The Loire Valley

We’ve compiled the best of the best in The Loire Valley - browse our top choices for the top things to see or do during your stay.

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  • 1. Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud

    Founded in 1101, the Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud (Royal Abbey) had separate churches and living quarters for nuns, monks, lepers, "repentant" female sinners, and the sick. Between 1115 and the French Revolution in 1789, a succession of 39 abbesses—among them a granddaughter of William the Conqueror—directed operations. The great 12th-century Église Abbatiale (Abbey Church) contains the tombs of Henry II of England, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their son, Richard Cœur de Lion (the Lionheart). Although their bones were scattered during the Revolution, their effigies still lie en couchant in the middle of the echoey nave. Napoléon turned the abbey church into a prison, and so it remained until 1963, when historical restoration work began. The Salle Capitulaire (Chapter House), adjacent to the church, with its collection of 16th-century religious wall paintings (prominent abbesses served as models), is unmistakably Renaissance; the paving stones bear the salamander emblem of François I. Next to the long refectory is the famously octagonal Cuisine (Kitchen), topped by 20 scaly stone chimneys led by the Tour d'Evrault.

    Pl. des Plantagenêts, Fontevraud-l'Abbaye, Pays de la Loire, 49590, France

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €12
  • 2. Château d'Ussé

    The most beautiful castle in France is first glimpsed as you approach the Château d'Ussé, and an astonishing array of blue-slate roofs, dormer windows, delicate towers, and Gothic turrets greets you against the flank of the Forest of Chinon. Literature describes this château, overlooking the banks of the River Indre, as the original "Sleeping Beauty" castle; Charles Perrault, author of this beloved 17th-century tale, spent time here as a guest of the Count of Saumur, and legend has it that Ussé inspired him to write the famous story. Although parts of the castle are from the 1400s, most of it was completed two centuries later. By the 17th century, the region was so secure that one fortified wing of the castle was demolished to allow for grand vistas over the valley and the castle gardens, newly designed in the style Le Nôtre had made so fashionable at Versailles. Only Disney could have outdone this white tufa marvel: the château is a flamboyant mix of Gothic and Renaissance styles—romantic and built for fun, not for fighting. Its history supports this playful image: it endured no bloodbaths—no political conquests or conflicts—while a tablet in the chapel indicates that even the French Revolution passed it by. Inside, a tour leads you through several sumptuous period salons, a 19th-century French fashion exhibit, and the Salle de Roi bedchamber built for a visit by King Louis XV (the red-silk, canopied four-poster bed is the stuff of dreams). At the end of the house tour, you can go up the fun spiral staircases to the chemin de ronde of the lofty towers; there are pleasant views of the Indre River from the battlements, and you can also find rooms filled with waxwork effigies detailing the fable of Sleeping Beauty herself. (Kids will love this.) Before you leave, visit the exquisite Gothic-becomes-Renaissance chapel in the garden, built for Charles d'Espinay and his wife in 1523–35. Note the door decorated with pleasingly sinister skull-and-crossbones carvings. Just a few steps from the chapel are two towering cedars of Lebanon—a gift from the genius-poet of Romanticism, Viscount René de Chateaubriand, to the lady of the house, the duchess of Duras. When her famous amour died in 1848, she stopped all the clocks in the house (à la "Sleeping Beauty") so as "never to hear struck the hours you will not come again." The castle then was inherited by her relations, the comte and comtesse de la Rochejaquelin, one of the most dashing couples of the 19th century. Today, Ussé belongs to their descendant, the duc de Blacas, who is as soigné as his castle. If you do meet him, proffer thanks, as every night his family floodlights the entire château, a vision that is one of the Loire Valley's dreamiest sights. Long regarded as a symbol of la vieille France, Ussé can't be topped for fairy-tale splendor, so make this a must-do.

    Rigny-Ussé, Centre-Val de Loire, 37420, France

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €14, Closed mid-Nov.–mid-Feb.
  • 3. Château de Candé

    When King Edward VIII of England abdicated his throne in 1937 to marry the American divorcée Wallace Simpson, the couple chose to escape the international limelight and exchange their wedding vows at this elegant 16th-century château. Although it’s decorated with period furnishings and features Art Deco bathrooms, all eyes are drawn to the mementos from the duke and duchess of Windsor's stay (including the famous Cecil Beaton photographs taken on their big day). Fashionistas will also appreciate the haute-couture wardrobe compiled by the stylish lady of the house, Fern Bedaux. Befitting the owners' flawless taste (if questionable politics, as the Bedauxs were known fascist sympathizers), the château is a particularly pretty example of the late-Gothic style.

    10 km (6 miles) southwest of Tours, Monts, Centre-Val de Loire, 37260, France

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €7, Closed early Nov.–early Apr., and Mon. and Tues. Sept.–June
  • 4. Château de Chambord

    As you travel the gigantic, tree-shaded roadways that converge on Chambord, you first spot the château's incredible towers—19th-century novelist Henry James said they were "more like the spires of a city than the salient points of a single building"—rising above the forest. When the entire palace breaks into view, it is an unforgettable sight. With a 420-foot-long facade, 440 rooms, 365 chimneys, and a wall that extends 32 km (20 miles) to enclose a 13,000-acre forest, the Château de Chambord is one of the greatest buildings in France. Under François I, building began in 1519, a job that took 12 years and required 1,800 workers. His original grandiose idea was to divert the Loire to form a moat, but someone (perhaps his adviser, Leonardo da Vinci, who some feel may have provided the inspiration behind the entire complex) persuaded him to make do with the River Cosson. François I used the château only for short stays; yet 12,000 horses were required to transport his luggage, servants, and entourage when he came. Later kings also used Chambord as an occasional retreat, and Louis XIV, the Sun King, had Molière perform here. In the 18th century Louis XV gave the château to the Maréchal de Saxe as a reward for his victory over the English and Dutch at Fontenoy (southern Belgium) in 1745. When not indulging in wine, women, and song, the marshal planted himself on the roof to oversee the exercises of his personal regiment of 1,000 cavalry. Now, after long neglect—all the original furnishings vanished during the French Revolution—Chambord belongs to the state. There's plenty to see inside. You can wander freely through the vast rooms, filled with exhibits (including a hunting museum)—not all concerned with Chambord, but interesting nonetheless—and lots of Ancien Régime furnishings. The enormous double-helix staircase (probably envisioned by Leonardo, who had a thing about spirals) looks like a single staircase, but an entire regiment could march up one spiral while a second came down the other, and never the twain would meet. The real high point here in more ways than one is the spectacular chimneyscape—the roof terrace whose forest of Italianate towers, turrets, cupolas, gables, and chimneys has been compared to everything from the minarets of Constantinople to a bizarre chessboard. During the year there's a packed calendar of activities on tap, including 90-minute tours of the park in a 4x4 vehicle (€20). A soaring three-story-tall hall has been fitted out to offer lunches and dinners.

    Chambord, Centre-Val de Loire, 41250, France

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €16
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  • 5. Château de Chaumont

    Although a favorite of Loire connoisseurs, the 16th-century Château de Chaumont is often overlooked by visitors who are content to ride the conveyor belt of big châteaux like Chambord and Chenonceau. It's their loss. Set on a dramatic bluff that towers over the river, graceful Chaumont has always cast a spell—perhaps literally so. One of its fabled owners, Catherine de' Medici, occasionally came here with her court "astrologer," the notorious Ruggieri. In one of Chaumont's bell-tower rooms, the queen reputedly practiced sorcery. Whether or not Ruggieri still haunts the place (or Nostradamus, another on Catherine's guest list), there seem to be few castles as spirit-warm as this one. Built by Charles II d'Amboise between 1465 and 1510, the château greets visitors with glorious, twin-tower châtelets—twin turrets that frame a double drawbridge. The castle became the residence of Henri II. After his death, his widow Catherine de' Medici took revenge on his mistress, the fabled beauty Diane de Poitiers, and forced her to exchange Chenonceau for Chaumont. Another "refugee" was the late-18th-century writer Madame de Staël. Exiled from Paris by Napoléon, she wrote De l'Allemagne (On Germany) here, a book that helped kick-start the Romantic movement in France. In the 19th century her descendants, the Prince and Princess de Broglie, set up regal shop, as you can still see from the stone-and-brick stables, where purebred horses (and one elephant) lived like royalty in velvet-lined stalls. The couple also renovated many rooms in the glamorous neo-Gothic style of the 1870s. Today the castle retains a sense of fantasy: witness the contemporary art installations by world-class artists displayed in different rooms and various outbuildings along with the latest horticultural innovations showcased during the Festival International des Jardins, held from April to November in the extensive park. The park's three cafés (and an ice cream stand) offer shady terrace dining. The château is a stiff walk up a long path from the little village of Chaumont-sur-Loire, but cars and taxis can also drop you off at the top of the hill, where there's plenty of parking, as well as the entrance to the garden festival.

    Chaumont-sur-Loire, Centre-Val de Loire, 41150, France

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €20
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  • 6. Château de Chenonceau

    Set in the village of Chenonceaux on the River Cher, this was the fabled retreat for the dames de Chenonceau, Diane de Poitiers, Catherine de' Medici, and Mary, Queen of Scots. Spend at least half a day wandering through the château and grounds, and you will see that this monument has an undeniably feminine touch. More pleasure palace than fortress, the château was built in 1520 by Thomas Bohier, a wealthy tax collector, for his wife, Catherine Briçonnet. When he went bankrupt, it passed to François I. Later, Henri II gave it to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. After his death, Henri's not-so-understanding widow, Catherine de' Medici, expelled Diane to nearby Chaumont and took back the château. Before this time, Diane's five-arched bridge over the River Cher was simply meant as a grand ceremonial entryway leading to a gigantic château, a building never constructed. It was to Catherine, and her architect, Philibert de l'Orme, that historians owe the audacious plan to transform the bridge itself into the most unusual château in France. Two stories were constructed over the river, including an enormous gallery that runs from one end of the château to the other, a design inspired by Florence's covered Ponte Vecchio, commissioned by a Medici queen homesick for her native town. July and August are the peak months at Chenonceau, but you can escape the madding crowds by exiting at the far end of the gallery to walk along the opposite bank (weekends only), rent a rowboat or motorboat to spend an hour just drifting on the river (where Diane used to enjoy her morning dips), and enjoy the Promenade Nocturne, an evocative light show performed in the illuminated château gardens. Before you go inside, pick up an English-language leaflet at the gate. Then walk around to the right of the main building to see the harmonious, delicate architecture beyond the formal garden—the southern part belonged to Diane de Poitiers, the northern was Catherine's—with the river gliding under the arches (providing superb "air-conditioning" to the rooms above). Inside the château are splendid ceilings, colossal fireplaces, scattered furnishings, and paintings by Rubens, del Sarto, and Correggio. As you tour the salons, be sure to pay your respects to former owner Madame Dupin, tellingly captured in Nattier's charming portrait: thanks to the affection she inspired among her proletarian neighbors, the château and its treasures survived the Revolution intact (her grave is enshrined near the northern embankment). The château's history is illustrated with wax figures in the Musée des Cires (Waxwork Museum) in one of the château's outbuildings. Grab a snack at the chateau café or sample Chenonceau's own wines at the Caves des Dômes, set in the chateau cellars. The ambitious Orangerie restaurant handles the crowds' varied appetites.

    Chenonceaux, Centre-Val de Loire, 45000, France
    08–20–20–90–90-(€0.09 per min)

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €15.50, includes Musée des Cires
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  • 7. Château de Saché

    In the center of town, the Château de Saché houses the Musée Balzac. If you've never read any of Balzac's "Comédies Humaine," you might find little of interest in it; but if you have, you can return to such novels as Cousine Bette and Eugénie Grandet with fresh enthusiasm and understanding. Much of the landscape around here, and some of the people back then, found immortality by being fictionalized in many a Balzac novel. Surrounded by 6 acres of gardens, the present château, built between the 16th and the 18th century, is more of a comfortable country house than a fortress. Born in Tours, Balzac came here—to stay with his friends, the Margonnes—during the 1830s, both to write such works as Le Père Goriot and to escape his creditors. The château's themed exhibits range from photographs and original manuscripts to the coffee service Balzac used (the caffeine helped to keep him writing up to 16 hours a day). A few period rooms impress with 19th-century charm, including a lavish emerald-green salon and the author's own writing room. Be sure to study some of the corrected book proofs on display. Balzac had to pay for corrections and additions beyond a certain limit. Painfully in debt, he made emendations filling all the margins of his proofs, causing dismay to his printers. Their legitimate bills for extra payment meant that some of his works, best sellers for nearly two centuries, failed to bring him a centime.

    2 rue de Château, Saché, Centre-Val de Loire, 37190, France

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €6, Closed Tues. Oct.–Mar.
  • 8. Château de Villandry

    Green thumbs get weak in the knees at the mere mention of the Château de Villandry, a grand estate near the Cher River, thanks to its painstakingly relaid 16th-century gardens, now the finest example of Renaissance garden design in France. These were originally planted in 1906 by Dr. Joachim Carvallo and Anne Coleman, his American wife, whose passion resulted in three terraces planted in styles that combine the French monastic garden with Italianate models depicted in historic Du Cerceau etchings. Seen from Villandry's cliff-side walkway, the garden terraces look like flowered chessboards blown up to the nth power—a breathtaking sight. Beyond the water garden and an ornamental garden depicting symbols of chivalric love is the famous potager, or vegetable garden, which stretches on for bed after bed—the pumpkins here are les pièces de résistance. Flower lovers will rejoice in the main jardin à la française (French-style garden): framed by a canal, it's a vast carpet of rare and colorful blooms planted en broderie ("like embroidery"), set into patterns by box hedges and paths. The aromatic and medicinal garden, its plots neatly labeled in three languages, is especially appealing. Below an avenue of 1,200 precisely pruned lime trees lies an ornamental lake that is home to swans: not a ripple is out of place. The château interior, still used by the Carvallo family, was redecorated in the mid-18th century. Of particular note are the painted and gilt Moorish ceiling from Toledo and one of the finest collections of 17th-century Spanish paintings in France. The quietest time to visit is usually during the two-hour French lunch break, while the most photogenic time is during the Nuits des Mille Feux (Nights of a Thousand Lights, held the first weekends in July and August), when paths and pergolas are illuminated with myriad lanterns and a dance troupe offers a tableau vivant. There is a gardening weekend held in late September.

    3 rue Principale, Villandry, Centre-Val de Loire, 37510, France

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    Rate Includes: From €13
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  • 9. Hôtel Groslot

    Just across the square from the cathedral is the Hôtel Groslot, a Renaissance-era extravaganza bristling with caryatids, strap work, and Flemish columns. Inside are regal salons redolent of the city's history (this used to be the Town Hall); they're done up in the most sumptuous 19th-century Gothic Troubadour style and perhaps haunted by King François II, who died here in 1560 by the side of his bride, Mary, Queen of Scots.

    Pl. de l'Étape, Orléans, Centre-Val de Loire, 45000, France

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Free, Closed Sat. and Oct.–Apr.
  • 10. Place Plumereau

    North from the Basilique St-Martin to the river is Le Vieux Tours. This lovely medieval quarter—a warren of quaint streets, wood-beam houses, and grand mansions once owned by 15th-century merchants—has been gentrified with chic apartments and pedestrianized streets. It's centered on Place Plumereau, Tours’s erstwhile carroi aux chapeaux (hat market). Local college students and tourists alike love to linger in its cafés, and the buildings rimming the square have become postcard staples. Numbers 1 through 7 form a magnificent series of half-timber houses; note the wood carvings of royal moneylenders on Nos. 11 and 12. At the top of the square a vaulted passageway leads to medieval Place St-Pierre-le-Puellier. Running off Place Plumereau are other streets adorned with historic houses, notably Rue Briçonnet—at No. 16 is the Maison de Tristan, with a medieval staircase.

    Tours, Centre-Val de Loire, 37000, France
  • 11. Ackerman


    For sparkling Saumur wine—including a rare red—try a tour and a tasting at Ackerman.

    19 rue Léopold-Palustre, Saumur, Pays de la Loire, 43390, France

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €6
  • 12. Allée Sainte-Catherine

    After touring the Abbaye Royale, head outside the gates of the complex a block to the north to discover one of the Loire Valley's most time-burnished streets, Allée Ste-Catherine. Bordered by the Fontevraud park, headed by a charming medieval church, and lined with a few scattered houses (which now contain the town tourist office, a gallery that sells medieval illuminated manuscript pages, and the lovely Licorne restaurant), this street still conjures up the 14th century.

    Fontevraud-l'Abbaye, Pays de la Loire, 49590, France
  • 13. Basilique St-Martin

    Only two sturdy towers—the Tour Charlemagne and the Tour de l'Horloge (Clock Tower)—remain of the great medieval abbey built over the tomb of St-Martin, the city's 4th-century bishop and patron saint (and credited as the founder of "modern" wine making in France). Most of the abbey, which once dominated the heart of Tours, was razed during the French Revolution. Today the site is occupied by the bombastic neo-Byzantine Basilique St-Martin, which was completed in 1924. There's a shrine to St-Martin in the crypt.

    Rue Descartes, Tours, Centre-Val de Loire, 37000, France
  • 14. Cadre Noir de Saumur

    This prestigious national equestrian academy trains France’s future riding stars. Unique in Europe, the Cadre Noir de Saumur has 400 horses, extensive stables, five Olympic-size riding rings, and miles of specially laid tracks. Try for a morning tour, which gives you a chance to admire the horses in training. A gala equestrian performance is put on for enthusiastic crowds during special weekends in April, May, July, September, and October; reservations are a must.

    Av. de l'Ecole Nationale d'Equitation, Saumur, Pays de la Loire, 49400, France

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €8, Closed Sun.
  • 15. Carré Cointreau

    To learn about the heartwarming liqueur made in Angers since 1849, head to the Carré Cointreau on the east side of the city. Guided tours of the distillery start with an introductory film, move past "Cointreau-versial" advertising posters, through the bottling plant and alembic room with its gleaming copper-pot stills, and end with a tasting. Bus No. 6 from the Angers train station gets you here in 17 minutes.

    2 bd. des Bretonnières, Saint-Barthélemy-d’Anjou, Pays de la Loire, 49100, France

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: €12, Closed Sun. and Mon.
  • 16. Cathédral St-Gatien

    Built between 1239 and 1484, this noted cathedral, one of the greatest churches of the Loire Valley, reveals a mixture of architectural styles. The richly sculpted stonework of its majestic two-tower facade betrays the Renaissance influence on local château-trained craftsmen. The stained glass dates from the 13th century (if you have binoculars, bring them). Also take a look at both the little tomb with kneeling angels, built in memory of Charles VIII and Anne of Brittany's two children, and the Cloître de La Psalette (Psalm Cloister), on the south side of the cathedral, where the canons of St-Gatien created some of the most beautiful illuminated manuscripts in medieval Europe.

    Rue Lavoisier, Tours, Centre-Val de Loire, 37000, France

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Psalm Cloister €3.50
  • 17. Cathédrale St-Maurice

    This 12th- and 13th-century Gothic edifice is noted for its curious Romanesque facade and original stained-glass windows; bring binoculars to appreciate both fully. The medieval Treasury is open to the public Monday through Saturday in summer (every other Saturday off-season) from 2:30 to 6.

    Pl. Monseigneur-Chappoulie, Angers, Pays de la Loire, 49100, France
  • 18. Cathédrale Ste-Croix

    A riot of pinnacles and gargoyles embellished with 18th-century wedding-cake towers, the Cathédrale Ste-Croix is both Gothic and pseudo-Gothic. After most of it was destroyed in the 16th century during the Wars of Religion, Henry IV and his successors rebuilt the cathedral. Novelist Marcel Proust (1871–1922) called it France's ugliest church, but most find it impressive. Inside are dramatic stained glass and 18th-century wood carvings, plus the modern Chapelle de Jeanne d'Arc (Joan of Arc Chapel), with a memorial honoring those who died in World War I.

    Pl. Ste-Croix, Orléans, Centre-Val de Loire, 45000, France
  • 19. Cave Eric Louis

    You can taste a full range of Sancerre’s appellations, including Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, and Menetou-Salon, at this fourth-generation winemaker about 3 miles from town. A recent crossover to organic, Eric Louis also employs some biodynamic principles in the vineyards. At this modern facility, you’ll see how the wines are produced, from blending and storage to bottle labeling. Though it does feel a little industrial, you’ll get a thorough introduction to the process and the wines via a full-flight tasting paired with charcuterie and the local Crottin de Chavignol goat cheese made right on the winery. Kids can join in or play outside in an enclosed playground.

    26 rue de la Mairie, Sancerre, Centre-Val de Loire, 18300, France

    Sight Details

    Rate Includes: Tour and wine tasting €15
  • 20. Caves Ambacia

    In this medieval wine cave, carved out of the bedrock in the 15th century, you'll be initiated into the many splendors of Loire wines. Your full sensory experience includes video, a 3D installation, and an olfactory game, and culminates in a tasting with a professional sommelier to ensure you leave with a new understanding of and appreciation for these prized wines (kids get gourmet juices). Connoisseurs can taste or buy vintages dating as far back as 1874. The owner, a wine "editor," curates a selection of wines from the best parcels of the five great Loire appellations. Visitors can also purchase local delicacies in the gourmet shop, from local goat cheeses and charcuterie to gifts to take home. Afterward, grab a bite at l'Oppidum, the chic on-site bistro with a riverfront terrace.

    56 rue du Rocher des Violettes, Amboise, Centre-Val de Loire, 37400, France

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