The Loire Valley is truly wonderful. The châteaux are some of the most magical buildings on the planet, the scenery: pretty hamlets, ripe fields and woodlands, is beautiful, the food is possibly divine and there’s no argument that the wine is some of the world’s best. I can’t really see any cons? Whatever you enjoy you can probably do it here, and with a more picturesque background. And if it was good enough for the Sun King… right?
The main problem with the Loire is deciding on the detail. Do you ride your bike through so you can visit the vineyards without worrying about forgetting where you have parked your car? The problem with this option is: how much you can carry in your panniers? and how far you can cycle while under the influence of an assortment of local wines? Do you hole up in a château and just see the local highlights? Which is fine, but there’s A LOT to see here. Do you prioritise the highlights, or the less-visited gems?
Basically this is not one of your easy-to-plan fly and flop destinations. But, in my experience, the effort is always worth it. While I can’t help you out with all the research, I can help you out with some great accommodation recommendations which will definitely save you valuable planning time. The following ideas are reasonably priced options with plenty of French charm outside the main centres:
Perfectly located between Tours and Angers, La Croix Blanche is a rather elegant, but affordable 24 room hotel, and the direct neighbour of the historic Fontevraud Abbey in Fontevraud L’Abbaye. Rooms start from around €90 per night. There are some lovely family suites and cosier family rooms, plus an outdoor pool and a relaxed restaurant which serves classic French dishes. This is a great option if you want to remember the kind of hotels you stayed at before you had a family. Or if you’re just looking for something decent and affordable.
A Traditional French Townhouse which is also very affordable
La Closeraie is a simple, yet stylish nine room townhouse just out of Orleans in Sully-sur-Loire. In fact just three minutes from the Château de Sully-sur-Loire.
If you want affordable peace and unfussy elegance, plus a continental breakfast, this is a super option, with rooms starting from around €85 per night.
Between Blois and Tours in the tiny town of Onzain, and surrounded by 70 acres worth of its own tended woodland, the Domaine des Hauts de Loire is a sublime 19th Century hunting lodge château with a two Michelin starred restaurant and immaculate service. Wonderfully positioned for exploring the vineyards of Vouvray and some of the Loire’s best châteaux, this is also the kind of place you don’t really need to leave – what with the cycling, fishing, walking, eating and drinking on offer. There’s also a superb cooking school. Rooms start from around €295 per night.
A château of one’s own (almost)
Just outside Saumur, the four bedroom Château Bouvet Ladubay is a charmingly grand B&B set within its own park. The elegant rooms have chandeliers, wood flooring, traditional French decor and plush bathrooms. There’s also a beautiful conservatory, a pretty breakfast room, neat gardens and a pool. Perfect for wine tasting with your significant other? Rooms start from around €125 B&B per night.
What about an affordable château?
If you dream of parquet floors, opulent fabrics, chandeliers and romantic dining, but your budget is modest, you may well adore the elegant and secluded Château de Cop-Choux, a five room manor house surrounded by 18 hectares of parkland. The menu is superbly French, and there’s a pool and a tennis courts, so you can definitely play lord of le château here. And all starting from around €95 per night. Located in a remote spot between Nantes and Angers.
You can fly to the Loire Valley but you certainly don’t need to, and if you’re planning to visit the vineyards then it might be more convenient not to. There’s a very decent ferry service between Portsmouth and Le Havre which takes around five hours during the day and eight if you catch the overnight ferry. You can also sail in to Cherbourg. From Le Havre it’s about three hours drive into the Loire. Or catch the Eurotunnel from Folkestone and be in Calais in about 35 minutes.
If you want to travel on the rails without a car there are plenty of options via Paris or Lille to a range of towns and cities in the Loire. If you do want to fly, Paris, Bordeaux, Montpellier, Toulouse, Marselies and Nice are all served by British Airways, Easyjet flies into Biarritz, La Rochelle and Nantes, Flybe flies to Brest, Avignon and Rennes, and Ryaniair to Beziers, Dinard, Pau, Nîmes and Tours – among other options. So there’s reams of choice.
The Loire is one of the most verdant regions of France – often referred to as the ‘garden of France’ – so, as you might imagine, the weather here is pretty comfortable all year round. There’s a bit of a difference between the Loire valley north of the river and south of the river – with the south being slightly warmer. Spring is beautiful for the flowers, the Loire’s mild autumns are spectacular because of the harvest, winter is crisp and lovely and summer is hot, but not intolerably so, with temperatures rarely hitting 25°C.
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