Holidays in the Loire Valley: our top reasons to visit
Famous throughout the world for its fairy-tale chateaux and fabulous gardens, France’s longest river is also its largest UNESCO world heritage site with 280 km of listed ‘cultural landscapes’. But the Loire Valley is also gloriously unspoilt. Enjoy safe family cycling on the newly completed Loire à Vélo riverside trail; get close to nature in a kayak; or go horse riding through the vineyards.
1/ Castles, fortresses and country mansions
Whatever your taste in castles, the Loire Valley delivers in abundance. Enjoy the Renaissance splendour of Chambord and Chenonceau; the medieval fortresses of Chinon and Angers; and, most Royal of them all, the Royal Chateau of Blois, home to seven kings of France. Many offer audio guides, activity sheets and themed trails for children, especially in Anjou and the Touraine – the areas around Tours and Angers – where a wide range of tourist attractions have signed up to a special initiative to welcome families.
2/ Let off steam in a desirable plot
And where the rich and famous of the Middle Ages and Renaissance built their sumptuous homes, so they laid out parks for hunting and gardens to stroll in. Today their green spaces welcome families with play equipment, picnic areas and some subtle education into the bargain. Villandry, for instance, is internationally renowned for its stunning formal gardens where younger visitors have their own information panels and activities. Explore the ideas behind Leonardo da Vinci’s extraordinary inventions in the park surrounding the Château du Clos Lucé near Amboise, and have fun amongst the innovative show gardens of the annual International Garden Festival, held every year from late April to mid-October at the Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire.
3/ Dancing horses, white tigers, and giant pandas
With their distinctive all-black uniform, the Cadre Noir horsemen of Saumur are renowned for their magical displays of classical riding. Tour the stables, learn about their history and watch a training session in progress. And meet different horse breeds on a tour of the Haras du Lion d’Angers, part of the National Stud network. Like your animals a bit edgier? Then don’t miss the white lions and tigers of the enchanting Zooparc de Beauval near Saint-Aignan, which is also home to koalas, manatees and the only pair of giant pandas in France.
4/ Theme parks and heritage visits
See the history of the region come to life at the Puy du Fou theme park, south of the Loire near Cholet. The non-stop action includes minstrels and gladiators, Vikings and medieval warfare on a grand scale. Huge fun for all ages. Bring classroom history to life by following in the footsteps of Joan of Arc at Orleans, Blois and Loches, and visiting the tombs of English kings Richard the Lionheart and Henry II at Fontevraud Abbey near Saumur. And for a theme park with a difference, try Terra Botanica near Angers, the first one that’s devoted to plants.
5/ Safe cycling for all ages
Enjoy effortless family cycling along the Loire à Vélo trail that runs from the outskirts of Nevers to the Atlantic Coast, passing through two regions, six departments and one Regional Nature park. The ten-year project was completed in 2012, passing through the Pays de la Loire and Loire Valley regions, as well as the Loire-Anjou-Touraine Regional Nature Park. Take your own bikes or hire on the spot to enjoy level, riverside paths without worrying about traffic, and explore numerous marked loops leading to heritage sites and other attractions.
6/ Every town tells a story
Every town along the Loire has its own special atmosphere, but the area is dotted with smaller communities that are just perfect for family excursions. Take a short drive north to the valley of the Loir to visit Vendôme with its ancient canals and fabulous floral displays, as well as nearby Troô, a troglodyte village built into the side of a cliff where people still live in cave houses. Or head south of Tours along the Indre valley to Loches, a gem of a town with water meadows, lofty ramparts and a hilltop complex of royal buildings.
Also worth a visit
Futuroscope in Poitou-Charente is one of France’s most popular theme parks and tops our own list of favourite attractions! At only two hours driving distance from Loire Valley, it is well worth planning a visit. We don’t think there’s anything like Futuroscope – the park features interactive experiences on giant Imax screens, as well as thrilling rides. Find out more on our Futuroscope page.
There are many wine areas to explore – Muscadet, Chinon, Bourgeuil, Vouvray and Sancerre are just a few of the names to look out for, and if combined with following one of the tourist wine routes may yield some pleasant surprises. There are wines for all palates and budgets. Look out for the sparakling wines of Ackerman, Gratien et Meyer and Bouvet-Ladubay in and around Saumur. The latter has a Museum of Masks of interest to children. For further information, please visit our wine section.
The region has a temperate climate due to Atlantic influences. The summers are generally hot, but in the spring/autumn, temperatures are considerably lower.
Further ideas from: www.loirevalleytourism.com and www.paysdelaloire.co.uk
Here’s more information to make the most of your visit to the Loire Valley: