Ah the Loire Valley. A magical treat. Much like the raspberry strudel wand I ate for breakfast.
In my most recent trip to France, I decided that I wanted to break up Paris by visiting the Loire Valley. Who wouldn’t after seeing all the pictures of châteaux surrounded by tulips on Pinterest?! With a little research I decided that staying in a city called Tours would be the best base to seeing all I hoped to see, and I definitely didn’t regret my choice! Tours is only a one hour TGV ride from Paris making it ideal for visiting two destinations without losing too much time to traveling. Tours is just south along the Loire River and close to the Cher river. It is a university town making it lively and fun and filled with many good bars and places to eat. I was there in early May for gorgeous sunny weather with highs of 78 and lows of 63. It stayed light out until about 10:10pm making the nights especially enjoyable.
Where I Stayed: Hotel Mirabeau a short walk from the Tours train station. This is a 2 star hotel but I can’t see why. I loved my 3 night stay here. The room was very clean and comfortable and I did not have any noise issues. I had room 17 which was a garden facing room. It had a window in the room as well as the bathroom and they supplied us with a fan making there no need for AC (there is no AC at this hotel). By the stairs they had a lot of pamphlets for all the châteaux and different tours you could do. The tourist office is just up the street across from the train station. There is free wi-fi, breakfast available, and tv as well.A Few Places I Ate: Bar l’universe (twice), Irish Pub & Pizzaria (I’m a Bostonian I couldn’t help myself). I also had some great Rose gelato at the Gelato stand near the Irish Pub and Pizzeria. Notable Mentions:
The fresh squeezed orange juice in the train station is really, really good. I’m actually almost embarrassed that of all the great things to eat and drink I find the need to comment on the orange juice in the train station first and foremost. The oranges are a little more bitter than the ones I’m use to at home and I found the juice to be exceptional.
The WWI Tours American Monument is located on Ave. André Malraux. The monument commemorates the efforts of the 650,000 men who served during World War I in the Services of Supply of the American Expeditionary Forces and whose work behind the battle lines made possible the achievements of the American Armies in the field. The city of Tours was its headquarters during the war (via).
Tours has it’s own château. Château de Tours is a castle built in the 11th century. It is not as grand as the others you’ll tour to see, but it’s a site in walking distance located on 25 Ave. André Malraux.Be sure to stroll along the Loire River. The Loire River is the longest river in France taking up 20% of the land. Read some fun facts about the Loire River here.
How It Was Different From Paris: I think it’s always nice to get away from Paris and feel removed from the chaos that is one of the most popular tourist spots in the world. Tours is still a city with plenty to see and do, but it has a more relaxed vibe. A fairly good amount of people speak English or Spanish if that is a concern, but of course start with the little French you know. Tours has the same travel convenience minus the metro. I found most of the streets to be emptier than those in Paris but I never felt unsafe.
Seeing the Chateaux: *breaking out Italic font*
Chambord: With architecture that may have been inspired by Leonardo DaVinci and 5,440 walled in hectares, you will love exploring five centuries of history in the breathtaking views of Chambord. Getting here: 2 hours and 11 minutes*. Take a train from Tours to Blois and then another train from Blois to Chambord, 10 minute walk from there. Because of the distance this may be one to consider with a tour group
Cheverny: This was the first private French château to open it’s doors to the public in 1922. The owners actually live in one of the wings with their children. It is known to be one of the best furnished in France and has 350,000 visitors a year. Be sure to see the amazing tulip garden in the Spring (100,000 bulbs). The kennels of the château house 100 Anglo-French tri-color hounds. Getting here: 2 hours.* Take the train from Tours to Blois then from Blois to Cheverny.
Clos Lucé & Amboise: Where Leonardo DaVinci spent the last few years of his life and died. It is only .3 miles from Château Amboise so it is smart to see them together. Getting here: 39 minutes.* Take the train from Tours to Amboise, then walk just 1 mile.
Chenonceau: My personal favorite. A château with magnificent architecture, furnished rooms, and gorgeous gardens. Come in late April/May to admire the tulips. Getting here: 36 minutes.* Take the train from Tours to Chenonceaux Chisseau. I did this tour independently and had no problem getting here. I bought a lovely trio of wine from their wine cellar as well.
Villandry: Known to have the most expansive and exquisite gardens that you could spend all day in. You can purchase entry for the Chateau and Gardens or Gardens only. Villandry is the last of the great Renaissance Chateaux built on the banks of the Loire during the Renaissance. Getting here: 23 minutes.* Take the train from Tours to Druye then a taxi the remaining 4 miles. WARNING**: any time the directions require a taxi please keep in mind, these towns do not have taxis ready and waiting. The taxi accommodations must be called in advance. I made this mistake and highly suggest that whenever directions include a taxi after the train that you see that Chateau with a tour instead!!!
Ussé: This is the castle that inspired Sleeping Beauty’s castle and is decorated as such. The family that owns this castle still lives here. The gardens are designed by Le Notre and the terraces were built by Vauban. Getting here: Take a tour! See warning below.
**Buy all your train tickets round trip. I made the mistake of buying a one way to see Usse because I wasn’t sure how much time we would spend there. When we got off the train, their was no outdoor ticket machine like in other stations. The only place in town that sold tickets was closed due to it being the day after a holiday, and the trains station in Rivarennes Quincay was now a house with people living in it. There were no cans to take us to Usse or the nearest train station. We spoke with the woman working at the post office and she phoned a can for us but it wasn’t able to come for hours. With our options being either walk 3 miles to the nearest train station in hopes we could maybe get a ticket there or get back on the train at Rivarennes Quincay without a ticket and without seeing the château, we got back on the train and hoped for the best. It was the only train ride we took that tickets were not checked, It was a stressful day and I wished that I had just taken a tour!
*All distances and directions are from Tours Train Station using Rome2Rio.com or my own experiences.
-Chateaux passes can be purchased at the tourist office, offering a small entry discount at each château.
-Be sure to check opening/closing times and any days closed due to holiday.
Renting a Car: It is important to note that all cars through Sixt will be picked up at the St. Pierre Corps train station and all cars through Avis will be picked up at the Tours train station. Make sure you know exactly where you are picking up your car if you are renting one! We almost rented a car, but changed our minds at the last minute. In the end, we felt we didn’t need the car after all, but had we planned on seeing more of the châteaux it may have cut costs with transportation. If you have a credit card like CITI, use your credit card to pay for the rental card and show them a Letter of Coverage (request rom Citi, they will mail it to you) to waive purchasing insurance. This will keep the cost of renting a car close to $40 a day and if anything happens, your credit card will cover the damage (up to a certain amount).
What I Would Do Different Next Time: I would see more châteaux the smart way. Any château with directions involving a cab ride I would take a tour instead!
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