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Traveling solo in the Loire Valley / train or car? best base?

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Mar 21st, 2012, 01:53 PM
  #1
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Traveling solo in the Loire Valley / train or car? best base?

I will be traveling by myself in the Loire Valley at the beginning of May for a week. Looking to visit Blois, Chenonceau, Chambord, Villandry, Chinon and Angers and maybe one other place if time allows. I was thinking of taking trains, buses and taxis rather than renting a car since I will be by myself and tend to tire fairly easily. I was planning on spending 2 nights in Blois, 4 in Tours and 2 in Saumur. I won't want to drive around at night, but daytime would be fine if that's really the best choice.

Questions for you experts:

1. Is it worth the hassle to rent a car if it's just me?

2. Recommended base?

3. Is it worth it to spend a couple of days in Saumur given that the chateau is under renovation, or should I skip it and do Angers and Chinon as day trips from Tours?

4. Has anyone stayed at the Hotel Mirabeau in Tours? It's near the station. FYI, the Hotel du Manoir is full up.

Thanks!!!!!!!!!!
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Mar 21st, 2012, 02:00 PM
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I don't think the issue with renting a car is whether it is just you or not (although that obviously makes it more expensive per person), but whether you really want to do things you can't easily do without a car.

I stayed in the Loire by myself without a car, but I didn't try to see that many chateaux or do as much as you. Of course, I wasn't there that long. I stayed in Tours and just visited several chateaux from there by train/bus (Chenonceau, Azay-le-Rideau, Blois and Amboise). Plus I spent time seeing Tours, also.

I think what you want is doable with a car except for a couple which I am not familiar with so don't know (Chambord and Villandry and Saumur). I never thought of Angers as a place to visit in a Loire tour as it is so far west (halfway to Nantes). But it is a major city that I visited once from Paris on a day trip by TGV, it doesn't take that long. If you can easily get there by train from Tours, you sure don't need a car in it.
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Mar 21st, 2012, 03:43 PM
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And I can live w/o Chambord
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Mar 21st, 2012, 04:53 PM
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I just can't fathom doing the Loire Valley without a car. Yes, there are tours and public transportation, but the freedom that a car allows is unparalleled, and frankly, the main sites aren't that easy to get to with public transport. You can do it, but if you can drive a car, why not? I'm not sure what you mean by you tire easily, but it's not tiring driving in the Loire. It's flat. There's a road on the north side of the river, a road on the south side of the river, and lots of other roads taking you elsewhere.

Angers and Saumur are not to be missed if you have enough time.
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Mar 21st, 2012, 05:12 PM
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I have traveled alone (female) and really like having the luxury of a rental car. I could spend as much or as little time as I wanted at sites as I was not dependent on bus/train schedules. It is easier to have a picnic when I hungry. In later years I find myself often getting sleepy mid afternoon, but easily find places to pull over and take a walk to refresh myself or just to put the seat back and take a 15 minute nap. ( To nap, I never pull over in an isolated stop--either use the car park at one of the sites or an autostop on the highway.)

Enough said. To sum up, if you can swing it, rent a car.
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Mar 21st, 2012, 05:16 PM
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Maybe you could do a mix of both? My personal preference is to get to a spot by train where there's a hire car depot, and then drive from there. So you could take a fast train to Blois and then drive in a loop from there. I think a car gives you much more flexibility (and even a chance for a quiet power nap if you do tire) rather than always checking your watch for the next departure. I also prefer the smaller places to the big towns - and easier to drive around too. Amboise is lovely for those eastern sites, but Chinon could be a good base for the western spots. You could then drop the car off at Tours and catch the train to Angers for a night, as Christina suggested.
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Mar 21st, 2012, 09:03 PM
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I'm planning to stay in Blois for a few days- arrive early am- see Blois - then rent a car later that day- see Langlais, Samur, Chinon and Fontrevaud. I like the idea of driving vs public transit - to see the countryside, the freedom to explore and perhaps find a vineyard and taste wine etc. I chose Blois as it has a lot of character vs Tours which seems to be a big city, after a day out, I can easily walk to a local bistro for a meal.
I'm traveling solo as well.
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 09:17 AM
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I would not characterize Tours as a big city, in fact it´s not really a city at all, just a small town that has expanded just like many small towns in France have done over the last several decades. You do not need a car to visit the Loire Valley but it is convenient to have one.

You can easily stay in central Tours which is much livelier than is central Blois. You´ll want to choose the area between the train station and Place Plumereau or Old Tours, outside of this area will not be interesting to tourists. In addition to Hotel du Manoir (where I have stayed many times), take a look at:


Hôtel du Théatre
57, rue de la Scellerie
http://www.hotel-du-theatre37.com/

___

Hôtel Berthelot
8, rue Berthelot
http://www.bestwesterncentralhoteltours.com/

___

Both of these hotels are within easy walking distance of the station and are near rue Colbert (for restaurants) and Place Plumereau (restaurants and cafés).

You can take the train to Chenonceau, Azay le Rideau is near a rail line, Blois, Amboise, Chaumont, but probably the easiest way to visit the châteaux is by minibus tour:

http://www.tours-tourisme.fr/excursions.php?id=4

Tours Centre is the local transportation hub, trains to most all of the places on your list will depart from there.
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 09:20 AM
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I agree that Tours isn't a big city, but it sure is a pain to drive in and out of, and I'm not sure why anyone would want to stay there when there are so many delightful Loire towns that are more convenient for touring the area and that don't have major traffic issues.
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 09:25 AM
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I agree that the car is the best idea.

BEWARE: some of the people who will tell you that towns like Amboise are "too touristy" are amazingly silent when you mention places such as Chenonceau which is often MOBBED with visitors.

Tours? I agree with St. Cirq about the driving but will say that if you have driven in some larger metro US cities, Tours is a piece of cake.
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 09:29 AM
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The chateaux were pleasure palaces built out in the countryside. Most are not near any train station ad buses are meant for loca - very few and far between.

IMHO the only realistic options if you are not to wste a lot of time just getting around is either to rent a car or take van tours. (I think taxis all over would be prohibitive - and probably also difficult to arrange - you're talking a lot of villages/very small towns here.)

We stayed in a private chateau near Chinon for 6 days and found we could see a ton of things from there by car. Wouldn;t consider any other way.
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 10:39 AM
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Yes, a car is really necessary. They weren't building railroads when these chateaus were built.

One thing you absolutely need, is a very good, very detailed map of how to get from one to another. Michelin will have what you want, just make sure you get the correct map number.

If you take a back road, it can be very confusing. Study the map before you start, and stop when you feel you need to.
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 11:01 AM
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I have visited the Loire 3 times over the years, twice by vehicle (motorhome and most recently car) and by hitchhiking back in the early 1970s. The first trip is not the way I'd ever do it again! LOL

By all means, rent a car. Reserve well ahead for at least 3 days and get the smallest car available and the cost will not break the bank. Europcar quotes $280 (USD) for a Fiat 500 from May 2-10. That's only 30 some dollars a day. You can dispense with the cost of insurance if you have it available through your credit card and fuel will cost little due to the size of the car and the relatively short distances.

If energy can be a problem I'd argue a car is your best bet... you set your own itinerary and how long you spend at each site or chateau rather than have to scramble on and off a bus. If you feel tired you can have a snooze in a parking lot or handy aire along one of the roads. In early May roads will not be crowded and the Loire valley is an easy place to drive.

Don't miss Chambord... it took until visit 3 to get to it and it certainly is stunning!

And at the risk of sounding like a shill for her publisher's see if you can order a copy of Ina Caro's "The Road From the Past". There is an excellent section on the Loire valley.

Have fun!
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 12:00 PM
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A. Get a car (as others have noted).

B. There's nothing wrong with staying in one base for a week.

C. We enjoyed basing ourselves in the Chinon area.

D. Ditto what St.C said about Saumur & Angers.

Enjoy your trip!
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Mar 22nd, 2012, 06:19 PM
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Dukey1 - Chenenceaux is totally overrun with tourist. My last visit there I was surprised by the changes in parking and the geometric expansion of tourism there.

That being said, Amboise is touristy 24 hours a day. In my last trip a couple of years ago in a shoulder season, the restaurants were inundated with tourists. It seemed mandatory to have your hotel book dinner. Ten - fifteen years ago, that was not something I saw, ever.
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Mar 23rd, 2012, 11:24 AM
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Thanks so much to all who replied and to anyone else who has additional suggestions. Think I'm sold on the car idea (and on basing myself out of Blois or Amboise for a couple of days and then Chinon). Will report back afterwards.
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Mar 23rd, 2012, 03:40 PM
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I'm an older female, and I did that same kind of trip eight years ago - solo. I also debated back and forth about renting a car, but decided to do it, and the trip was wonderful. I trained from Paris to Tours (stayed 2 nights there at the Hotel du Manoir), then 3 nights in Amboise, 2 in Chinon, 2 in Saumur. Then I drove to Angers and toured the chateau, turned in the car and took train back to Paris.

Driving in the Loire was very easy, (after I got used to using a stick shift car again). By spreading out the places to stay, it made driving so much easier, and I never got tired. I especially liked staying in Amboise and Chinon - Saumur not as much. I researched the trip thoroughly, studied maps before going, and was thrilled that I decided to do it.

I have since done the same kind of trips - all solo -
to Normandy, Alsace, Brittany, Burgundy and the Dordogne, but for 2 weeks in each. I LOVE traveling solo, and that first trip to the Loire was a perfect beginning. I also find that people in France are extremely helpful. I highly recommend this kind of solo trip! I did a trip report on the Loire trip, if you can find it by clicking my name.
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Mar 24th, 2012, 09:27 AM
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Thanks Sue - did manage to find your report. Glad to hear you found it worth moving hotels -- others have recommended staying put. The older I get the more planning I need. Especially when friends have invited me to scratch two days of chateaux and tour some wine towns in Bordeaux with them. Wondering whether to stay in Tours at all -- am now thinking 2-3 nights in Blois (Cheverny and Chaumont, 1st day, then Chambord next morning and Blois in evening to be there for the Wed. sound and light show in English), 2 in Chinon (for Angers, Chinon and Fontevraud), backtrack to Amboise for a few days (Villandry, Chenonceau, Amboise and Clos de Luce' and to be closer to Tours for taking the train to Bordeaux). Does this sound feasble? Anyplace fabulous I've left off?
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Mar 24th, 2012, 09:34 AM
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<<<>>>

St Cirq - could you give some examples/suggestions?

thanks.
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Mar 24th, 2012, 10:34 AM
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You didn't mention Azay-le-Rideau, a smaller chateau in a lovely setting along the Indre. It has every architectural element you want (well, that I want) in a Renaissance chateau and it's small enough so you can feel you've seen it all.

On your Chinon and Fontevraud day, try to make time to see the adjacent towns of Candes St Martin and Montsoreau. They're both on the list of most beautiful villages of France.

Loches (both the town and its fortress) might be a little out of your way but it's worth a detour. It's unfairly neglected when people consider visiting the chateaux of the Loire.

Have you considered finding lodging outside the big towns? You'd have less hassle with traffic.
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