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Loire Valley holiday guide

Posted on 28 July 2015 by Dan Johnson

The legendary Loire Valley isn’t just about chateaux – enjoy outdoor activities and cultural visits to suit all age groups. Pictures and words by Gillian Thornton.


What to Expect

France’s longest river is also the country’s biggest UNESCO-listed World Heritage Site. A 280-km stretch from Sully-sur-Loire in the east to Chalonnes-sur-Loire in the west, was listed in 2000 for its combination of unspoilt nature and architectural heritage.

The French kings gravitated here in the Renaissance and where royalty led, the wealthy wannabes followed, building fairy tale castles that today draw visitors from across the globe. Centuries later, the Loire is regarded as ‘Europe’s last untamed river’, a natural haven dotted with heritage towns and villages.

Chambord in the Loire Valley

High profile chateaux like Chambord and Chenonceau have visitor numbers to match, but it’s always possible to find a quiet corner to soak up that sumptuous lifestyle. And there are dozens of smaller but equally atmospheric castles for a more intimate experience. And not just castles. The Loire Valley boasts some of the most beautiful parks and gardens in France – try Villandry near Tours for the ultimate in horticultural one-upmanship.

But the Loire Valley isn’t just about gracious living. There are soft adventure activities to suit active holidaymakers of all ages. Most ambitious is the Loire à Vélo, an 800-km long distance cycle trail that hugs the valley, offering safe cycling on dedicated tracks and quiet roads, and with bike rental companies along the route. The trail links to a network of other cycle trails, including circular routes suitable for novice and lapsed cyclists.

Loire a Velo track near Chaumont in the Loire Valley

Full information and route maps are available from any Tourist Information Office. Ask too about canoe hire and explore the river from water level. Or book a gentle excursion on horseback to explore vineyards, forest tracks and riverside trails. You can even arrange to hitch up outside a chateau – the perfect way to make an entrance!

Must-see Sites

Château de Cheverny – inspiration for Captain Haddock’s home in the Tintin books, one of the most family-friendly castles with attractive park and colourful gardens. Electric boat rides; pack of resident hounds; and interactive Tintin exhibition.

Chateau Cheverny in the Loire Valley

International Garden Festival – every year from April to October, the Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire picks a new theme for a collection of plots to challenge and delight all ages. Tour the cliff-top castle and be inspired by the Arts and Nature Centre dedicated to the relationship between artistic creation and landscape design.

Domaine de Chaumont in the Loire Valley

Zooparc de Beauval – white tigers, koalas, orang-utans, giant pandas and manatees are just some of the unusual species at this wooded zoological park at St Aignan on the Cher. One of the best in France.

Château of Clos Lucé –final home of the ultimate Renaissance man, artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci, near Amboise. Discover 20 giant interactive machines including a paddle boat, helicopter and tank, and explore ‘Leonardo’s Garden’

Loches – a gem of a town for a day out, Loches straddles the Indre, south-east of Tours. Expect water meadows and walking trails, a lofty keep, ruined fortress and royal apartments, offset with winding streets, tempting boutiques and cosy cafes.

Loches in the Loire Valley

Hidden Gems

Chedigny – this delightful village north of Loches is a floral treat throughout the summer months, planted with 700 rose bushes, but also daisies and dahlias, antirrhinums, asters and hollyhocks which tumble out of gardens on every side.

Chedigny in the Loire Valley

Trôo – about 40 km north of the Loire valley is the Loir valley and Trôo, France’s best troglodyte village. See the hobbit-style homes hollowed out of the soft ‘tufa’ cliff face behind tiny gardens; visit the museum house; and enjoy hill top views.

Son et Lumière at Blois – travel through the history of the French monarchy at the Royal Chateau of Blois, then watch their story unfold in the sound and light show projected in full colour on the courtyard facades as darkness falls (until 21 Sept).

Château de Candé – this delightful turreted castle at Monts near Tours was the wedding venue for Edward VIIII and Wallis Simpson. Enjoy the 19th century interior and a selection of Mrs Simpson’s well stocked wardrobe.

Maison de la Magie, Blois – opposite the royal castle, this is the only European museum to combine themed collections about magic with a permanent show.

Local Flavours

Every French region has its own distinctive cheeses and in the Loire Valley, you’ll find five AOC goats’ cheeses, each with its own distinctive shape. Add in a couple of cow’s milk cheeses and you’ll have some key ingredients for a perfect riverside picnic.

The dense forests were once royal hunting grounds and game still features on restaurant menus, as well as local lamb and poultry. The area around Tours is famous for its rillettes, a delicious chunky pate of shredded pork, whilst river fish such as zander and pike are a favourite all along the river.

And of course all these dishes need a little liquid accompaniment. Loire Valley wines include reds, whites and rosés such as Sancerre, Chinon, and Vouvray, as well as delicious sparkling wines. Ask at any Tourist Office about vineyard visits and tastings.

Tourist information from: www.loirevalleytourism.com

Where to stay

Domaine de Dugny is a holiday village in the heart of the Loire Valley, close to the town of Blois. Enjoy the superb swimming complex and waterslides, free children’s clubs, or relax around the fishing lake. Find out more about holidays at Domaine de Dugny, or visit our site dedicated to holiday home sales in the Loire Valley.

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