The Loire region is the perfect place for a romantic break or an active family holiday. The department boasts beautiful châteaux, charming towns and stunning scenery.
Major Towns and Cities
- Le Mans
The Loire enjoys a very pleasant climate; warm summers and mild winters should be expected.
Average temperature in Loire
No visitor should leave the Loire without visiting at least one château. There are a great number to choose from, and each and every one should provide a great day out. UNESCO faced such a dilemma when attempting to decide which château was most worthy of becoming a World Heritage site that the entire Loire Valley was eventually honoured with the title.
Amongst the most impressive of the châteaux is the Château de Chenonceau, near Chenonceaux. The Château is most famous for the impressive arches which support it. A number of historical figures including Mary Queen of Scots and Catherine de Médicis have lived in the house since it was built in the 15th Century. Amongst the illustrious guests who have spent time there are Voltaire, Montesquieu and Rousseau.
The Château and Jardins de Villandry should also come close to the top of your list on account of the particularly beautiful Renaissance style gardens surrounding the castle. The Château was built by Jean le Breton, a former French Finance Minister, and was completed in 1536. You should allow a couple of hours to look around the gardens and a little over an hour more if you also want to look around the house.
The châteaux and their gardens are particularly beautiful in the summer. However, be warned that the crowds get larger as the weather improves. If this is likely to bother you, consider visiting before or after the popular summer season.
It is worth spending a whole day in the town of Tours, the most important city in the region of Touraine. The city is renowned both for the quality of its prunes and the purity of the French spoken by its residents. The 12th Century Cathedral and the Town Hall are just a couple of the impressive buildings worth seeing in the town centre.
Don't be tempted to swim in the Loire and keep a very close eye on small children: while the water can seem very inviting in the warm summer months, dangerous currents make swimming in the river risky. If you're eager to cool off by taking a swim, most towns in the region have large outdoor swimming pools which become very popular in the summer.
Most of the region's châteaux are very welcoming towards children and have play areas or attractions designed for younger visitors in their gardens.
Food and drink
There are not really any dishes which are considered to be characteristic of the whole Loire region. As in the rest of France, meat dishes are extremely popular and you should expect to find plenty of game dishes on restaurant menus. Unfortunately, vegetarians can expect to face the same problems they encounter throughout France. While some restaurants, and particularly those popular with tourists, might accommodate vegetarians with a non-meat option, vegetarians are unlikely to enjoy a wide choice of food.
Cheese lovers should not leave without sampling some of the excellent goat's cheeses on offer. Visitors to Tours should try the prunes the town has become famous for.
The Loire is an excellent place for those looking for non-strenuous, scenic walks. Marked footpaths can be found throughout the region, many of which include the banks of the Loire and its tributaries in their routes. Many of the small towns and villages in the department have a number of footpaths surrounding them if you would like to combine a leisurely walk with a visit to a traditional pattiserie or a coffee shop.
Canoeing and kayaking clubs are prolific on the Loire, Cher and Vienne. It is easy to rent a canoe or kayak for either a few hours or a whole day. Many companies offer organised canoe and kayak tours if you are uncomfortable with exploring the river alone.
Horse-riding enthusiasts will have plenty of opportunities to enjoy their hobby in the Loire. Organised treks are frequently organised in and around the towns and villages of the department. Some treks follow routes that incorporate several châteaux. Almost all of these tours are suitable for complete beginners and more advanced riders alike. If you expect to do a lot of riding during your trip, consider staying in the area surrounding the town of Saumur, which is well-known as an excellent location for horse-riding and pony-trekking.
A variety of excellent sparkling wines are indigenous to the Loire. While many are very similar in taste to champagne, they are also far better value. Try Vouvray, a sparkling white wine made from locally grown chenin blanc grapes.
If you prefer red wine, try Pantaléon Thierry, a light red which is excellent served with white meat. The Domaine Haut de la Guardière on the edge of St. Nicholas' forest in the Touraine region of the Loire is a great wine tasting venue.
Ease of access
Flights between the UK and Tours are frequent and inexpensive. Flying into Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris and then renting a car or taking a train is also an option. Those arriving by ferry or the Channel Tunnel should allow around five hours for the drive between Calais and Tours.
If you have plenty of time and like the thought of taking a more scenic route than that offered by the roads between Calais and Tours, you might want to consider taking the ferry from Portsmouth to Caen, which takes around 6 hours. The journey between Caen and Tours takes an average of three hours and the attractive scenery and quaint villages you will pass on your journey should compensate for the additional time spent on the ferry.
Value for money
The Loire offers reasonable value for money. Many restaurants offer set menus for as little as €15, although wine can add a significant amount to the bill if you buy it by the bottle. For a cheaper alternative, ask the waiter or waitress if the restaurant offers cheaper local wine by the carafe.
If you are trying to keep the cost of your trip down, take some time to think about which châteaux and museums you would most like to visit, as admission fees can mount up quickly.
You will not regret a visit to the Loire. The region's magnificent châteaux, beautiful landscape and charming villages are the perfect setting for a relaxing holiday. Whether you prefer canoeing, horse-riding or leisurely walks, you will find something to entertain you during your holiday. If possible, visit in the warmer summer months to take full advantage of what the region has to offer.