When you see all the things to do in the Loire Valley, I know it can be overwhelming to create an itinerary. Especially if you only have a couple of days to experience it all. 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.
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.
What is the Loire Valley best known for?
The Loire Valley is mostly famous for three things: stunning castles (with a lovely mix of royal castles, fairy-tale castles and medieval castles), magnificent gardens and delectable white wines. It’s a perfect destination for a romantic getaway!
How many days do you need in the Loire Valley?
We spent three days in the Loire Valley and had time to visit a few castles and gardens, check out troglodyte homes and taste delicious dry white wines. However, our two-day itinerary in the Loire Valley was quite packed. Three days would be ideal for a more relaxing visit to the Loire Valley and to enjoy a bit more of the many things the region has to offer.
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 from Paris by visiting the nearby Brittany and Normandy regions.
Tips to pick the best Loire Valley castles for your itinerary
How many castles are in the Loire Valley?
With more than 300 castles along the river, the Loire Valley has the densest collection of castles in France. Not all of them have the splendid Renaissance style when we first have in mind when thinking of the Loire Valley. Some fortified castles were built half a millennium earlier, in the 10th century. And most importantly for your Loire Valley itinerary, most of them are closed to visitors. Still, if you have a look at the Loire Valley map below, you’ll
My biggest tip is to always double-check if the castles you chose aren’t being renovated at the time of your visit to avoid disappointment. 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?
You could be surprised by how stunning the less famous castles can be.
Some prefer going off the beaten track rather than following a typical Loire Valley itinerary and visiting less touristy castles. I had never heard of the Chateau of Sully-sur-Loire before receiving a photo from my mother as she was driving across the region. 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 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 to 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 to visitors.
If you love History or antiques, you will want to go inside. Although it’s not what I’m most interested in, I still recommend entering 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, and castles with great History.
Amboise is known for being the best town to stay in Loire Valley. So 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.
Spanning over the river, Chenonceau is a gorgeous symbol of the Loire Valley and probably the most famous castle in 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 gossip 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 in the photos I saw when planning our itinerary. Most of the castle was under a scaffold. If I had done my homework and found it was being renovated; I wouldn’t have included it in our Loire Valley itinerary.
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 to when I looked at this vineyard map. They make wines almost everywhere along the entire Loire Valley region, which is known for being one of the best wine regions in France.
We weren’t sure when we’d have time to fit the wine tasting in our Loire Valley itinerary. This activity is always challenging during a road trip (unless you have a volunteer to drive), and we had already visited a few vineyards a few days before in Saint Emilion near Bordeaux. In the end, it’s not that special to be in a wine region when you travel around France, so we really wanted to focus on the castles.
Chinon ended up being our only stop for wine tasting in the Loire Valley for this trip. We visited Le Domaine de Noire, which 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 oenotourism 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 very contrasting tastes. 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 Sleeping Beauty. And I’m writing about her because Charles Perrault got inspired by the Castle of Usse when writing 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*.
What are your favourite castles to put on a Loire Valley itinerary? Share your experience in the comments below!
The Loire Valley castles map
I create a Loire Valley map of the castles that I organised into 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 this Loire Valley map helps 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.
How to visit Loire Valley castles from Paris
France is not a big country: the distance from Paris to Loire Valley is around 200 kilometres. Even for a day trip, it’s worth going to the Loire Valley from Paris.
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). The Loire Valley is one of the best day trips from Paris by train. This website provides detailed information on going 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 Tours to Azay-le-Rideau and Chinon. I also found buses, as a tour from Paris or by public transport from Blois.
Visit 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 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.
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