In northwest France — east of Brittany — lies a strong contender for mainland France’s most beautiful area. The Loire Valley, stretching along the river Loire, is surrounded by wondrous châteaux and far-reaching vineyards, and our Loire Valley itinerary will take you through the hotspots of “the Garden of France”.
While England, Scotland, France and Germany are all famous for their castles, you’ve really not seen anything until you’ve spent 2 to 3 days in the Loire Valley.
You should consider how many days to spend in the Loire Valley before booking your trip, as the area is full of incredible castles, each as spectacular as the next, so you won’t want to miss out on anything.
2 days in the Loire Valley is just enough to see some of the most magnificent châteaux, but you’ll have to make the tough decision to visit only two places; either the pretty town known for its sparkling wine, Saumur, Leonardo da Vinci’s house in Amboise, the legendary Chenonceau castle stretching over the river, or the Disney-esque castle of Chambord, to give just a few examples of the huge number of wonderful castles in the area.
If you’ve got 3 days in the Loire Valley then you can spread your time between each of the most outstanding châteaux, however a week in the Loire Valley is ideal to fill each day with châteaux, white wine and trips along the Loire River.
There are two main airports in the Loire Valley: Tours Val de Loire Airport and Nantes-Atlantique. You can take direct flights to the former from some cities across Europe, however, it is a small airport, so most other flights stop in Paris Roissy Charles de Gaulle first.
Tours Val de Loire Airport is just a few kilometres out of the city of Tours, so you can take a short taxi ride, tram line A or bus line 02 to reach the city centre, whereas Nantes-Atlantique is an almost 2-hour drive to the nearest point on our Loire Valley itinerary, Saumur, and over 2 hours on the train via Angers.
The best way to get around the Loire Valley, however, is by car, so if you’re coming from the UK, there’s no need to fly and then rent a car when you can take a car ferry from Portsmouth to Caen or St Malo and drive for just under three hours down to reach Saumur.
Or if you don’t mind driving long distances, take the Eurotunnel to Calais and drive for 5 to 6 hours to Chambord or Saumur, depending on which end of the valley you prefer to start your Loire Valley road trip.
You can, of course, also rent cars at both airports, with well-known companies Hertz and Enterprise located at Nantes-Atlantique Airport. You can browse car hire options here.
If you don’t drive and the idea of messing around with airports, but you’d still like to visit the Loire Valley, you can move around the region on the local trains or buses. Once you have arrived at the city or town you’d like to explore, you won’t need public transport as the towns are very walkable.
If you have a bit longer to explore the Loire Valley and feel like getting around in a different way, from April to September, you can also rent kayaks or canoes and paddle along the Loire River to get to each of your destinations where you can stay in hotels, campsites or bivouacs.
Day 1 – Ussé to Saumur
Starting in the west side of the Loire Valley, you can visit the fantastical castle of Ussé before jumping in your car or canoe and heading west to explore Saumur’s castle and enjoy a late afternoon wine tasting.
You can spend a whole day in Saumur visiting the château, the town hall and going wine tasting, however, if you’re doing a whistle-stop tour of the Loire Valley, you can quickly skip from spot to spot to include as many châteaux as you can on your Loire Valley itinerary.
In the small village of Rigny-Ussé, you will find, slightly hidden behind the foliage, a castle so beautiful that it became the inspiration for the story of Sleeping Beauty.
You can walk up to the tower of the château where, around every corner, the story of Sleeping Beauty is creatively displayed before you alongside passages of the tale.
You can visit the château itself too, thanks to the resident Blacas family opening it for public view, where you’ll find curious objects from all over the world, amazing decorations from the 15th to the 18th century, a collection of 17th-century tapestries and the King’s chamber which has housed both King Louis XIV and Emperor Haile Selassie.
Although originally designed as a fortress in a strategic location backing the Chinon forest between 1000 and 1400, the château was beautified in the 15th century and over the years became a symbol of splendour rather than a bastion.
You can see the mix of Flamboyant Gothic and Renaissance designs in the shape and decoration of the incredible building, before turning your attention to the formal gardens, ornately created by “the King’s gardener” himself, Le Nôtre, who is most famous for having designed the gardens of the Palace of Versailles.
They have been well preserved, with an orangery added as well as two cedars that were gifted from Lebanon that stand tall in the gardens, alongside a small chapel with wine cellars.
Set aside an hour to spend in Château d’Ussé, so early afternoon is a perfect time for you to visit before heading to Saumur.
Saumur is not a very well-known town in France, however, with its significant military history, its many vineyards producing renowned wines, and its being the birthplace of Coco Chanel, there’s plenty to get stuck into as a tourist.
Each July, there is a military parade displaying old and new vehicles (which can normally be found in the city’s tank museum) as well as equestrian performances, while at the beginning of August, a huge local food and drink festival takes place in the city with hundreds of stalls showcasing local produce. If you’re visiting Saumur outside of summer, you can still enjoy the Saturday morning market.
The main attraction in Saumur, however, and the first of many over your 2 or 3 days in the Loire Valley, is the Château de Saumur. Sat on top of a hill overlooking the city, the impressive structure is easy to find and quite a sight.
Originally built as a fort in 900 CE and destroyed in 1067, Saumur Castle was rebuilt in the 1100s as a royal palace. However, after falling into disrepair, the castle became a prison, holding many dissidents in the 1780s, before being used by the War Ministry as storage for ammunition and weapons.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the local council bought the château and turned it into the museum we see today, however, it has been repaired several times over the years due to the extensive damage done during WWII.
The château now boasts an immense collection of ceramics and tapestries as well as some ancient artefacts, while the second floor houses the horse museum.
You can walk around the castle grounds for free, but there is a fee to enter the museum and is generally open February to December, Tuesday to Sunday 10 am to 6 pm – although opening hours differ slightly according to the season. Estimate around 1-2 hours in the château.
The people of the Loire Valley have been making wine since the 1st century, so you can’t spend 2 days in the Loire Valley without visiting a vineyard or winery to sample the produce of a two-millennia-long tradition.
Saumur is known for its sandy-coloured buildings made from Tuffeau stone that was excavated through tunnels dug under the city; these tunnels are now used as wine cellars to house the famous local white and sparkling wines, as well as the less well-known reds and rosés.
One excellent vineyard and winery that’s within walking distance from the city centre, is Langlois-Chateau – Crémant-de-Loire et Caves à Saumur. This vineyard is known for its crémants, or sparkling wines (you can only call it Champagne if it comes from the Champagne region) including a delicious sparkling red!
You can take a vineyard tour in a horse-drawn carriage or simply try before you buy in the winery with the guidance of their experts.
Or try the self-declared ‘oenotourism’ hotspot, Le Secret des Papilles, a large vineyard located on the small island in the middle of the Loire River.
If you happen to be staying in Saumur for the night and have a car, Le Moulin de Sarre is a fantastic restaurant for your evening meal.
Making as many fresh bread rolls in front of your table as you can eat, this small, out-of-the-way restaurant is located in an old mill where they still turn the grain into flour for their homemade bread which provides the perfect accompaniment to each of the traditional local dishes they serve.
If you want a city break, you can have a wonderful time exploring the streets of Tours, however, if you just have 2 days in the Loire Valley, then your best option is to skip the cities and opt for the opulent châteaux instead; nowhere demonstrates architectural beauty quite like Amboise and Chenonceau.
It is also possible to organise a hot air balloon ride either for sunrise or sunset if you want to get a unique vantage point.
Located on top of a hill to gain strategic views of any oncoming mercenaries, the Château d’Amboise looks spectacular as you arrive in the small town.
The castle became a royal residence in 1431 after the owner, Louis of Amboise, was caught in a plot against a friend of the crown and forced to give up the property, and in the following years was decorated in the Early Renaissance style as the Kings of France were inspired by the Italian movement.
None more so than King Francis I, who invited Leonardo da Vinci over from Italy and provided him with lodgings just 400 metres away and accessible from the Château d’Amboise by a secret passage. The world-renowned creative is also buried in the chapel on the castle grounds.
After being partially dismantled and later used as a prison, restoration works began in the 19th century. You can visit the incredible château from 9 am to sunset most of the year, with official opening times changing seasonally.
If you visit Amboise in Summer, try to align your trip with the amazing light show “The Prophecy of Amboise” which tells the history of the château in a visual display projected onto the castle, behind hundreds of performers.
Within walking distance from the Château d’Amboise, both over and formerly underground, is the must-see spot on every Loire Valley itinerary, the Château du Clos Lucé.
Having been bought and sold many times throughout the centuries, the Clos Lucé became a summer house for the king in 1490, before being gifted to Leonardo da Vinci in the early 1500s by King Francis I. The artist, engineer, architect and inventor lived in this mansion for the last three years of his life, from 1516 to 1519, working on many different machines at the behest of the king.
Not only can you visit the building in which da Vinci lived, fully restored to resemble the building during the 16th century, but you can also go into his workshop, where you’ll find replicas of his notes and diagrams amongst models of various inventions, such as arguably the first ever machine gun and the double helix staircase that you can find in the Château de Chambord.
If that wasn’t enough, the gardens of the mansion have been transformed into a park that both represents the artistic style of da Vinci’s work and showcases his inventions in actual-size interactive models.
The mansion and grounds are open all year, with opening times changing slightly according to the season. You can pre-book tickets here.
Driving South for 15 minutes or navigating your canoe off the Loire River around Villandry and onto Le Cher River, you’ll find one of the most famous châteaux of the Loire Valley: Château de Chenonceau.
The unmistakable castle reaches out over the river Cher, positioned across several arches, so if you have come on your kayak or canoe, you can actually row underneath the castle.
Affectionately nicknamed Le Château des Dames, or the Ladies’ Castle, the clean elegance of the pale outer walls, turrets and interior decoration exude a femininity that demonstrates the long history the château has had in the hands of powerful women of France.
Built on the site of an old mill in the 1500s, the project proved too much for Finance Secretary Thomas Bohier, leading his wife, Katherine Briçonnet to oversee the construction of the castle according to her own tastes and design. However, as King Francis I died and his son Henry II ascended the throne, Chenonceau castle was gifted to the new King’s mistress Diane de Poitiers, to the chagrin of his wife, Catherine de Medici.
After the King’s death, Catherine de Medici removed Diane de Poitiers from the château and sought to remove every trace of the hard work her rival had put into the construction and decoration of the castle, before leaving it in her will to Louise of Lorraine, the wife of Catherine’s son, King Henry III.
After his death, Louise of Lorraine shut herself away in a sepulchre, a room full of funerary items and with black-painted walls to mourn her husband.
Since then, two more women fell in love with the château and attempted to restore it to its former glory, however, it eventually became a military hospital during WWI and shortly after, the rooms were returned to their original state before being opened to the public.
You can explore the spectacular gardens and rooms designed by Catherine de Medici, the gloomy chamber of Louise of Lorraine and the large central hall, as well as see some incredible pieces of Renaissance artwork and a collection of 18th-century horse-drawn carriages.
This is a very popular tourist attraction so you have to book a time slot for your visit to the château, however, you can wander around the grounds at any time on the day of your ticket. You can organise tickets here.
While it’s impossible to see all of the Loire Valley castles in 3 days, we’re going to continue eastward towards Blois to see the last three châteaux of our Loire Valley itinerary – and we think we’ve saved the best ‘til last.
Built in the late 1400s, the Beauregard Castle quickly became one of the favourite retreats of King Francis I due to the dense forest surrounding it, making it an excellent hunting lodge, and continued to be developed and beautified over the following 150 years.
The various eras of destruction and modernisation finally came to a head in 1912 when the château was bought and had electricity and running water installed, before being returned to its 17th-century state by the new owners in 1926, whose family still reside there today.
Within the château, you can find the largest portrait gallery in Europe, with over 300 portraits taking you through the history of monarchs and significant persons of Europe, under the breath-taking ceiling made of Lapis Lazuli, a deep midnight-blue semi-precious stone.
You can also enter the Cabinet des Grelots, a small ornately carved oak room, with small Renaissance decorations, or explore the château’s collection of Renaissance furniture, and a whale jawbone from the 1700s.
Covering a massive 40 hectares, you should definitely take the opportunity to explore and relax in the castle gardens, with the garden of portraits, rose garden, garden of Lebanese cedars and the ruined 14th-century chapel that was once part of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage route.
There’s also a path directly from the Château de Beauregard to the King’s other favoured hunting lodge, the Château de Chambord, but if you’re on a Loire Valley road trip, it’s best to stop in Blois en route.
Check opening hours in advance as the château often puts on events such as weddings and other celebrations as well as filming opportunities, although, for most of the year, you can enter the castle and gardens from 10.30 am to 6 pm.
One main theme of the châteaux of the Loire Valley is that many were popular residences of King Francis I – and none more so than the Château de Blois.
Having been built as a mediaeval fortress, Blois Castle changed dramatically over the years as different resident Kings destroyed and rebuilt parts of the castle, leaving only the Estates General room, and the Le Foix tower from its original construction.
Born in the castle, King Louis XII elevated the status of Blois to capital of the Kingdom upon his coronation in 1498 and oversaw the Renaissance architectural influence on the castle.
You can enter the castle from 9 am to 6.30 pm in summer and 10 am to 5 pm in winter to marvel at the history as you pass from room to room, taking in the many architectural styles on display, as well as the over 30,000 works of art in the so-called Musée de France. In a former apartment, you can also see the Museum of Fine Arts, with works from the greats, including Rubens.
Every evening, around 10 pm in summer, a display is projected onto the castle’s façade, detailing the history of the Kings and Queens who left their mark on the castle, and the dramatic instances that took place there. It is possible to buy a combined ticket for the château visit and visual display. You can organise tickets here.
If you have more than 3 days in the Loire Valley, Blois is a great place to explore the city streets and old town, however, if you’re seeing the Loire Valley in 3 days or less, continue to the next stop.
Last but by no means least, on our Loire Valley itinerary, is the magnificent Château de Chambord.
A 20-minute drive from Blois, the Chambord château is perhaps the most striking castle in the region, with its French formal garden, enormous façade and ornately carved windows and turrets.
Another of King Francis I’s hunting lodges, the castle is another fantastic display of the King’s fondness for Renaissance architecture, including the amazing spiral staircase designed by the great Leonardo da Vinci himself.
Nowadays, the building is far from an old relic but is home to a permanent collection of 17th-century tapestries, period furniture and ornaments, as well as hosting numerous art exhibitions throughout the year.
The Château de Chambord became associated with art in part due to the château’s beauty, but also because it was used as a storage facility for prized artworks during WWII after the evacuation of Paris. You can organise tickets here and also there is the option to take a guided tour.
Although it’s an American brand, the liqueur Chambord originates from a black raspberry liqueur made in the Loire Valley near Chambord, so while you’re in the area, try to get a sample!
Where to Stay in the Loire Valley
Ferdinand Hotel – This hotel in the city of Tours is a great base for mid-range visitors exploring the Loire Valley. They have a number of lovely rooms to choose from and a fabulous breakfast available in the morning. Click here to check availability
Château Belmont Tours – This luxe hotel in Tours is an excellent base for those looking for a more upmarket stay while in the Loire Valley. Offering a number of beautiful rooms, there are also countless other plush amenities to ensure guests have a wonderful stay. Click here to check availability
The People – If you’re visiting the Loire Valley on a budget, then this highly-rated hostel is an excellent option. Located in the centre of Tours, it’s a great base for exploring the region and they have both dorms and private rooms available. Click here to check availability
Not quite what you’re looking for? Click here to browse more Loire Valley hotels!
Seeing everything in the Loire Valley in 2 days is near impossible as the area is bursting with regal history, beautiful scenery and delicious wines, so if you’ve got the time, the best way to explore is with a week-long Loire Valley road trip or boat trip!
Are you planning to visit the Loire Valley? Have any questions about this itinerary? Let us know in the comments!