The Loire Valley is a jewel of France. I can’t believe it took me 30 years to visit this region that the French Royalty picked to build some of their best castles. From the Loire Valley castles to the wineries, we spent a lovely couple of days exploring the region on a detour from Bordeaux to Brittany.
I know it can be overwhelming to have only a couple of days there when you see all the things to do in the Loire Valley. I’ve been in your position. This Loire Valley itinerary and the map of the Loire Valley castles at the end will help you make the best choices for your trip.
This article includes:
- Loire Valley itinerary suggestions (including tips for accommodations and restaurants)
- Tips to select the best castles in the Loire Valley
- A Loire Valley castles map at the end (detailed by type of castles)
- Information on how to go from Paris to Loire Valley castles
How to pick the best Loire Valley castles for your itinerary?
If you have a look at the Loire Valley map below, you’ll
Apart from that, it’s hard to make a mistake when selecting a castle: they seem to all have their charms. Hence, selecting the best castles to visit in the Loire Valley is not an easy task as it
Should you follow the crowd to the most popular castles? Or go off the beaten track to visit one you’ve never heard of?
You could be surprised by how stunning the less famous castles can be.
I had never heard of the Chateau of Sully-sur-Loire before receiving a photo from my mother a few days ago. It looks beautiful, don’t you think?
But the most famous Loire Valley castles are popular for good reasons too.
For your first visit, I suggest selecting at least one castle on a river (like Chenonceau or Azay-le-Rideau) and one castle with beautiful gardens (like Villandry). You can use the Loire Valley castles map below to see where all the castles are and their category.
Chenonceau and Chambord are the most touristy Loire Valley castles. Hence, they’re not the best choices during the peak season if you want to avoid the crowds or if you are on a budget. But it’s always a hard call to keep these off the list: they are good reasons why they are so often mentioned as the best castles in the Loire Valley.
I preferred admiring the castles from the outside than spending time inside, mainly because my time in the Loire Valley was limited. This can influence the ones you put on your list, and also your Loire Valley itinerary. Those castles located in the town centres (like Amboise or Chinon) make great stops after hours when other castles are closed for visitors.
If you love History or antique, you will want to go inside. Although it’s not what I’m most interested in, I still recommend entering in at least one historical castle. Some will send you a few centuries back in time as you imagine the stories coming alive in these rooms with the old furniture and decorations. Again, Chenonceau is a safe option. But I’m sure most kids will prefer Usse.
Don’t want to make any efforts? There are many tours that you can join to visit the Loire Valley. Viator* offers a selection of trips from Paris that you can book online.
Two Days in the Loire Valley: itinerary suggestion to see seven of the best castles in the Loire Valley
You can use the numbers to locate the place on the Loire Valley castle map at the end of this article. The map also shows all the other castles we did not include in our itinerary. The Loire Valley map divides the castles into three categories: castles with a river, castles with gardens, castles with great History.
1. Amboise by night
We started our Loire Valley itinerary in Amboise. We arrived at the end of the day to sleep in a troglodyte home*. Our walk in the town with the illuminated castle was a great introduction to the Loire Valley. French luxury at its peak.
We were at Amboise castle outside visiting hours so we could not check out the views the French kings had when they resided there from the 15th to the 19th century. The tomb of Leonard da Vinci is inside the castle.
If you’ve always dreamt of a royal experience sleeping in a Chateau, you may make your dream come true in Amboise.
The stunning Chateau des Arpentis* was built in 1400 and has been transformed into a very stylish hotel. The rooms offer views of the beautiful park where deer and horses can be spotted. Click here for more information*
We opted for a cheaper option – but still original: a troglodyte room. It’s quite unusual to sleep in a cosy cave! Click here to have a look at Le Clos de L’Hermitage* for an example of troglodyte rooms.
We cooked our own dinner in Amboise. But if you’re looking for an original place where to eat local specialities, you may be interested in La Cave Aux Fouees*, a troglodyte restaurant named after the famous bread from the region of the Loire Valley. You can watch the baker cook the fouees (the bread) in the woodfire oven, and eating in a room carved into a cave adds to the special experience.
2. The most famous of the Loire Valley castles: Chenonceau
Spanning over the river, Chenonceau is a gorgeous symbol of the Loire Valley. I’ve heard before that Chenonceau is overrated and I disagree. It’s massive, with lovely gardens and full of History. It’s kind of hard to beat, honestly, and for sure on the list of the best castles in the Loire Valley. Those who love Queen’s and King’s gossips will find it fascinating. As we were going from one room to another, each with its own story, I felt like being in a movie. The gardens and the maze are nice to visit too.
We went there as early as possible outside of peak season to avoid the crowd. If we had more time, I would have loved to paddle on the river to get different views of the massive and beautiful Chenonceau.
If you have more than two days in the Loire Valley, you may want to consider spending a night near Chenonceau, in the beautiful Chateau de Chissay*.
Azay-le-Rideau taught me an important lesson for those planning a trip to the Loire Valley. Check if the castles you plan to visit are doing renovations.
Azay-le-Rideau was still open, so the trip was not for nothing, but it was not as lovely as on the photos I saw when planning our itinerary. Most of the castle
The good news is that the castle is now renovated and will look perfect for your visit!
4. Villandry castle and its stunning gardens
The castle of Villandry looks great, but you actually visit it to spend time looking at the gardens. The part made of vegetables was colourful and original. It’s nice to walk around the garden, but don’t forget to do the short walk behind the castle. It will take you up on a hill so you can see the gardens from a very different angle!
5. Loire Valley wine tasting and original dinner in Chinon
I initially wanted to add wine regions to the map below, but I decided not too when I looked at this vineyard map. They make wines almost everywhere along the entire Loire Valley region.
We weren’t sure when we’d have time to fit the wine tasting in the Loire Valley itinerary. This activity is always challenging during a road trip, and we had already visited a few vineyards a few days before in Saint Emilion near Bordeaux.
Chinon ended up being our only stop for wine tasting in the Loire Valley. We visited Le Domaine de Noire that we chose almost randomly while driving to Chinon, because of their original offer of organic wines and activities in wine tourism.
Our wine tasting ended up being a greater learning experience than a degustation – which we enjoyed a lot. The host shared his knowledge and explained the making and specificity of the region with great pleasure. That’s the benefit of choosing a vineyard with tourism activities.
We were lucky to try a new kind of wine they make in a giant amphora (instead of the usual barrel). Although it sounds very original (at least for France), it’s actually an ancient technique becoming trendy again. The Amphora was the wine we preferred. Unfortunately, they hadn’t bottled it yet so we could only enjoy the degustation sips.
The two other wines we tried were surprising. Both coming from the same grapes and the same hill, they had a very contrasting taste. It came from the difference in the soil at the top of the hill compared to the middle.
We didn’t have time to visit Chinon castle, but we spent the evening in the lovely medieval town centre.
Our Airbnb host recommended having dinner at Dede La Boulange*. The owner is an original character that creates a unique atmosphere to taste local food and drinks. You can only experience something like this in Chinon: Dede la Boulange is unimitable.
6. Usse, Sleeping Beauty’s castle
Once upon a time, there lived a good king and a queen. Long story short (but you can read more here if you wish), their girl was the Sleeping Beauty. And I’m writing about her because Charles Perrault got inspired by the Castle of Usse when writing the Sleeping Beauty. However, when you see it, perhaps you will think of Cinderella’s Disney castle instead as I did.
I wonder where that fairy-tale appearance comes from. The black spiky roofs? The machicolations giving relief to the walls? The number of towers? Probably a mix of all this.
Usse was initially a fortress that many owners transformed over time into a charming residence. Although no King or Queen lived in Usse, many famous names are mentioned in the History of the castle.
The castle visit is mainly about Sleeping Beauty’s story. The experience is very different from the usual French royalty life and other Loire Valley Castles. As you walk up the dungeon, you can see wax characters representing the scenes of the fairy tale. I’m sure kids love this one as well as all those grown-ups who are still dreaming of fairy tales. Others may find it superficial.
You can visit a few other rooms in the castle, highly reputed for their furniture. The gardens, created by Le Notre (who designed Versailles gardens), aren’t big but have some charms. The chapel is small too but elegant and worth the short stroll. The rest of the castle remained private and close to visitors.
We had a quick lunch stop in Saumur while driving west to reach Brittany. I know it’s a great destination for wine and castle lovers.
Perched on its hill, we could see the castle from many
If you have more time than we had to visit Saumur and its region, you may be interested in going to the troglodyte villages of Rochemenier or Turquan. They are one of the best places in the Loire Valley to see troglodyte homes. There’s a great opportunity to sleep in a troglodyte room at Rocaminori Hotel* and Demeure de la Vignole*.
How about seeing the Loire Valley from the air? If the views are already fantastic from the ground, I can only imagine how fantastic it is from the air… If you have the budget, there are a few options to get a bird’s view of the Loire Valley for a memorable experience such as a hot-air balloon ride in Chenonceau* or a helicopter flight over a few castles*.
The Loire Valley castles map
I create a Loire Valley map of the castles that I organised in categories:
- The numbers refer to the castles I wrote about in this article
- The orange pins are the castles with great history and architecture
- The blue pins are the castles with a river
- The green pins are the castles with gardens
I hope the Loire Valley map help you to choose which castles to include in your Loire Valley itinerary.
If the Loire Valley castles map of France doesn’t show, click here to view it.
Paris to Loire Valley Castles
France is not a big country: the distance from Paris to Loire Valley is around 200 kilometres.
Options to go from Paris to the Loire Valley: by car or by train
Although it’s a different region, it takes only two to three hours to drive from Paris to the Loire Valley castles, depending on where you stop.
If you don’t have a car, there are a few options to catch a train to Tours (1h10), Blois (1.5 hours) or Amboise (1h40). This website provides detailed information to go from Paris to the Loire Valley castles. You can play with the SNCF website to find routes to go to the castles themselves, by train. I have identified a few on the map, like from tour to Azay-le-Rideau and Chinon. I also found buses, as a tour from Paris or by public transport from Blois.
The Loire Valley as a day trip from Paris: I recommend joining a tour.
It will be a long day if you are planning this by yourself, but it’s totally feasible. However, I recommend joining a tour (click here to see some options*) so your time will be maximized, and you can be more relaxed to enjoy the visit fully.
But you may want to allow a couple of days for your Loire Valley itinerary if you can, as there are many things to visit. Three days would be ideal. If you have more time, cycling holidays can be an original way to enjoy the flat region. And if you have a lot of time, you could make a loop by visiting the nearby Brittany and Normandy regions.