and windows in the water.
From 2015 to 2017 major renovations were made, to repair the framework and the roof and to enhance the beauty of the chateau. The attic has been opened to visitors, who can now have a glimpse at the timber work.
In one of his novels, French writer Honoré de Balzac described it as a diamond - and that's what it is: a pure jewel !
A benchmark for French gardens!
From spring to autumn, it is wonderful to stroll in the magnificent park of this castle to discover its various gardens.
My favorites: the gardens of Love and their symbolism, the vegetable garden with its decorative cabbages or its pumpkins in autumn, the herb garden... but also the pergola covered with vines and its grapes accessible to visitors during harvest time.
If tourists come to Amboise to visit the chateau (said to be 'royal', as 4 French kings lived there - Louis XI, Charles VIII, Louis XII and Francis I) and the Clos Lucé (Leonardo da Vinci's last residence), I recommend that you take time to wander the streets of the medieval town to discover the wooden houses, the churches and the private mansions...
And for those who enjoy shopping, Amboise offers lots of cute little shops, where you'll certainly find nice souvenirs to bring back home!
A must-see during your visit in the Loire Valley, Tours offers many facets for those who want to discover it.
If you arrive by train, turn around when you exit the station to discover the superb building designed by the Tours-born architect Victor Laloux, who also built the Parisian train station which now houses the famous Musée d'Orsay museum. Tours also owes him its town hall and the basilica which houses the relics of Saint Martin.
In the eastern part of the city, developed by the Romans (some vestiges of this period remain), the Saint Gatien Cathedral proudly soars towards the sky, with its arrows chiseled like lace. During the day, do not hesitate to go in to discover its superb stained-glass windows.
In the western part of the city, the Old Tours conceals secret corners, to be discovered when strolling through the paved and narrow streets of the old medieval city, which developed thanks to the pilgrimage dedicated to Saint Martin.
At the heart of this district, Place Plumereau - which townspeople call Place Plum’ - comes alive at lunchtime in fine weather, then at the end of the day regardless of the season. Surrounded by half-timbered houses dating back from the 15th century and by cafes and restaurants, it is indeed the meeting place for townspeople and students - the university is close by - who come to sip a glass of wine - a Loire Valley wine of course! - or have a bite to eat there. In 2014, it was voted the most beautiful square to have a drink in France by the international travel site Lonely Planet!
The city's heritage service offers numerous guided tours throughout the year.
Between Amboise and Loches, take a leap back in time in Montrésor - listed among the most beautiful villages in France – and have a walk there to enjoy views on the village and its castle from the banks of the Indrois river.
Still between Amboise and Loches, stroll through the streets of Chédigny, only village listed as "Remarkable Garden" in France, where rosebushes, rhododendrons, wisteria... adorn the facades of tuffstone houses.
Take a cruise on a traditional wooden boat on the Vienne and the Loire riverrd near Candes-Saint-Martin. Take the time to stroll in this village located at the western edge of the Indre-et-Loire department and embellished in summer by hollyhocks sown between the tufa houses. Visit the church dedicated to Saint Martin and admire the confluence of the Loire and the Vienne from the observatory above the village.
In the south of Touraine, stroll through the small village of Crissay-sur-Manse and admire the tufa houses there.
This is the area where I grew up and still live today, and the one where I have been offering Loire Wine Tours since summer 2014. Some people say that it is separated in two parts by the Loire, others see the river as a link between the towns and villages which are located on either side. In fact, the inhabitants on either side did not always get along. The rivalry is particularly true with regard to winegrowers, due to the wine-growing history of the territory. Something I can tell you all about during one of our tours! And yet, the region's winegrowers share the same grape variety: they grow Chenin Blanc, which to the north of the Loire gives the wines of Vouvray and to the south the wines of Montlouis-sur-Loire.
You like green and bucolic landscapes? You enjoy fishing in shallow rivers? You will inevitably be charmed by the Brenne Valley. This small river, about 50 kilometers long, has its source in the Loir-et-Cher department and flows into the Cisse river between Vernou-sur-Brenne and Vouvray. It also crosses Chançay, the village where our family estate is located.
It is a river on the banks of which I particularly like to walk and relax, by listening to the sound of the stream and to the birds, by watching the reflections of the sun in the water... One of my favorite activities: going for a picnic by the river. We know several lovely places, do not hesitate to ask us for advice. Sometimes you can even swim there.
When I travel, I like to take the time to admire landscapes, meet the locals... Hiking fits perfectly into this approach. This is why our Loire Wine Tours are 'slow tours' and most of our visits include guided walks in the vineyard. Short walks of two to three kilometers, which, on request, can turn into real hikes between vineyards, valleys and hillsides. Groups, hiking clubs ... I invite you to contact me for tailor-made tours and visits.
The territory of Montlouis-Vouvray also offers a great many hikes for those who like to walk by themselves or with family or friends. You can download the itineraries directly on the Tourist Office website.
Here is a little piece of nature where I particularly enjoy walking. “La voie verte” (the green way) corresponds to a portion of a former railway line which, until the late 1930s, used to connect Tours to Sargé. Today it is a bike path, also used by walkers, joggers... It is possible to link Tours to Reugny - a town part of AOC Vouvray neighboring Chançay - by covering a distance of 50 km (round trip). An itinerary that combines nature and heritage sites and which will allow you to enjoy beautiful views on the Loire, on the wine-growing villages and their troglodyte dwellings, then on the bucolic valley of the Brenne river and its small Renaissance castles (Valmer for example). Remember to bring your picnic, the places where you can take a break are numerous along the way.
Discover the most English of the Loire Valley gardens! Nestled at the heart of the bucolic Loir valley, these gardens are to visitors from early April to early November. A haven of peace, where one enjoys discovering the many species planted along the path suggested by the owners of the place. No constraint however, you can come and go as you please or take advantage of the many benches installed in the park, which, each time offer a different viewpoint or panorama. A place of rest and contemplation. Or even delicacies, because there is a tearoom and a restaurant where you can taste teas, cakes and dishes prepared on site or by local businesses.
Leave the Loire Valley to go to the Loir Valley and discover Lavardin, one of the most beautiful villages in France. Between castle and troglodyte dwellings, do not miss the magnificent murals of the Romanesque church.