The Loire Valley is a 280 km stretch of land, 800 square kilometers in extent, along the fertile plains of the Loire River, across the northern reaches of central France. It is also known as the Garden of France and is world renowned for its many chateaux and wine production. From Sully-sur-Loire in the east to Charlonnes-sur-Loire in the west, the valley has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tourism is the economic driver of the area, contributing 5% to France's GDP. The culture and activities of the many villages along the way each contribute to the rich tapestry that is the region.
There is much to see and do at this plant-themed amusement park outside Angers. There are 275000 plant species, ranging from orchids to roses and palm trees. Visitors can explore 600 years of botanical history by following the Spice Road and the Trade Routes through several countries. There are butterfly and tropical greenhouses to visit. A tethered hot air balloon rises to 150 m where visitors get a panoramic view of the gardens. Children can play games, dig for amber and study the beginning of plant life among the animated dinosaurs. Indoors there are 4D films to watch.
2.Chateau de Chambord
© Mor65_Mauro Piccardi/stock.adobe.com
This chateau in Chambord is the largest in the Loire valley. It was built in 1519 as a hunting lodge for Francois I. It has 440 rooms, 282 fireplaces and 84 staircases. Writer Henry James remarked that the “the towers, cupolas, the gables, the lanterns, the chimneys, look more like the spires of a city than those of a single building”. It was not built for defense but as a show of power and wealth and reflected the kings love of art and design. The chateau is surrounded by extensive gardens, a moat and water features. It attracts 700000 visitors a year.
Château, 41250 Chambord, Phone: +33-02-54-50-40-00
3.Oriental - Japanese Gardens
These gardens were designed by Parisian architect, Alexander Marcel, for his parents-in-law who lived at Chateau Colbert. They were constructed between 1899 and 1913, based on the Japanese gardens of the 16th to 19th centuries. Marcel died in 1928 and his in-laws remained on the property until 1945. Thereafter the land reverted to farming and forestry and by 1980 was abandoned. The city bought a portion of the land and rediscovered the gardens, With the help of Japanese horticulturists the gardens and their symbolism were restored. They are open from mid-March to November each year. Night walks through six stations which reveal Japanese tales are a highlight.
4.Loire-Anjou-Touraine Regional Nature Park
This regional park required the cooperation of 128 municipalities. They came together to protect the heritage of the region and to enhance the value of local resources. The award-winning Maison du Parc visitors' center was erected at Montsoreau in 2017. It houses a tourism information desk, a permanent exhibition on the various landscapes found in the park, temporary exhibits, a workshop area and a gift shop. Outside there is a picnic area for visitors. The building was built to be environmentally sustainable and visitors can take a self-guided tour through it. The park has several walking and nature trails.
Maison du Parc, 15 avenue de la Loire, 49730 Montsoreau, Phone: +33-2-41-38-38-88
5.Les Machines de L'ile
Set on an island in the Loire River, at Nantes, is Les Machines de L'ile. This is where the invented worlds of Jules Verne, the mechanical universe of Leonardo da Vinci and the industrial history of the city come together. A giant walking elephant, a sea-themed carousel and a greenhouse filled with huge mechanical birds and insects are the main attractions. The giant elephant carries 50 passengers around the former shipyards at the height of a 4 story building. The creative processes of the steampunk wonderland projects have been well documented so that visitors can view and understand them.
6.Centre de Creation Contemporaine Olivier Debre
© Centre de Création Contemporaine Olivier Debré
This center in Tours was constructed in 2017 to host contemporary art. There are three main exhibition areas – the white gallery, the black gallery and the 11m high nave. The black gallery opened with the work of Olivier Debré, a local artist who died in 1999, and after whom the museum is named. The setting offsets the vivid colors of his collection. The nave opened with a work by Per Barclay. A shallow tank on the floor was filled with oil to create intriguing reflections. His work is usually created for photographs only. The building is lit at night so that the art is visible from outside.
François 1er Garden, 37000 Tours, France, Phone: +33-2-47-66-50-00
7.Chartres Cathedral Notre Dame
The Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres was built between 1194 and 1220 in Gothic and Romanesque styles. At least five cathedrals have occupied the site since the 4th century. It has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There have been very few changes since it was built and most of the original stained glass, which was removed during the Second World War for safekeeping, is intact. In 2009, the cathedral was restored, cleaned and protected against future damage. It is the seat of the Diocese of Chartres and is a working Roman Catholic Church. Regular sacred music events are held there.
16 Cloister Notre-Dame, 28000 CHARTRES
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8.Le Cadre Noir
The National Riding School of France was established in 1815. It is based near Saumur. The school gives several command performances during the year. Galas include a Spring event, an Academic event showing off the horses' work in the artillery, and a musical event. Throughout the year, public performances are held to show the public how the horses are trained to jump and work on long reins. Classical riding is also demonstrated. Behind the scenes tours are available and visitors can accompany the horses and riders on their morning exercise routines. The school is closed on Sundays.
Avenue de l'Ecole Nationale d'Equitation, 49400, Phone: +33-2-41-53-50-60
The Path of the Roses was opened in Doué La Fontaine, the city of roses, in 1999. There are 13000 rose bushes in the 4 ha English-styled garden. Each season offers its delights. In spring the colors of the blossoms are vibrant against the green lawns. In summer, the climbing roses come into their own. The old roses bloom and the rose hips form in fall. The structure of the garden and the preparation work for the next growing year can be seen in winter. Roses are sold throughout the year in bags but in November, bear roots are on offer.
Courcilpleu Park, Doué La Fontaine 49700 Doué-En-Anjou
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10.Lakes and Swimming Spots on the Loire River
As the 'last wild river of France', swimming in the Loire is discouraged and in many places banned altogether. There are however unusual places very close to the river that can be enjoyed. For example, there is a lake in Millocheau island which is situated in the Loire. On Charlemagne Island, near Orleans, there is a 70 ha resort which consists mostly of lakes. Water sports and swimming can be enjoyed in the water and beach volleyball and Boule on land. Near Nantes, a 3000 square meter lake has been created in an old disused quarry.
11.Foundation of Doubt
© Foundation of Doubt
The Foundation of Doubt is the brainchild of French artist, Ben Vautier, who is known for his text-based art. The center, in Blois, is dedicated to Fluxus, a movement from the 1960s that brings together different art forms. There is 1500 square meter of exhibition space housing 300 works from 50 different artists. There are permanent displays of collections and temporary exhibits. Visitors enter through the Court of Doubt which has a Wall of Words as its facade. The Fluxus Café is a gathering place for visitors and artists. In summer, concerts and musical performances are on the agenda.
14 rue de la Paix, 41000 Blois, Phone: 02-54-55-37-40
12.Chateau de Chenonceau
This chateau spans the River Cher at Chenonceau. Thomas Bouhier purchased the property in the early 1500s. He demolished all but the keep of the existing mill structure and built a chateau. The work was overseen by his wife. In 1535 he lost the property to Francois I in payment of debts owed. Francois's son inherited the chateau and offered it to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. On his death, his widow, Catherine de Medici claimed it back. The chateau and gardens have been open to the public since 1913 and, apart from Versailles, attract the most visitors in France. There is a gourmet restaurant in the orangery and a souvenir shop.
13.Museum of Companionship
© Museum of Companionship
The history of guilds and trade associations dates back to the Middle Ages. The Museum of Companionship in Tours, seeks to celebrate that history and to help young people who pursue careers in those vocations. The guilds are categorized according to the material they work with, namely, wood; stone; metals; leather; textiles and food. There are collections of masterpieces in each of the disciplines. The history of the brotherhood, rites, symbols and activities of the various guilds has been recorded. Through the museum, the genealogy of guild members can be traced. The shop sells DVDs, postcards and other memorabilia.
8 rue Nationale, 37000 Tours, Phone: 02-47-21-62-20
14.Wine Tasting Events
There are a thousand different ways the Loire Valley pays tribute to its wine produce. From wine-tasting and dinner under the stars at Chateau Chenonceau to hiking or cycling from cellar to cellar, visitors can soak in the viticulture. In May, the Troglovinum runs for three days in the troglodyte caves near Vouvray. Also in May, is the Vitiloire in Tours where wine lovers meet 150 wine-makers and taste new foods. In June, the Translayon, in the Anjou-Saumur vineyards, is a journey on foot, horseback or on water down the river Layon. In the same area, in September, is Festivini, the festival of culture, including nocturnal walks through the vineyards.
15.Museum of Fine Arts
The Museum of Fine Arts in Tours is one of the largest in France. It is housed in the former Archbishop's Palace. The oldest collection dates back to 1794 when art was confiscated from emigrants houses, churches and convents. In 1801, the Louvre Museum donated 30 paintings to the fledgling museum. In 1963, a significant collect of Italian Primitives was added. There are works of French painters from the 17th to the 20th centuries. Several masterpieces are on display. The museum is set in a large formal French-style garden. It is closed on Tuesdays.
18 Place François Sicard, Tours, Phone: +33-2-47-05-68-73
16.Loire Valley Markets
Almost every town along the Loire River has a local market once or twice a week. In Tours, the flower market is held on Wednesdays and Saturdays on the Boulevard Berenger. In Amboise, there are markets on Fridays and Sundays on the bank of the river, down two tree-lined avenues. Fish, bread, cheese, fresh produce and handcrafts can be found there. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, there are markets in the citadel town of Loches. The market meanders through the Medieval streets. On certain days in summer, the markets are open in the evenings. In Langeais and Descartes, Sunday is market day.
17.Villandry - Chateau and Gardens
Jean Le Breton, the Minister of Finance under Francois I, built the Chateau at Villandry and laid the gardens. He demolished the existing fort but kept the tower in which Henry II of England admitted defeat to France. The Chateau was the last to be built in the Loire Valley and unlike others was purely French in design. The grounds were developed in harmony with the surrounds. There were extensive changes made in the 18th century and the character was lost. In the early 20th century Dr Joachim Carvallo and his heiress wife restored the home and gardens to their former glory.
3 rue Principale, 37510 Villandry, Phone: +33-0-2-47-50-02-09
18.Museum of National History
© Willem Van Zyl/stock.adobe.com
The museum was inaugurated in 1780 and moved several times in the 20th century before settling at its current location in Tours in 1990. There are four levels to explore. On the ground floor there are temporary exhibits on topical issues. The vivarium, containing live specimens of insects, reptiles and amphibians is on the first floor. The permanent natural history collections are displayed on the second floor. On the next floor, there is the documentation center and reference library, with magazines to browse and board games to play. The shop sells stationery, cards, games and a range of branded merchandise.
3 Rue du Président Merville, 37000 Tours, France, Phone: 02-47-21-68-08
© Florence Piot/stock.adobe.com
The chateau is situated on the Loire River at the confluence with its tributary, the Amasse River. It has always been a strategically defensive location. After the land was confiscated from Louis of Amboise in the 15th century, it became a royal residence until the 19th century. Many famous literary and artistic people were invited to the chateau. The property underwent several changes to the buildings and gardens. These are well documented for visitors to see. The chateau is open every day except Christmas Day and New Year and the premises are for hire for functions.
20.Lulu Rouget - Restaurant
© LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS/stock.adobe.com
The Lulu Rouget has moved to the Ile de Nantes, close to the home of the Giant Elephant. Since the move, the restaurant has received a one star Michelin rating and several other awards. The décor is industrial in this intimate restaurant. Two indoor spaces have been divided by a glass-encased bar. There is additional seating available in an indoor garden. The menu changes frequently depending on what is available in the market. For lunch and dinner there is an 'eyes shut' multi-course option which means the chef has carte blanche. Wine is available by the bottle or by the glass, paired with the chef's choice of food.
4 Place Albert-Camus, 44200 Nantes
21.Restaurant Le 1
© Restaurant Le 1
This restaurant is situated on the Ile de Nantes, on the banks of the Loire River, close to the historic center of the city. There is outdoor seating with views of the river and comfortable deep armchairs indoors. The kitchen is visible from the dining area. On alternating Saturdays men and women are invited into the kitchen to study how the meals are prepared. Each month, a different supplier of wine is invited to introduce his products to the patrons. The food is French-style with a twist and there are a range of tapas to choose from.
Restaurant 1 - 1 rue Olympe de Gouges - 44200 Nantes, Phone: 02-40-08-28-00
22.Maison de Baron Leferve
© Maison de Baron Lefèrve
This is a large restaurant, somewhat off the beaten track. It seats 200 people in total, with a private dining area that is ideal for groups of up to 30 people. The décor is vintage and stylish. The French cuisine is totally fresh and perfectly cooked and presented. There is a small menu but a large list of Chef's specials based on the availability of the ingredients. The chef has his own vegetable garden from which to harvest. There is an extensive list of wines which can be bought by the glass or bottle. The restaurant is closed on Sundays and Mondays.
33 Rue de Rieux, 44000 Nantes, Phone: +33-2-40-89-20-20
23.Les Fils a Maman - Nantes Bouffay
Three brothers started this restaurant in Nantes, as a tribute to their mother. The atmosphere is fun, informal and nostalgic, with toys of the 70s and 80s being used as décor. All the meals are made from scratch, from fresh, seasonal ingredients, sourced locally. The meat is sourced from an artisan butcher. The food is French, home-cooking like a mother with children would prepare. Each month, mothers are invited into the kitchen to see how the food is prepared so they can try it at home. Child minders are available for parents who would like to dine alone.
14 rue Beauregard, 44000 Nantes, Phone: 02-40-20-06-26
23 Best Things to Do in Loire Valley, France
- Terra Botanica, Photo: zilber42/stock.adobe.com
- Chateau de Chambord, Photo: Mor65_Mauro Piccardi/stock.adobe.com
- Oriental - Japanese Gardens, Photo: JL/stock.adobe.com
- Loire-Anjou-Touraine Regional Nature Park, Photo: Don/stock.adobe.com
- Les Machines de L'ile, Photo: Conan/stock.adobe.com
- Centre de Creation Contemporaine Olivier Debre, Photo: Centre de Création Contemporaine Olivier Debré
- Chartres Cathedral Notre Dame, Photo: pat_hastings/stock.adobe.com
- Le Cadre Noir, Photo: leszekglasner/stock.adobe.com
- Rose Garden, Photo: axynia/stock.adobe.com
- Lakes and Swimming Spots on the Loire River, Photo: Marytog/stock.adobe.com
- Foundation of Doubt, Photo: Foundation of Doubt
- Chateau de Chenonceau, Photo: calumsmith0308/stock.adobe.com
- Museum of Companionship, Photo: Museum of Companionship
- Wine Tasting Events, Photo: lordn/stock.adobe.com
- Museum of Fine Arts, Photo: saiko3p/stock.adobe.com
- Loire Valley Markets, Photo: Freepik/stock.adobe.com
- Villandry - Chateau and Gardens, Photo: aterrom/stock.adobe.com
- Museum of National History, Photo: Willem Van Zyl/stock.adobe.com
- Chateau Amboise, Photo: Florence Piot/stock.adobe.com
- Lulu Rouget - Restaurant, Photo: LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS/stock.adobe.com
- Restaurant Le 1, Photo: Restaurant Le 1
- Maison de Baron Leferve, Photo: Maison de Baron Lefèrve
- Les Fils a Maman - Nantes Bouffay, Photo: sunftaka77/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: PlanetEarthPictures/stock.adobe.com