Who doesn’t love a fairytale castle, swathes of sunflower fields, hills of rolling vines and the charms of ancient riverside towns and villages?
Well this is The Loire Valley, home to not just one, but over 300 glorious castles, or should I say Chateaux, which surround the banks of the longest river in France, The Loire.
Running from East to West, this UNESCO listed centre section covers an area of 280km. Stretching from Sully-Sur-Loire to Chalonnes-Sur-Loire, making it the largest of its kind in France.
For us, it was a perfect location to start exploring, back in our earlier days of road trips in France. It was, in fact, here, whilst on holiday in our touring caravan, that we first noticed the French love of motorhomes and the big advantages, that swapping to one would give us.
The freedom of those French camper owners moving around at their leisure, with the holiday home in one, really appealed and made us realise that we no longer wanted to be returning each night to the same destination. It was enough to make us switch to our first Motorhome as soon as we returned to the UK!
The beauty of France in a campervan is the simplicity that it brings and the ease of the Aires system for us all. The Loire is a perfect camper destination, with plenty of picturesque places to stop the night.
With so many Chateaux, you really are spoilt for choice and with a journey time of around 5 hours from Calais, warmer Summers this little bit further South and the added bonus of magnificent cycle routes, it’s an idyllic destination. So let’s get exploring!
Think Joan of Arc and imagine her riding through the ancient Orléans, liberating the town from the English back in 1429. The heroine of girl power still holds her mark on Orléans today, attracting curious tourists and making for a good excuse to visit this medieval city.
If ever you were to imagine the most elaborate, opulent and stately of Chateaux, then Chambord is it! This extraordinary architectural masterpiece is just exquisite. 500 years exactly since its evolution, on the instruction of King Francois l, it’s been state owned since 1930 and was UNESCO listed in 1981.
This renaissance masterpiece also has the best looking gardens ever, recently re-developed, it’s one huge palatial playground of formal opulence.
A royal chateau housing an incredible 35,000 works of art and home to a staggering 17 Kings and Queens! It’s not all about the castle though, Blois itself is a pretty town of quaint old buildings, narrow streets and quirky restaurants. It was here that we had a spot of bother with a French/English conversation over a Baguette! Enough to make me enrol at French class on our return, knowing I didn’t want my future French trips blighted by my lack of language skills!
A typically delightful French ambiance, with the town stretching out along the river and the wonderful Chateau d’Amboise residing above.
Leonardo da Vinci lived in the town in the last years of his life, pay a visit to the Chateau du Clos Luce to see his bedroom and fresco’s painted by his students. Look out for Troglodyte cave dwellings, it was here in Amboise that we first came across them, starting a bit of a fascination on future trips through France.
A big city compared to others along the Loire, but great for a day out amongst the pavement cafe’s, ancient architecture and plenty of foodie lover treats! It’s also renowned for its markets, which we’re always a bit partial to!
The Chateau at Villandry is a stylish little number and was the last of the grand Chateaux to be built along the Loire, back in 1536. The gardens are spectacular, a work of art in themselves.
So this really is the epitome of the fairytale castle and here’s why! It was no other, than the inspiration for the original story by Charles Perrault, of his classic Sleeping Beauty. Now occupied by the Blacas family, they open their fabulous home and gardens to the public, so we can all take a glimpse into this fairy tale world.
I just love this town, it’s nestled on the Loire with an abundance of interesting shops, restaurants, nooks and crannies. It’s also home to the French National Equestrian School which has its base here, where the talents of the Cadre Noir trainers can be seen in their amazing horse displays in the Summer months.
Of course, there is a Chateau, rising above the river and town, as well Troglodyte cave dwellings on the outskirts.
It has a castle that in someways is more familiar in appearance to our Welsh castles than the more glamorous Loire Chateaux.
The town centre is a mix of modern shopping with a brilliant historic area, full of narrow streets, half timbered houses and interesting little shops. Angers is capital of the Anjou Provence and certainly holds true to its title.
A quaint, low key town surrounded by fields of corn, vineyards and a classy little Chateau. Not the best known of the tourist hot spots, but its still as beautiful in its own right and the journey to here in Summer is just lovely.
Fascinating and beautiful, with a wonderful history from the Second World War, its bridge laying on the border between occupied and unoccupied France. It meant that those entering, could exit into the freedom of the unoccupied side, a rather intriguing proposition.
It’s also here, in the large car park that we first really noticed the French love of motorhomes or rather their way of doing things! Just as we were leaving to head back to our campsite, rows and rows of motorhomes were parking up for the night, enjoying al-fresco dining under the warm Summer sky. Enough to have us fully converted to their way of thinking!
Chenonceaux is one of the big Chateau tourist hot spots and sums up the Chateaux of the Loire perfectly. Opulent elegance, extravagant renaissance architecture and incredible construction that has survived beyond the passage of time.
A firm favorite of ours, maybe because it’s a little more low key in many ways. It’s certainly unique in its glory, built on an island, surrounded by shady gardens and Summer nights bringing lighting displays and a magical open air experience. It’s a calming, more natural ambiance and there’s also a neat little town to stroll through once your done with he castle and gardens.
Despite all the fabulous Chateaux, towns and villages, some of the more incredibly beautiful sights come in the displays of Summer blooms, fields of sunflowers, flourishing vineyards and all that fabulous wine!
It’s worth noting if your approaching from the North, stop off first a Le Mans, it’s got a great historic quarter, a fabulous river setting and its home to the famous 24 hour sports car race.
For those venturing on to other parts of France, the Loire-Atlantique region from Nantes to the Atlantic West Coast is just a little further along from Angers.
Salut and Bon Voyage!!