Inspiration

A few days in… the Loire Valley

Nicky deBouille Profile Image

Nicky deBouille

Sawday's Expert

5 min read

There are so many fabulous things to do here, but squeezing too much into a few days would entirely miss the point of life in Loire. Some of the best times with my family are when we just slowly explore near our home in Soirac, so here are some suggestions of how to spend a few lazy days by the river.

Tagged with:

Day 1: Balzac and bumbling 

Take a day to slip into the slow pace of life on the Loire. Tours is a pleasant place to wander and shake off any travel stiffness, with coffee by the river and a stroll around the old quarter, which is beautifully lit up at night, but you could head out to Château de Saché with just a half-hour drive south. Here you’ll find The Balzac Museum, a tribute to the writer who often spent time here with Jean Margonne. There are walking trails through some of his favourite places nearby, with three options varying in length from 10-14km, but it’s enough to stroll the grounds and browse the exhibits for an hour or two.   

Day 2: Antiques and oysters 

We’ll assume it’s now Sunday, which means only one thing, heading for the market of Montsoreau, one of our very own Nicky’s favourite places. The market here on Sundays is a lovely local affair, where people go to stock up on produce from the area and catch up with others who’ve come into “town”. If you time it right, and you should definitely try, visit on the second Sunday of the month, when the market becomes Puces de Montsoreau, a flea market that takes over the banks of the river in a sprawl of stalls piled high with antiques and artifacts of all sorts.

After a few hours of browsing, you’ll probably be hungry. You can either find the oyster stalls and sit at barrel tables with a glass of Chenin Blanc, or head for Chinon. Here you’ll find a fine example of a guinguette – a sort of rudimentary bar very popular in France. They serve simple food, local wines and beers, and invite local musicians to play live music on the weekends. Chinon’s version, on the riverbank with gaudy lights hanging from the trees, is absolute heaven.  

Day 3: Hiking and history 

Any trip to the Loire is understandably going to feature a few Châteaux, but it’s important to pick the right ones from among the region’s collection of over 300. Villandry is still owned the Carvalho family, who bought it in 1906 and were key to the development of the spectacular gardens. Much of the original fortress that stood here was razed and rebuilt by John Le Breton, who retained only the central keep, because of its significance as the location for the signing of the Treaty of Colombières between Philip II and Henry II in 1189.

Hikers might be keen to know that Villandry is one of the stops on the GR3, the first signposted long-distance hiking trail in France, which runs from Bonny-sur-Loire in the east to Angers in the west, covering almost 1,250km.

A manageable day trip section from Tours would be getting the train to Azay-le-Rideau, picking up the route there and walking back to Villandry, from which buses and trains take you back to Tours. It’s a half hour train ride out, a 13km walk and roughly an hour to get back on buses and trains. A full day, but full of outstanding beauty, both natural and man-made.    

Day 4: Independent wineries of Saumur 

If you took on the hike to Villandry, now is the time for a more indulgent day as a reward. Around Saumur, just over an hour west on the train from Tours or a beautiful riverside base itself, there are some fabulous wineries where innovative young producers are creating some fine flavours. Their spicy, fruity reds may lack the big-name status enjoyed by so much French wine, but this means a simpler, more authentic experience to visiting and tasting. You won’t find giant visitor centres and paired tasting experiences, just great wine sold straight from the doors of dusty cellars for a fraction of the cost of more famous labels.

Day 5: Cycling, another château and modern art  

No Loire itinerary would be complete without at least a mention of Loire à Vélo. It’s much more than a cycle route, with establishments lining its 900km length dedicated to making it as easy as possible to glide along the course of the river. It offers spectacular multi-day adventures on well-marked trails with minimal changes in elevation, but also has spurs branching off to various attractions that make excellent day trips.

One of these is the one-houre ride from Blois to, yes, another château, this time the wonderful Chambord. On a still day, the spires and turrets are perfectly reflected in the lake but the place is magnificent in any weather. Inside, you’ll find a helical staircase designed for Francis I by his court artist, Leonardo da Vinci.

If you’re all châteaux-ed out, then you can stay in Blois and enjoy some more modern art, at the Foundation de Doute. Here, on the walls of a townhouse, the artist Ben has placed over 300 plaques covered in thought-provoking questions and statements. Inside are permanent and temporary exhibitions that explore the spirit of “Fluxus”, a term coined in the 60s to represent openness and sharing among an international community of artists.

You can spend some time wandering and thinking here, or exploring Blois beautiful old town but, this being the Loire, the day always ends by the river, sipping something local and dining superbly as the sun ripples on the water.    

 

Explore all our special places to stay in the Loire Valley >

Receive our guides, destination ideas and insider travel tips straight to your inbox.

Sign up >

Nicky deBouille

Sawday's Expert

Nicky has gone from roots in the mountains of New Zealand to her home in an 18th century merchant's house on the banks of the Loire. Armed with an eccentric soundtrack from Bach to Radiohead via Beirut and Herbie Hancock, she goes on the road for weeks at a time, in search of new special places. What matters most to her is connecting with the owner, because it's the person that creates the place. She loves that she can give them an alternative to booking.com, and they love the fact that she's "gone native".
View more articles by this author

You might also like

A few days in…Champagne

Christopher Wilson-Elmes

Sawday's Expert

5 min read

  • France

A few days in… Brittany

Christopher Wilson-Elmes

Sawday's Expert

5 min read

  • France

A few days in… Nice

Christopher Wilson-Elmes

Sawday's Expert

5 min read

  • France