Spend seven days in the Loire Valley and discover a wealth of fascinating landmarks, enjoy the splendour of the tranquil green countryside and relax on a boat trip down the river. Steeped in history, with many kings, queens and nobles of France leaving their mark with sumptuous palaces and chateaux, it is easy to see why the Loire Valley has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
To relieve you of some of the stresses of planning your holiday when staying at one of Quality Villas luxury Loire Valley villas, we have put together a seven-day itinerary for you:
Day 1: Orléans
Either your first full day or just a half day after travelling, as soon as you arrive in the Loire Valley region, you will want to get right into tourist mode. We recommend seeing the sights of Orléans. One of the cities which lies along the Loire River, it is a fantastic place to explore. Orléans was an important settlement even during the Roman conquest, but the city gave itself a place in history when a young girl called Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) rallied the armies and fought back against English forces in the Hundred Years War. Today, she holds a special place in French hearts, and there are many statues, stained-glass windows and exhibits dedicated to her actions around the city. Other attractions in Orléans are the outstanding Musée des Beaux-Arts museum and the Cathédrale Ste-Croix.
Day 2: Chateau Chambord and Chateau Blois
When seeing the chateaux of the Loire Valley, it is best to start big, and the Chateau de Chambord should be top of your list. A jewel in the crown of French Renaissance architecture, Chambord, with its 440 rooms, 365 fireplaces and 84 staircases, is by far the largest, grandest and most popular. Beginning as a weekend hunting lodge for François I in 1519, it quickly became one of the most ambitious and expensive architectural projects attempted by a French monarch. Chambord was finished after 30 years, after which François thought it too draughty and preferred to stay at Blois or Amboise! On the first floor, you will find the most interesting rooms and at the centre is the famous double-helix staircase, possibly designed by Leonardo da Vinci.
Not far from Chambord is Chateau Royal de Blois, which was lived in by several French kings over the centuries. The four wings of Blois show distinct periods in French architecture: Gothic (13th century), Flamboyant Gothic (14th century), early Renaissance (15th century) and classical (16th century). You can easily spend an afternoon discovering the chateau’s dramatic history and its wonderful architecture. In the summer, there are also free tours of the chateau in English.
Day 3: Boat trip down the river
There are more than 100 chateaux open to the public in the Loire Valley, and it is very ambitious to see them all in a seven-day holiday. One of the best ways to see more of them is a cruise down the Loire River. At a total of 620 miles, the Loire is the longest river in France, but you only need to see a small section to enjoy the wonders it offers. From places like Candes-Saint-Martin, Amboise or Chinon, you can hop on board a traditional wooden sailing yacht and take a guided trip for a few hours. The bargees know the river well, and you won’t find a better view than from their boats.
Day 4: Chateau Chenonceau and Chateau Amboise
The Chateaux Chenonceau and Amboise are not far from one another, and you can visit both in one day. Spanning the Cher River over a gracefully arched bridge is one of France’s most elegant chateaux, Chenonceau. It is hard not to be moved by the glorious construction, the formal gardens, and its history. Inside is a fantastic art collection, with works from Correggio, Rubens and Van Dyck. There is an excellent audio guide available in various languages, even one for the kids, which will guide you through the history of the chateau and its gardens.
Overlooking the Loire River is Chateau Amboise. A favourite for many of France’s kings, sadly only a few of the original structures survive, but you can still see examples of Gothic and Renaissance architecture. Amboise’s Chapelle St-Hubert is said to have the remains of Leonardo da Vinci, buried there since 1863. Like Chenonceau, audio guides are available in English, with one for children.
Day 5: Wine Tasting
A holiday to France has to include some wine, as much as it should include frog legs or snails and the Loire Valley has some of the best wine to offer. With red, rose, white, sparkling, dry and sweet, there are so many to try. For a fully educational and entertaining wine themed activity head to Maisons des Vins, which can be found in places like Ancenis, Angers, Bourgueil, Chambord, Cheverny and Sancerre. They offer an introduction to the wine-growing in the region, their names and wine-cellars, and of course, give you a chance to taste the Loire Valley wines! There are also areas where you can buy the wines you taste, so you bring a delicious bit of France home with you.
Day 6: Chateau de Villandry and Tours
On a hot, sunny day, the best place to go to in the Chateau de Villandry, whose six glorious landscaped gardens are some of the finest in France. There are over six hectares to stroll through, and you can delight in the flowers, ornamental vines, manicured lime trees, box hedges and tinkling fountains. The best time to visit the gardens is when the flowers are in bloom, anytime from now to October.
From Villandry, you can take the Fil Bleu bus 32 to Tours, which takes just 35 minutes. The city stands astride the Loire River and is home to classical art, high-class cuisine and historical gardens. There are many street markets to wander through, where you pick up some delicious treats to cook up your own French dishes. There is also some excellent shopping to be done in Tours.
Day 7: Bicycle Tour
On your last day, whether a half or a whole day, why not see some of the local sights near your luxury villa on a bicycle tour? Cyclists love the Loire Valley, as it has one of the best cycle paths in Europe, 250 km of carefully planned trails. With bike-only routes, the whole family can enjoy their journey across flat plains, and gentle hills and every mile offers spectacular views of the landscape and historical structures.
Swap the days about and feel free to try something completely different, our seven-day guide is just a starting point for what will surely be a holiday never to forget. Be sure to keep an eye out for more ‘7 Days in..’ on our blog!