Loire Valley 2015


Jan 4th, 2015, 09:07 AM
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Loire Valley 2015

Hello Everyone! I am back to the message board.

I have asked in 2009 about the Loire Valley but then we stayed in Paris for two weeks and loved it. Since then, we have done Burgundy as well as other countries.

We are wanting to do a short trip in 2015. We will be coming on the Eurostar from London and arriving at Gard du Nord. We want to see the Loire Valley for 4 days. We also want to rent a car. From my previous asking in 2009, it seems that it would be best for us to take a train from Gard du Nord to Tours or St. Pierrie du Corps. Does that sound best?

What would be the best places to visit in the Loire Valley? We are thinking of seeing 3 to 4 chateauxs and visit some of the nicer towns in that area. Any recommendations?

We had a fantastic trip to Italy in 2014 and the food was absolutely wonderful. Any recommendations for some great places to each in the Loire Valley area?

We will then spend 5 days in Paris which we have done a few times now. We love Paris.

Thank you all in advance. You are always so helpful.
Byron1 is offline  
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Jan 4th, 2015, 10:00 AM
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Amboise IMO of living in the area off and on and doing lots of drives around is the perfect base - a smallish city though in July and August draws too many tourists for some folks tastes.

But Chambord, Chenonceau, Azay-le-Rideau - the three top Loire chateaux to many are within a short drive - and Amboise has its own great chateau as well as the Clos Luce where Leonardo da Vinci spent his final days - lots of his ahead of his time invetions are on display (copies I believe).

and Amboise is on one the prettiest sretches of the Loire.
PalenQ is offline  
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Jan 4th, 2015, 10:02 AM
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Train to Tours then rent. Yes
I like the area between Saumur and Chinon
You can stay in part of this abbey and have access to the place 24/7 (see Booking) the rooms are great and the cloisters restaurant is ok (but what a place), for great meals the Unicorn in the village is off the scale
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Jan 4th, 2015, 10:09 AM
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The entire Loire chateaux area is "long". For such a short trip, I would concentrate on just the Loire chateaux east of Chinon - between Chinon & Chambord. We were there for 2 weeks in '14, and west of Chinon for 1 week in '09. Prior to '09, we've spent about 4 weeks in the Loire since '77 - on many trips.

Favorite Chateaux:
Gardens at Villandry
Chaumont sur Loire (visit the "unfinished" top floor)

After that:
Exterior of Azey le Rideau

Interesting cities:
Only one - Chinon.

In our opinion, Blois & Amboise were only C+ cities, and Tours a D+. We've visited perhaps 500-700 cities, towns, and villages in France.

We visited Chenonceau on one day - and that's all we did that day. We were first in line when the chateau opened, rushed inside the grounds, took pictures of the exterior and gardens, and then visited the inside. Then we had a nice lunch on the grounds (we usually don't "do" lunches). By the time lunch was over, the sun had shifted and now the "other" side of the chateau was exposed to the sun - so we took more pictures. We did pretty much the same with Chambord.

Here is a shutterfly book my wife put together, with pictures of our trip. We also visited the Ile de Re for two weeks and the Poitiers area too. The Loire pictures are half way through the book. Shutterfly only allows about 110 pages - and we ran out of pages, so a "full spread" of Chambord & Villandry will be in a separate book.

Click "View Photo Book" on the first screen, and then "Full Screen" on the second.

Your '09 way of getting to the Loire is still good.

Stu Dudley
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Jan 4th, 2015, 10:10 AM
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As for the car rental, yes, I think that is a good idea. Most trains go to St Pierre des Corps, but some to Tours Centre. But you can't take them from Gare du Nord, they leave from Montparnasse. Who told you that you could get to Tours or St Pierre from Gare du Nord? It's the wrong direction. I think there is an occasional train that goes there from Austerlitz, but one wouldn't go from Gare du Nord. So either take a taxi, or take the RERB train to Denfert Rochereau and then the metro to gare Montparnasse from there.

However, you can also get a train direct to Amboise, a much smaller town than Tours. Those leave from gare Austerlitz (also on the Left Bank). I"m sure you can rent cars there but the choice might not be as big as at Tours, and hours may vary. But it might be a place you'd rather stay if touring around the area as it is smaller. YOu can take the metro line direct from Gare du Nord to Austerlitz. Or, you can also take some direct trains from Austerlitz to Blois, another smaller town which I quite like in that area. There's a direct train around 1 pm and again around 5:30 pm, some days.

As for chateaux, I've only been to several. I liked Chenonceau the best, as I recall. Of course the ones right in Amboise and Blois are interesting, but a bit different being in town. I think the main ones people go to are Chenonceau, Chambord. I also liked Azay-le-Rideau, that would also be a good one.
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Jan 4th, 2015, 10:14 AM
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Hi Byron,

have you worked out which chateaux you want to see? obviously in 4 days you won't have time to see them all, so it's useful to work out your priorities, in order to work out the best place to stay.

That said, Saumur, Amboise and Chinon are often praised as good places to stay for chateaux visiting. We have stayed in both Saumur and Amboise and preferred the former - it seemed to have a better selection of restaurants and a nicer atmosphere than Amboise, though I would still recommend going there for a visit. Ditto Angers to see the wonderful tapestry.

From Saumur you have a number of possibilities within a hour's drive or so [slightly dependent on the time of year which you don't mention] - Villandry [a wonderful garden] , Chenonceau, Amboise, Azay le Rideaux, Chinon; and also places like Fontevraud-l'Abbaye [where the Plantagenet kings are buried], Doue-la Fontaine, which has some terrific rose gardens and a zoo, and Cholet, for the wonderful Puy de Fou. [a french theme park but far more than that]

hope that gives you a start!
annhig is online now  
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Jan 4th, 2015, 10:24 AM
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Amboise is a good base.
sanderskn is offline  
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Jan 4th, 2015, 10:28 AM
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I should mention that if you will be there in the summer, some chateaux have son-et-lumiere shows which start quite late because they have to wait for darkness to fall. I seem to remember that we saw a great one at Blois, but that was about 35 years ago so my memory may be playing me tricks.

Chaumont also runs a garden show which I've never managed to get to, but sounds as if it should be quite interesting.
annhig is online now  
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Jan 4th, 2015, 10:42 AM
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I will also chime in and say that we're now Amboise fans. We found it a bit "honky tonk" and full of tour buses all day long.

We prefer the western Loire, specifically Angers, with outings to Nantes, Saumur and Fontrevraud. Saumurs is also a good base. However, some of our favorite castles are in the central part of the Loire.

Favorite castles that we visited:
Angers. Not a pleasure palace, but a real fortress castle set in a charming, pleasant city that isn't totally dependent on tourism. Magnificent tapestries in the castle. Lovely old town.
Azay-le-Rideau. A jewel box pleasure palace in pretty small town/village
Chenonceau. Definitely one of the top sights of the valley.
Chambord. Impressive. Best part of the visit, IMO, is the boat that cruises through the moat/canal system around the castle. Be on the first boat of the day and you might get a private tour (we did -- it was just the skipper, DH, me, and our English cocker). Boats later in the day can be crammed.
Montresor. A small, off-the-beaten track castle, very pretty, set in lovely village
Loches. Interesting town and castle, more somber than some other castles.
Villandry. As mentioned above, the gardens are the big draw.
Fougeres-sur-Bievre. Often passed over for more famous castles, but we liked it. Visits emphasize the crafts and skills used to build the chateau.
Cheverny. A little too hunting-focused, but still interesting.

Fontevraud. Not a chateau but we think it's one of the must-sees in the region.
WeisserTee is online now  
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Jan 4th, 2015, 10:50 AM
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>>I will also chime in and say that we're now Amboise fans<<

I will assume you meant "not" instead of "now"

To the OP - note that from Saumur, Chambord is a 2 hr drive. IMO, the "must sees" in the entire Loire are Chambord & Chenonceau. Chenonceau is a 1 1/4 hr drive from Saumur. That means being "first in line" when they open will require an early rise in the am. I would not want to drive back to Saumur after a "son et lumiere" in Blois.

Stu Dudley
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Jan 4th, 2015, 11:00 AM
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Stu - my "must sees" on the loire seem to be different to yours - I would put Villandry at the top of my list, and the Puy de Fou, for both of which Saumur is well positioned.

that's why I suggested that the OP work out what they want to see and pick a base accordingly.

we were in fact staying in Blois when we saw the son-et-lumiere there, not Saumur and I don't think that I suggested otherwise. I was assuming that the OP had the good sense to consult a map.
annhig is online now  
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Jan 4th, 2015, 11:29 AM
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You've gotten great advice already, but I'll add my 3 favorites.

-Chenonceau is a must see IMO
-Villandry has amazing gardens (and their website says they've opened up more of the interior, though I've never been inside).
-Azay Le Rideau is a tiny but lovely castle. In the village, not far from the entrance to the castle, there is an incredible chocolate shop called Au Royal Chocolat. We thought it was fresher, more delicious, and many combinations more interesting than several places we tasted all over Paris.)

Also, I read in your Burgundy post (which I bookmarked because we're going there in a few months) that you enjoy biking. On the main street of Villandry, not far from the TI and parking lot, you can rent bikes by the hour (at 2 different locations). They have a voie verte that runs along the river, past the castle. We rode from Villandry down to Savonnieres and back with our kids, stopped and ate our Jambon Beure sandwiches from a local patisserie, then wandered around Savonnieres a bit before returning. It was a nice way to break up the touring with some beautiful scenery and exercise. I had called ahead to reserve the bikes because I needed to be sure they had 2 smaller bikes for the kids, but I don't know if you'd need to reserve ahead for 2 adult bikes.

On our next trip in May, we will visit Amboise (which I've actually never been to), Clos Luce where Leonardo da Vinci spent the last part of his life, and take the kids back to Villandry to explore the gardens (which we didn't go to last time with them).

I haven't been as drawn to Cheverny and Chambord but my brother loves their grandeur. (He also loves to hunt so the room of trophy antlers in Cheverny really excited him. No so much for me.)

Over just 4 days, I can't imagine you'll be able to visit more than 3-4 castles, otherwise it just becomes castle overload. You'll want some time to just stop and wander through the little villages; to enjoy the wonderful food and wine and cheese.

I've been to the Loire a handful of times (including a trip in 2013 and going back again in a few months). We have always stayed near Chinon (and now stay there to visit friends we've made in our travels). But a lot of people here on Fodors love Amboise and it may be a better place for your base, depending on which Chateau you want to see.

The trick is to figure out which chateau appeal most to you, and find a place that is central.

Now I'm off to go read your Burgundy post. We're headed there in a few months.
skatterfly is offline  
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Jan 4th, 2015, 01:58 PM
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>> I don't think that I suggested otherwise. I was assuming that the OP had the good sense to consult a map.<<

Yes - you didn't suggest visiting Blois from Saumur. But you & I have witnessed many planned itineraries where the person doing the planning seemingly never consulted a map nor used

I only named 2 "must sees". Villandry is #3.

Stu Dudley
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Jan 4th, 2015, 01:59 PM
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Cheverny is a lesser chateau inside for me but fantastic to see its famous Soupe des chiens or mass feeding of the hunting dogs:

Amboise is by fare the most convenient base for visiting the consensus best of the castles to the west and to the east - to me as cities go Chinon takes the cake for being the nicest one but again is a bit too far east if wanting to go to Chambord, the biggest and in many ways most awesing of all Loire castles.
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Jan 5th, 2015, 02:38 AM
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skatterfly, we did tour the inside of Villandry on the first occasion we went and even with more rooms opened up, I'd have to be pretty desperate to do it again. Your idea of the bike ride as a secondary activity to a visit to the gardens is a much better one.

Should it rain, there is a cave with the usual stalagtites and stalagmites to amuse one just up the road. In fact there are many interesting caves - some are used as wine cellars with public sales, some are still lived in, I believe, and in Doue-la-Fontaine, they even hold a rose show in one.
annhig is online now  
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Jan 5th, 2015, 04:58 AM
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I've stayed twice in Onzain, a small town halfway between Amboise and Blois, across the river from Chaumont and not far from Chenonceau. Very convenient location.
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Jan 5th, 2015, 10:03 AM
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In fact there are many interesting caves - some are used as wine cellars with public sales, some are still lived in>

and quite a few are used to grow mushrooms - if you see a "Champignons" sign along the road it is a mushroom cave you can visit and of course buy fresh mushrooms.
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Jan 6th, 2015, 08:01 PM
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Ann, thanks for that bit of info in Villandry.
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