We highlight here some of the more popular activities, attractions and places to visit in the Loire Valley region.
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A relaxing and picturesque way to view the châteaux and river valleys from above; it’s as if the Loire Valley was made for hot-air ballooning. Flights usually last an hour, followed by a glass of fizz to toast the occasion. www.art-montgolfieres.fr
Hire a canoe or kayak to follow the Loire or, better still, one of its charming tributaries. If you’re not keen on going it alone, there are regular guided trips and themed outings at night or combined with food tasting. Alternatively, take a boat trip on the Loire either in one of the traditional flat-bottomed boats or as part of a larger pleasure cruise.
Loire à Vélo is an 800km signposted cycling route that is frequently on traffic-free cycle paths. Alternatively, you can explore the Indre Valley by bike or take the Saint-Jacques à Vélo route between Tours and Chartres. www.cycling-loire.com
With flat terrain, there are easy hikes to be had in the Loire Valley – the Ronde de Céré at a mighty 189 metres, is the highest point in all Touraine! The area is ranked as one of the best in France for its hundreds of kilometres of waymarked trails along river valleys and through vineyards, woods and forests.
Horse-riding is popular in the Loire Valley, particularly amid the natural regions of the Sologne and Forêt d’Orléans. There are carriage rides around the estate at Chambord or you might prefer a gentle countryside walk with a donkey, a great family activity popular with children. www.loirevelonature.com
SON ET LUMIÈRES
Son-et-Lumières spectacles (sound and light shows) are a speciality of the Loire Valley – you could say they were invented here. Many of the châteaux put on such a show every evening throughout the summer, offering a pictorial history.
Whether you take yourself off to follow the Loire Valley Wine Route or opt for a guided tour, there are ample opportunities to visit vineyards, look in caves, watch production and sample the Loire’s wines. The AOCs of Touraine, Vouvray, Chenonceaux and Amboise will tickle your tastebuds, while Montlouis-sur-Loire does a delicious bubbly. Look out for the ‘caves touristiques’ sign, a wine cellar tourism network where you can meet the producers.
TOWNS AND VILLAGES
Tours: A popular university town – Tours is considered to have the purest form of French – there’s plenty to see in the medieval old town, le Vieux Tours. Narrow streets lined with half-timbered buildings are punctuated by masterpieces such as the Renaissance Hôtel Goüin and Cathédrale St Gatien with its stained glass windows. www.tours-tourism.co.uk
Blois: Four times the size of Amboise, Blois is one of the larger towns that sit directly beside the Loire. The view of Blois with the three spires of the Église St Nicolas from across the river is one of the iconic representations of the Loire Valley. Besides the royal château, you’ll enjoy the pedestrianised old town but look out too for the Comic Strip House (Maison de la BD) with exhibitions and artists in residence. www.bloischambord.co.uk
Orléans: Once the capital of medieval France, Orléans is synonymous with Joan of Arc and you can visit a reconstruction of the house in which she resided during the English siege. Don’t miss the Musée des Beaux Arts or the Hôtel Groslot, where a bronze statue of the teenage heroine stands guard. www.tourisme-orleans.com
Vendôme: One of France’s most scenic towns, Vendôme is built over a group of islands in the Loire. You’ll find charming old stone and half-timbered buildings linked by a network of bridges. Particularly photogenic is the Parc Ronsard with its 15th-century washhouse. Not to be missed either is the ornate Gothic Abbaye de la Trinité, or the view of the town from the ruined château. www.vendome-tourisme.fr
You’ll find something, somewhere taking place every day of the year in the Loire Valley, whether an event at one of the châteaux, a wine or gastronomic festival, music concerts or theatre shows. We like the Garlic and Basil fair in Tours. www.valdeloire-france.com
From France Today magazine