The Loire Valley is a big draw for visitors with most coming in search of the magnificent A-List châteaux. Given their sumptuous settings, flamboyant designs, stunning gardens and colourful history, it’s no surprise.
But there is so much more to the Loire Valley – so many other places to see, some perhaps surprising but all wonderful experiences. Here we showcase our Six of the Best alternative reasons to visit the Loire Valley.
Many structures throughout the Loire Valley are built with tuffeau, the distinctive off-white limestone. This was hewn from the ground leaving caves and tunnels and it was quickly realised that these were the perfect cool, dark environment for growing mushrooms (storing wine too, of course). La Cave des Roches near Chenonceaux is 50m underground with 120 km of growing galleries. The fascinating tours teach much about mushrooms that you perhaps never realised you didn’t know!
Gabare boat trip
Drifting along the river, perhaps with liquid refreshment, is a great way to get a different perspective on a place. The traditional gabares are the old work horses of the river, and a leisurely cruise on the river Cher near Tours or right up to the Château de Chenonceau is a real experience.
The white tuffeau is soft and relatively easily to excavate. No surprise then that dwellings carved out of the cliff-sides, often above the river Loire itself, were very des-res as early as the 11th century. Today some are still occupied and feature modern comforts. Indeed the Belle France ‘Loire Prestige À Pied’ holiday features France’s leading luxury troglodytic hotel in Rochecorbon.
This is a château next to a château (well, close enough to be linked to Château Amboise by a secret tunnel). This was Leonardo da Vinci’s home for the last years of his life, courtesy of Francis I. Today it houses a collection of working models of many of his famous inventions (art too naturally). It is certainly a fascinating insight into the mind of one of mankind’s greatest artists and polymaths.
Chaumont Garden Festival
In the extensive grounds of Château Chaumont, this annual garden festival is not like other garden shows. It’s as much about art, a contemporary landscape art museum complete with creative illumination and sculptures. The aim is for gardens to reach their peak in the autumn but of course, as the summer months pass, there is always something fresh to admire.
The French military riding academy in Saumur has an international UNESCO recognised reputation, along with superb equestrian display teams. It’s not just for horse lovers and a tour around the arena, stables and behind the scenes of this historic institution is fascinating. And if you get the chance to see a performance, don’t miss it!
If you really can’t miss the châteaux but don’t have the time, why not visit the Parc Mini Châteaux near Amboise. Here you can see Blois, Chambord (celebrating its 500th anniversary in 2019), Villandry, Chenonceau and more – all painstakingly recreated in miniature.
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As the only French travel specialist offering walking and cycling holidays, we take pride in offering an authentic French experience. Stay in the best hotels, eat in the best restaurants and explore the best of France.
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