Escape to the Loire Valley, a region listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It's close enough to Paris to spend a day among the châteaux before returning to the capital just in time for dinner.
What to see and do in Paris is not limited to its perimeter. You just have to go a little further afield to find dreamy places like Versailles, Monet's House in Giverny and, of course, the Loire Valley with its romantic châteaux. Here are the best guided tours to the latter destination from the City of Light.
1. A day in the Loire Valley
There is no shortage of reasons to visit the Loire Valley. Important battles were fought here, kings lived here and some of the best grapes in the country are harvested here. The monarchs embellished the territory with magnificent residences that continue to amaze locals and tourists alike.
Guided tours depart early in the morning (usually around 7:00) from a central Paris location and include entrance fees to the monuments.
The fortresses and chateaux of the Loire Valley are innumerable but the following castles are usually the destination of the tours:
- Château de Chambord, an imposing square building with four towers. It was built in the 16th century by the will of King François I. The monarch was passionate about hunting and chose this place because of the abundance of wild game. Chambord is reminiscent of Italian Renaissance buildings and conceals a double helix staircase designed by Leonardo da Vinci.
- Chenonceau, the second most visited royal residence in France after the Palace of Versailles. It is a romantic fantasy built on the river Le Cher. Chenonceau is linked to the figure of Catherine de Medici who snatched it from Diane de Poitiers, the mistress of her husband, King Henry II.
- Château Royal d'Amboise, the castle that hosted the Gallic monarchs during the Renaissance. From its towers and high points, one enjoys a magnificent view over the river and the surrounding village.
In most cases, these one-day tours include a tasting of three glasses of wine and a stroll through Amboise, the charming historic village that hosts the eponymous castle.
In 1516, Leonardo da Vinci moved here, bringing with him his most famous painting, La Gioconda. His room and workshop are located in the Château du Clos-Lucé (Rue du Clos Lucé 2).
- Duration: about 12 hours
- Price: about 200 €.
2. Two-day trip to Mont Saint-Michel and the Loire Castles
Normally, these tours depart from the French capital at around 7:00 am. The first stop is Mont Saint-Michel, the picturesque village perched on the slopes of a rocky hill. You will arrive here shortly before noon, the ideal time to find a place to eat.
Mont Saint-Michel is tiny but there are some worthwhile restaurants. An icon of the village is La Mère Poulard famous for lamb, fish dishes and the famous omelette cooked over a wood fire. Other recommended destinations are the creperie La Sirene and the Auberge Saint-Pierre.
With a full belly, a walk is best enjoyed and the famous village of Normandy deserves to be explored in all its corners. The guide will take you to the abbey that hides a splendid cloister. Initially, the temple had a Romanesque architecture while today it has a Gothic exterior.
After the visit, and some free time for a stroll around Mont Saint-Michel, the bus will take you to nearby Angers where you will spend the night in a hotel.
The second day starts with a hearty breakfast at the hostel. Once finished, the bus will take you to the castles of the Loire. Generally, the routes stop at the fortresses of Chenonceau and Chambord and at the Château de Langeais.
The latter is one of the oldest in the valley and stands out for its Renaissance facade. It was built during the 10th century by Fulk III of Anjou, one of the most important figures of the French Middle Ages.
The most impressive room is the wedding hall that hosted the marriage of King Charles VIII and Anne of Brittany in 1491. Wax figures commemorate the event.
In the afternoon, the coach sets off on its return journey to Paris. Usually, the vehicles arrive in the French capital around 8:00 pm, the ideal time for dinner. For inspiration, I recommend you to read the post about the best restaurants in Paris.
- Duration: 2 days
- Price: around 450 €.
3. Three-day trip to Normandy and the Loire Castles
The second route differs from the previous one. In this case, you will see the castles after visiting the main towns of Normandy.
The trip is aboard a luxury coach and includes two nights in a hotel, an expert guide, entrance fees to the main monuments and some meals (usually breakfast and lunch).
The first stop is usually Rouen, the former capital of Normandy and the perfect starting point for exploring the region. Its landmark is the Notre-Dame Cathedral, a jewel of French Gothic architecture. It has inspired a series of paintings by Monet that portray it at different times of the day. Some of these are preserved in the Musée d'Orsay in Paris.
After a stroll through the old town, you will get back on the bus to reach the shores of the Atlantic. The most usual routes stop at the following locations:
- Honfleur, a seafaring town that knew its golden age in colonial times. Its historic center (Vieux-Bassin) is developed around the old port and the houses that flank it create a postcard image. Normally, you will have enough time to explore Honfleur at your leisure. If you get the itch, you can enjoy a plate of fresh fish and seafood at one of the many specialty restaurants.
- Omaha Beach, the site of the famous Normandy landings.
- Saint-Laurent American Cemetery, where 9,387 American soldiers killed in battle are eternally buried.
- Landing Museum, the cultural institution that preserves the memory of D-Day. It stands above the artificial harbor built after the conquest of the coast.
Generally, the day ends in Caen, a city with a rich history behind it. Its most famous admirer was William the Conqueror who embellished it by ordering the erection of a castle and the abbeys of Men and Ladies.
In the morning you will leave Caen to go to the corsair city of Normandy: Saint-Malo. It is a real fortress on the sea and is surrounded by well-preserved ramparts. The old buildings are made of gray granite which gives a severe yet elegant touch.
It is also worth going out of the old town to see the neighborhood next to the beach of Sillon (Plage du Sillon). Here you will find some splendid villas built during the Belle Époque. At lunchtime, I recommend eating crepes overlooking the sea at La Caraque (quai de Solidor 3).
In the afternoon you will visit another pearl of Normandy: Mont Saint-Michel. It is a "magic island" that loses and regains contact with the mainland according to the tides. Your guide will take you inside the abbey that has been guarding the site since the 8th century.
You will then have time to stroll at your leisure through its cobblestone streets. The route ends in Angers where you will spend the night.
Finally, the third day concentrates on the topic of this article: the castles! Normally, the castles of Chenonceau and Chambord are included, while the Château Royal d'Amboise is off the route. Instead, you will have the opportunity to visit other forts:
- Château d'Angers, the most unique fortress in the region. The builders used exclusively tufa, a limestone with a typical gray color. This detail, together with the 17 towers that protect it, give it the appearance of an impregnable fortress.
- Château de Langeais, one of the oldest castles in the valley. It had a dual residential/military function and is therefore surrounded by large ramparts. On the parapet walk (Chemin de Ronde) it will not be difficult to imagine soldiers throwing boiling oil to repel the attackers.
As usual, you will have time for lunch in Chenonceau. For this purpose, I recommend the restaurants Au Gâteau Breton (Rue Bretonneau 16) and Auberge de la Treille (Rue d'Amboise 2). You will return to the French capital in the evening.
- Duration: 3 days
- Price: around 700 €.
Why is it advisable to take a trip to the Loire Castles?
The Loire Valley is considered one of the best places to visit in France. The elegant fortresses are its main attraction but not the only one: gardens, medieval villages and large fields of sunflowers have contributed to make this part of France a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Another attraction is the wine: Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, Melon de Bourgogne, Chenin Blanc and other varieties are harvested here. If you are staying in Paris for a week (or more), I recommend you dedicate at least one day to this excursion.
When is the best time to visit the Loire Châteaux?
Most tourists visit the Loire Valley between July and August to enjoy pleasant temperatures - highs rarely exceed 26 degrees Celsius - and outdoor activities.
Among the most coveted are boat trips on the river, a hot air balloon flight or a few days of relaxation on the shores of the Hommes and Chemillé-sur-Indrois lakes.
If you can't travel during these dates, spring is another recommended option. You will enjoy the spectacle of flowering in the wonderful gardens of the area. The most notable are the Château de Villandry, the Château d'Azay-le-Rideau and the Château de Chenonceau although the list could be longer.
Is it advisable to take a trip to the Loire châteaux with children?
Of course it is! The little ones are usually delighted to visit these unique constructions reminiscent of the protagonists of fairy tales, movies and video games. In addition, many castles have developed audio guides for children and dedicated recreational/cultural activities.
If you are traveling with your children, you can also take other routes. For this purpose, I recommend you to read the article explaining how to go from Paris to Disneyland and the post about the excursions to Mont St Michel from Paris.
Is it possible to visit the region on your own?
Yes, you will have the options listed below:
- Car: if you have decided to rent a car, it will be enough to drive for about two and a half hours. The main center of the region is Tours which can be easily reached by taking the A10 highway.
- Train: if you want to get to Tours quickly, you can take a high-speed train from Montparnasse. You can also opt for a convoy from Austerlitz station to Blois-Chambord. You can check timetables and tickets on the website of the French railroads.
- Bus: the company Flixbus provides connections between the capital and Blois.
What are the advantages of taking a guided tour vs. visiting the Loire Valley on my own?
With more than 1000 kilometers, the Loire is the longest river in France and its valley extends for about 280 kilometers. This area concentrates a myriad of castles and other attractions.
For this reason, planning a visit requires a good organization in advance. If you are short on time, an organized tour is ideal.
For a reasonable price, you will be provided with an expert guide, bus transportation and entrance fees to the castles you will visit. In case you stay one night, you will not have to worry about accommodation either.