We’ve heard about the beauty of Paris and the south of France, but not as often do we hear about the historic beauty that is the Loire Valley. Filled with centuries old castles, lush gardens, vineyards and epicurean delights, discover the quiet charm of the region’s small towns and villages.
Château de Chenonceau
Unlike many other castles in Europe, Château de Chenonceau welcomes guests every day of the year. Consider visiting on a Sunday or Monday when many other establishments are closed and you’re looking for somewhere beautiful to spend your time.
The château is easily one of the most visually stunning castles in the world. First built in the 12th and 13th centuries and utterly unique, its many arches cascading over the Cher River.
Chenonceau is a green haven filled with numerous gardens, a sprawling Italian maze with a beautifully raised gazebo at its center, offering an elevated view of the labyrinth and a stunning spot for photos.
Château Royal D’Amboise
Perched high atop the hills of Amboise and looking over the calm waters of the valley, the sight of Château Royal D’Amboise welcomes visitors to this quaint city.
Explore the château in all its splendor—Henry II’s private chambers; the tomb of Leonardo da Vinci; the roof where you’ll enjoy views of the city 40 meters below, to the dungeons and underground passages—complete with prisoner carvings dating back to the 1600’s.
In an exciting addition for 2017, the château’s team created an impressive touch-screen, interactive and 3D guide to the history of the property from its beginnings to present day. The immersive experience allows visitors an interesting opportunity to imagine the art of living at Court in D’Amboise.
500 Years of Leonardo da Vinci in Amboise
If you weren’t a fan of Leonardo da Vinci before, a visit to Amboise will change that forever. The inventor, painter and frankly all-around-genius, spent the last three years of his life in the city.
A must-visit is the final home of da Vinci, Clos-Lucé, Parc Leonardo da Vinci—one of the most fascinating museums and beautiful gardens that this author has ever had the pleasure of exploring. The sprawling estate was a gift from King Francis I to his mentor and within walking distance to the royal château. Francis bestowed the property with a sole command: “Here Leonardo, you will be free to dream, to think and to work.” Visitors will find a real “home” at Lucé. On our visit, a house cat was preening himself in Leonardo’s bed as if waiting for his master to return.
Where to Eat In Tours:
Le GQ This modern artisanal restaurant is a relatively new addition to the dining options in Tours. GQ offers creative and original dishes with produce and wine specific to the region.
Le Saint-Honoré This charming restaurant is a trusted favorite in the Old Quarter in Tours. Expect a family feel with a good selection of options to choose from for food and wine.
Au Martin Bleu Specializing in local fish specialties, add this restaurant to your list of must-dine options, but make sure to book your table ahead of time as it’s often full—it’s that good.
Where to Eat in Amboise
Le Mille Pâtes de L’horloge It’s no frills by way of décor, but if you’re looking for a delicious and satisfying meal, dessert or coffee, be sure to stop in. Enjoy the made-to-order pastas and sauces, fresh salads, quiche, pastries and tasty ice cream.
Brasserie Hippeau When you’re looking for traditional French bistro cuisine Hippeau is the place to go. Expect everything to be exceptionally fresh, from the foie gras to the wide selection of fish and meat dishes. End your meal with your choice of homemade desserts.
Le Patio Making it into the Michelin Guide for the past three years, this is a beautifully appointed modern restaurant where you’ll find tasty yet simple dishes, amuse-bouche, an impressive selection of wines and excellent service.
Where to stay in Tours or Amboise
There are any number of B&B’s, gites or hotels throughout the quaint streets in Tours (the capital city of Loire Valley) and Amboise, so it’s a matter of selecting the best choice based on your personal needs and budget.
If spending time in and around Tours, consider an overnight stay at the simple but comfortable L’hôtel Ronsard in the heart of the village.
It’s best to rent a car in advance if you want to travel at your leisure from city-to-city in the Loire Valley, but don’t forget that the rental companies are closed on Sundays so you’ll have to plan your arrival with this in mind. If you’re uncomfortable driving in foreign places, a highly viable option is traveling via Rail Europe. The train service runs several times per day, 7 days a week with stops in all the major cities and most of the smaller tourist hot-spots.