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Rick Steves Snapshot Loire Valley
By Rick Steves
By Steve Smith
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- Trade Paperback $9.99 $12.99 CAD
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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around December 27, 2022. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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- Rick's firsthand, up-to-date advice on the Loire Valley's best sights, restaurants, hotels, and more, plus tips to beat the crowds, skip the lines, and avoid tourist traps
- Top sights and local experiences: Visit grandiose châteaus, such as Chenonceau, Blois, and Château d'Azay-le-Rideau. Tour the Leonardo da Vinci park, go wine-tasting in Vouvray, and wander the gardens of Villandry. Soak up stunning views from a hot air balloon tour, or take a bike ride through the rolling countryside
- Helpful maps and self-guided walking tours to keep you on track
Exploring beyond the Loire Valley? Pick up Rick Steves France for comprehensive coverage, detailed itineraries, and essential information for planning a countrywide trip.
This Snapshot guide, excerpted from my guidebook Rick Steves France, is all about the Loire Valley. What was once the preserve of French aristocracy is now a playground for commoners like us. Exquisite châteaux dot the lush landscape of the Loire Valley like jewels in a crown—I cover 14 of my favorites. Chenonceau delights with its dramatic setting atop a river, while the king’s “hunting lodge” at Chambord astonishes with 440 rooms—and almost as many chimneys. The best gardens are at Villandry, while Cheverny has the most impressive furnishings—and a fun daily feeding of its hunting hounds. When you need a break, rise above it all in a hot-air balloon or get a feel for the countryside by renting a bike. A visit to “the garden of France” confirms why the Loire Valley was royalty’s number-one getaway.
To help you have the best trip possible, I’ve included the following topics in this book:
• Planning Your Time, with advice on how to make the most of your limited time
• Orientation, including tourist information (abbreviated as TI), tips on public transportation, local tour options, and helpful hints
• Sights with ratings:
▲▲—Try hard to see
▲—Worthwhile if you can make it
No rating—Worth knowing about
• Sleeping and Eating, with good-value recommendations in every price range
• Connections, with tips on trains, buses, and driving
Practicalities, near the end of this book, has information on money, staying connected, hotel reservations, transportation, and more, plus French survival phrases.
To travel smartly, read this little book in its entirety before you go. It’s my hope that this guide will make your trip more meaningful and rewarding. Traveling like a temporary local, you’ll get the absolute most out of every mile, minute, and dollar.
Amboise • Chinon • Beaucoup de Châteaux
As it glides gently east to west, officially separating northern from southern France, the Loire River has come to define this popular tourist region. The importance of this river and the valley’s prime location, in the center of the country just south of Paris, have made the Loire a strategic hot potato for more than a thousand years. The Loire was the high-water mark for the Moors as they pushed into Europe from Morocco. Today, this region is still the dividing line for the country—for example, weather forecasters say, “north of the Loire...and south of the Loire...”
Because of its history, this region is home to more than a thousand castles and palaces of all shapes and sizes. When a “valley address” became a must-have among 16th-century hunting-crazy royalty, rich Renaissance palaces replaced outdated medieval castles. Hundreds of these castles and palaces are open to visitors, and it’s castles that you’re here to see. Old-time aristocratic château-owners, struggling with the cost of upkeep, enjoy financial assistance from the government if they open their mansions to the public.
Today’s Loire Valley is carpeted with fertile fields, crisscrossed by rivers, and laced with rolling hills. It’s one of France’s most important agricultural regions. The region is also under some development pressure, thanks to TGV bullet trains (also called “InOui” trains) that link it to Paris in well under two hours, and cheap flights to England that make it a prime second-home spot for many Brits, including Sir Mick Jagger.
CHOOSING A HOME BASE
This is a big, unwieldy region, so I’ve divided it into two halves: east and west of the sprawling city of Tours. Each area is centered around a good, manageable town—Amboise (east) or Chinon (west)—to use as a home base for exploring nearby châteaux. Which home base should you choose? That will depend on which châteaux you’d like to visit; for ideas, scan the “Loire Valley Châteaux at a Glance” sidebar on here. For first-time visitors, Amboise is the better choice.
Châteaux-holics and gardeners can stay longer and sleep in both towns. Avoid driving across traffic-laden Tours; the A-85 autoroute (toll) is the quickest way to link Amboise with châteaux near Chinon (about an hour). Thanks to this uncrowded freeway, sleepy Azay-le-Rideau is another good base for destinations west of Tours; it also works as a base for sights on both sides.
East of Tours: Amboise and, to a lesser extent, Blois or Chenonceaux, make the best home bases for this area. Amboise and Blois have handy car or bus/minivan access to these important châteaux: elegant Chenonceau, urban Blois, epic Chambord, canine-crazy Cheverny, royal Amboise, and garden-showy Chaumont-sur-Loire. Amboise has minivan service to area sights, and drivers appreciate its small scale and easy parking; Blois has better train connections from Paris and better low-cost transportation options to nearby sights in high season. The serene town of Chenonceaux works for drivers and hardy bicyclists. Most visitors choose Amboise for its just-right size and more varied tourist appeal.
West of Tours: Chinon, Azay-le-Rideau, and their nearby châteaux don’t feel as touristy; these towns appeal to gardeners and road-less-traveled types. The key châteaux in this area are historic Chinon, fairy-tale Azay-le-Rideau, fortress-like Langeais, and garden-lush Villandry. Lesser sights include the châteaux at Rivau and Ussé, plus the Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud. Chinon and Azay-le-Rideau are good for cyclists, with convenient rental shops, decent access to bike paths, and interesting destinations within pedaling distance.
Château Hotels: If ever you wanted to sleep in a castle surrounded by a forest, the Loire Valley is the place—you have several choices in all price ranges. You’ll need a car to get to most of these places. Most of my “castle hotel” recommendations are within 15 minutes of Amboise (see here).
PLANNING YOUR TIME
With frequent, convenient trains to Paris and a few direct runs right to Charles de Gaulle Airport, the Loire can be a good first or last stop on your French odyssey. I’d avoid a château blitz strategy; this region—“the garden of France”—is a pleasant place to linger.
Two full days are sufficient to sample the best châteaux. Don’t go overboard. Three châteaux, possibly four, are the recommended dose. Famous châteaux are least crowded early, during lunch, and late in the day. Most open at about 9:00 and close between 18:00 and 19:00.
A day trip from Paris to the Loire is doable. Shuttle bus and minivan tours make getting to the main châteaux a breeze (see here).
Itinerary Tips for Drivers
For the single best day in the Loire, consider this plan: Visit Amboise’s sights the afternoon of arrival, then sleep in or near Amboise. The next morning, visit my favorite château—graceful Chenonceau—arriving before 9:00 to be one of the first in. Next, drive to Cheverny (40 minutes), with a fun dog-feeding spectacle at 11:30 and good lunch options. End your day at monumental Chambord, a 15-minute drive from Cheverny. Energetic travelers could visit Chaumont on their way back to Amboise. To see the dog feeding at Cheverny, you need to stay on task and leave Chenonceau by 10:30—or visit these sights in reverse order, starting with Chambord (arrive close to 9:00 opening), then Cheverny, and ending at Chenonceau (this means more crowds at Chenonceau).
With a second full day, you could move to (or day-trip to) Chinon, visiting Villandry (and its gardens) or Azay le Rideau en route, then devote your afternoon to the château and old town in Chinon.
Try to see one château on your drive in (for example, if arriving from the north, visit Chambord, Chaumont, or Blois; if coming from the west or the south, see Azay-le-Rideau or Villandry). If you’re coming from Burgundy, don’t miss the one-of-a-kind Château de Guédelon. If you’re driving to the Dordogne from the Loire, the A-20 autoroute via Limoges (near Oradour-sur-Glane) is fastest and toll-free until Brive-la-Gaillarde.
The best map of the area is Michelin #518, covering all the sights described in this chapter (the TI’s free map of Touraine—the area surrounding Tours—is also good).
Itinerary Tips for Those Without a Car
Sleep in Amboise and take a minivan excursion (see the next section). This is easily the best plan for most visitors and allows easy access to all châteaux described in this chapter.
Budget travelers with one day can catch the public bus, shuttle van (high season only), or train from Amboise to the town of Chenonceaux, tour Chenonceau, then return to Amboise in the afternoon to enjoy its château and Leonardo’s last stand at Clos-Lucé. With a second day, take the short (and cheap) train ride to Blois; from here, visit massive Chambord and classy Cheverny (using the château shuttle bus—see here—or renting a bike to see Chambord). Try to budget time to also visit Blois itself before returning to Amboise. With more time, those connecting Paris with Amboise or Chinon can lay over in Blois en route (lockers available at Blois château with paid admission).
Budget travelers based in Chinon can bike to Langeais, Ussé, and Villandry, and/or take the train to Azay-le-Rideau and Langeais (but keep in mind that bike and train trips are long and not a good option for most). Minivan excursions from Tours are the best option for most nondrivers staying in Chinon.
GETTING AROUND THE LOIRE VALLEY
Traveling by car is the easiest way to get around, and day rentals are reasonable. Trains, buses, minivan tours, taxis, and bikes allow those without a car to reach the well-known châteaux. But even the less-famous châteaux are accessible: Take a taxi, arrange a custom minivan excursion (affordable for small groups), or ride a bike (great option for those with time and stamina).
You can rent a car most easily at the St-Pierre-des-Corps TGV station just outside Tours; rentals are also available in Amboise (see here). Parking is free at all châteaux except Chambord.
With easy access from Amboise and Chinon, the big city of Tours is the transport hub for travelers bent on using trains or buses to explore the Loire (but has little else to offer visitors—I wouldn’t sleep there). Tours has two important train stations and a major bus station (with service to several châteaux). The main train station is Tours SNCF, and the smaller, suburban TGV station (located between Tours and Amboise) is St-Pierre-des-Corps. Check schedules carefully, as service is sparse on some lines. The châteaux of Amboise, Blois, Chenonceau, Chaumont (via the town of Onzain plus a long walk), Langeais, Chinon, and Azay-le-Rideau all have train and/or bus service from Tours’ main SNCF station; Amboise, Blois, Chenonceau, and Chinon are also served from the St-Pierre-des-Corps station. Look under each sight for specifics, and seriously consider a minivan excursion (described next).
By Shuttle Bus/Van or Minivan Tour
Shuttle services and minivan tours offer affordable transportation to many of the valley’s châteaux. Shuttles connect Amboise, Tours, or Blois with key châteaux in peak season (€6-20), and minivan tours combine several châteaux into a painless day tour (about €40/person for scheduled half-day itineraries from Amboise or Tours, €60 for all day; allow €150/person for all-day guided tours that include wine tastings, châteaux visits, and lunch; figure €240 for custom groups of up to 7 for 4 hours, €400 for 8 hours). Most of these services depart from TIs (who can book them for you) and can save you time (in line) and money (on admissions) when you purchase your château ticket at a discounted group rate from the driver.
By Shuttle Bus: Between April and October, an excursion bus does a loop route connecting Blois, Chambord, Cheverny, and (skippable) Beauregard, allowing visits to the châteaux with your pick of return times (€6, runs about daily April-Oct). It departs from the train station in Blois, an easy train ride from Amboise or Tours and a good place to bed down (for shuttle details, see “Blois Connections” on here). Public buses also connect Tours, Amboise, and Chenonceaux (see “Amboise Connections” on here).
By Shuttle Van: Touraine Evasion runs a high-season only shuttle linking Amboise with Chenonceau (see “Amboise Connections” on here).
By Minivan Tour: Tour operators Acco-Dispo, Touraine Evasion, Loire Valley Tours, and Olaloire Tours offer half- and full-day itineraries from Amboise and/or Tours that hit all the main châteaux (see “Amboise Connections” on here). Eco Shuttle runs similar excursions from Blois (see here).
Minivan excursions also leave from the Tours TI office (outside the Tours SNCF train station) to many châteaux; some include wine tasting (book at www.tours-tourisme.fr, tel. 02 47 70 37 37, easy connections from Amboise, Blois, or Chinon; see “By Train,” earlier).
Taxi excursions can be affordable when split among several people, especially from the Blois train station to nearby châteaux, or from Amboise to Chenonceau. For details, see “Blois Connections” on here, and “Amboise Connections” on here.
Cycling options are endless in the Loire, where the elevation gain is generally manageable. (However, if you have only a day or two, rent a car or stick to the châteaux easily reached by buses and minivans.) Amboise, Chenonceaux, Blois, Azay-le-Rideau, and Chinon all make good biking bases and have rental options (ask at TIs). A network of nearly 200 miles of bike paths and well-signed country lanes connect many châteaux near Amboise. Pick up the free bike-path map at any TI, buy the more detailed map available at TIs, or study the route options at www.cycling-loire.com. Your bike rental company will be able to advise you as well.
About five miles from Chinon, a 30-mile bike path runs along the Loire River, passing by Ussé and Langeais. It meets the Cher River at Villandry and continues along the Cher to Tours and beyond. To follow this route, get the La Loire à Vélo brochure at any area TI.
Détours de Loire can help you plan your bike route. They can also deliver rental bikes to most places in the Loire for reasonable rates. They have a full range of bikes—kid-size, tandems, and electric—and will shuttle luggage to your next stop if you reserve ahead. They have shops in Amboise, Blois, and Tours, allowing one-way rentals between these and their partner shops (www.detoursdeloire.com).
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- On Sale
- Dec 27, 2022
- Page Count
- 120 pages
- Rick Steves