The Loire Valley was without a doubt one of the highlights of my trip to France. The only regret I have is not staying longer. With three short days to explore it, I wanted to share with you the parts that made it most memorable. I also hope the tips below will have you leaving with less than nine bottles of wine, which we had to carry around on our European trip. Or that you don’t almost miss your flight due to getting stuck in peak hour traffic after spending too long exploring castles! Here are my tips for optimizing your time in the Loire Valley, to experience the best castles and select the top wines to take home with you.
The time of year we chose was Fall (late October) and this time was beautiful. The temperature was quite warm and the landscape was beautiful shades of yellows and burnt oranges. They did say we were lucky with weather at this time of year, so maybe go slightly earlier.
I do recommend driving down. It is a two hour drive south of Paris and although there are tolls the time it takes off is worth it . I recommend a smaller car as driving out of Paris can be stressful with narrow roads and you also experience a few of these in certain regions of the Loire. Sometimes the streets became so narrow it almost looked as though they were one way!
Choosing a place to stay was one of the most crucial elements for making my trip to the Loire memorable. I wanted to stay at a castle in France nestled amongst the countryside with ultimate relaxation vibes so I could switch off and enjoy.
Staying at Domaine de la Tortiniere I certainly found that and more. I did drive myself a little crazy researching which place and area to stay. Although the Loire is spread out everywhere is accessible as long as you have a car. I do recommend staying near a town and we were close to the Town of Montbazon at Domaine de la Tortiniere.
On the first day I recommend taking time relax after your drive and enjoying the nature and accommodation. Once we arrived we took a moment outside, overlooking the beautiful pool and fall scenery and ordered a cheese platter with some local wine before playing a friendly game of tennis in the afternoon. Part of the reason we picked Domaine de le Tortiniere is it’s the kind of place you want to enjoy your time at.
Upon arrival you are placed in either one of the chateau rooms or one of the private cottages to the side. Both are incredible. We were left a complimentary sweet red wine which added to our arrival experience. The architecture and attention to detail inside really make this place what it is. I recommend getting up at sunrise just to admire and walk around the grounds and take in the beauty of Domaine de la Tortiniere. It is like waking up to a dream everyday and one that I didn’t want to leave. I highly suggest following this walk with their incredible buffet breakfast.
Domaine de la Tortiniere also offers amazing activities. Some of the things we enjoyed most were playing tennis on their grass courts, taking photos outside on their swing during sunset and a morning of rowing down on the river. The nearest town Montzabon is a mere twenty minute drive away if there is anything you need to get, but I guarantee you will find all you need at the chateau. The staff went out of their way to ensure our every need was met.
2. Wine Tour
We scheduled a private wine tour for the second day of our visit and this is a MUST if you are visiting the Loire Valley. Loire wines are known to exhibit characteristics of fruitiness with fresh and crisp flavors.
I recommend booking a tour in advance with the place you are staying or online as the wineries are seasonal and can be hard to book on certain days of the year. We were lucky to strike gold on finding a tour last minute, thanks to our hotel. Here are the wineries I visited below and reasons why I enjoyed each of them with my selections of the wines you should take home!
The first winery was a fourth generation family estate – Clos Roussely.
I enjoyed this winery being a family run business it had quite a quaint and cozy set up. The winery itself was dug deep into impressive limestone walls.
I loved that their wines were organic with their specialties of Sauvignon Blanc and Gamay (similar to a light Pinot Noir). Sauvignon happens to be one of my favorites, so I was happy when I learnt this!
Our guide was lovely and taught us the saying “Santé” which means drinking to health in French. The tasting place was a gorgeous light-filled room with soft jazz music playing, which really added to the experience.
My favorite wines were the dry chardonnay and the “magic potion” – where we had to guess the fruit the wine and the root. I managed to guess all three, I guess tasting wine improves my sensory abilities.
Plou & Fils
The second winery was Plou & Fils.
The guide here was also fantastic, friendly and knowledgeable. I enjoyed his explanation of the champagne process and also their impressive barrels of gamay wine! The room they were aging in was incredible.
These were some of the best wines I had during my stay in France. The Rose was beautiful and although it was fruity it also had a dryness to it which I loved as I usually find Rose to be too sweet.
The final winery is renowned worldwide – Marc Bredif. Definitely the most impressive in terms of extravagance. The caves date back to the 10th century an have been used as wine cellars since the 16th century. The champagne aging process here was the most intriguing to me, particularly that Vouvray champagnes have a minimum aging time of nine months.
Something else interesting was they still hand turn a certain amount of their champagne bottles – and there are 10,000 of them to turn when the racks are full.
Needless to say the champagne I tasted here was the best. Nina and I had different views on the wines. To me the Vouvray Classic White was “the best wine I’d ever tasted” and she loved the Reserve Privee Chinon (a very smooth red).
So if you are after a good selection of wines to try I recommend the Magic Elixir from Clos Roussely, the Rose from Plou & Fils and the Vouvray or Chinon and Brut Reserve from Marc Bredif! Then you may be able to limit your selection to less than the 9 bottles we had to move around France for our entire trip! It was completely worth it though… Something else to add is the wines are so reasonably priced in this region of France but were easily some of the best wines I have ever tasted. Expect to pay between $6-35 Euro’s per bottle.
3. Castle Exploring
Our last day was of course spent Castle exploring! Loire Valley is now registered as a UNESCO heritage site so that should give some idea to how incredible the architecture and castles are in this region. We chose to drive since we had a flight to catch in that afternoon but I imagine a private tour with a guide would be extremely informative and more relaxing.
We were limited for time to catch our flight to Nice, France, so we decided to pick two castles. Unfortunately we confused Chenoceau with Chambord (which we really wanted to see) but we weren’t disappointed with our choices as they were filled with history and beauty! We also chose two that weren’t too far from each other and were also on the way to Paris Orly airport.
Chenonceau was one of the most extraordinarily built castles and it is easy to see why it is the most visited and photographed chateau in the Loire Valley.
The approach alone to the chateau is beautiful, the avenue framed by trees as you approach.
I loved that the ladies of the chateau influenced the design of the incredible bridge and gallery and grand ballroom which is what attributed to the aesthetic of what we see today.
My favorite indoor areas was the long gallery with chalk and slate tiled flooring. I could just imagine the incredible balls that would have taken place here, overlooking the Cher river on either side. Another cool spot was the kitchens down below which also had incredible views over the river through the windows.
The gardens were also inspired by the ladies and they are picturesque, a must see. This was a beautiful castle to visit with intriguing history, charming architecture and idyllic landscaping.
The last Chateau we visited was magnificent and regal. Set within the town of Amboise the Royal Chateau of Amboise is all you can see from wherever you wander.
It was built on the foundations of an old fortress and thus is perched high at the top of the town with idyllic panoramic views of the Loire River.
It was a royal residence in the early Renaissance period. Known as a flagship site in French history and one of the finest Chateaus in the Loire.
A reason to visit alone is the Chapel of Saint-Hubert within the Chateau grounds contains Leonardo Da Vinci’s remains.
I won’t say too much more but leave you to explore it yourself.
Located just below the Chateau is the old town of Amboise, which I fell in love with at first sight. It’s cobblestone streets are full of amazing restaurants, cafes, great shopping and it’s small so it doesn’t take long to explore it.
I highly recommend allowing time to grab a bite in this charming and historical town. We didn’t have time other than to grab a coffee to go and we regretted it.
The esplanade along the river is also beautiful and worth taking a picture before you leave.
My trip was special and memorable and I loved every moment of my time in the Loire Valley. My tips would be to rent a car as the area is quite large and you want to be able to get around easily, book a private wine tour as it makes the experience more tailored and incredible, and lastly enjoy exploring all the castles you want to see.
I hope you enjoyed my travel tips on the Loire Valley. If you have any questions please comment below.
Elise Natalie xox