Fairy Tales in France: A Week in the Loire Valley

 
 Loire Valley France, Hot Air Balloon Ride

Years ago, on one of our very first trips together, Wes and I were backpacking all over Europe and spent a week in Paris.

It was… okay.

We saw the Eiffel tower light up each night, cruised down the Seine at sunset and roamed the cobblestone streets of Montmartre. You could say we did the things you’re “supposed” to do in Paris but I left feeling like we hadn’t seen the real France.

Fast-forward 4 years and an e-mail makes its way to our inbox with an invitation to give France another go. Thanks to Loire Valley Wines, we were able to experience the endless vineyards, beautiful castles and passionate locals that exist in the fairy tale I had always dreamed France to be. We’ve barely been back home for a month and I’m already thinking about a Loire 2.0 visit. But, before I get ahead of myself, let me fill you in on how you can enjoy the best of the Loire Valley on your own wine tour.

 Chateau de Brissac - Loire Valley France
 Loire Valley France Travel Guide

Loire Valley, France

If you take a look at a map that shows the main cities in France, you’ll spot Orléans just south of Paris. From there, follow the river west toward the Atlantic until you come across Nantes and that will give you a rough idea of the Loire Valley region we’re talking about today. Spanning nearly 300 kilometres from end to end, this part of Central-France is among the world’s most well-known wine regions and a leading destination for wine tourism. Follow the main cities of Blois, Tours, Saumur, Angers and Nantes along the Loire River (the longest river in France) for a wine tour like no other. With so many historic villages and architectural landmarks, the Loire Valley region earned a spot on UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 2000:

The Loire Valley is an outstanding cultural landscape of great beauty, containing historic towns and villages, great architectural monuments (the châteaux), and cultivated lands formed by many centuries of interaction between their population and the physical environment, primarily the river Loire itself.
— UNESCO

The picturesque ‘garden of France’ is known worldwide for its wines and there are a number of activities available throughout the region that will perfectly compliment your itinerary of vineyard tours and wine tastings.

CASTLE LOVERS: There are a dozens of castles that are open to the public in the Loire Valley so the hardest part here will be deciding which ones to visit.

HISTORY BUFFS: You’ll be fascinated by the miles and miles of underground tunnels and troglodyte cave homes dating back to the Middle Ages.

BUDGET WANDERERS: Tours, tastings and even bottles of wine are often less than 7€ making this region a lot more affordable to visit than others in France.

ACTIVE TRAVELLERS: The Loire a Vélo is a great way to cycle along the region’s countryside with a 900-kilometre path perfect for cyclists.

Regardless of what brings you to the Loire Valley in the first place, you can count on good wine and delicious local specialties to fuel your holiday.

 Loire Valley France Vineyards
 Loire Valley Wines and Vineyards

Loire Valley | Wines & Vineyards

The 170,000 acres of vineyards that comprise the Loire Valley can be divided into 5 regions: Nantes country, Anjou, Saumur, Touraine and Centre-Loire. The climate and soil varies so much between regions that on one end, in Nantes, you’ve got maritime climate and volcanic rock. Then, as you move toward Orléans, you have continental climate and limestone clay. Because of these varying geological features, the Loire Valley is able to produce an incredibly wide range of diverse wines: red, white or rosé, still or sparkling, dry, semi-dry or sweet. With more than 60 appellations of origin, you’ll find a wine to suit every taste and occasion.

 Wine Tasting in the Loire Valley
 Wine Tasting in the Loire Valley

There are over 4,000 vineyards in the Loire Valley making this the third largest wine region in France. Roughly 1,000 of vineyards are open to the public including 350 wine cellars. Below is a list of all the vineyards and tastings that were part of our Loire Valley wine tour and the experiences we had at each visit are also included in our France travel vlogs on YouTube.

Loire Valley | Castles

During the Renaissance period, the Loire Valley become a fashionable place for Paris’ elite to vacation in the summer months which led to a high concentration of castles in the area. Today, their lavish grounds, gardens and vineyards can be visited as part of your Loire Valley wine tour. Chambord, Chenonceau and Villandry are among the most popular (and busiest) but there are so many castles sprinkled throughout the valley that you can avoid the crowds with a bit of planning.

 Chateau de Brissac
 Chateau de Chenonceau Maze - Loire Valley France

We spent an afternoon at Chateau de Brissac which is the highest castle in all of France and currently home to the Brissac family. A portion of the castle is open for public visits and rooms are available at their bed and breakfast for anyone who fancies sleeping in a castle!

On the last day of our trip we visited the infamous Chateau de Chenonceau. Entry includes an audio guide as well as access to the elaborate gardens and an impressive maze. If you’re thinking of visiting multiple castles in the Loire Valley, you may want to look into a Chateaux Pass for a chance to skip the lines and benefit from small discounts.

Loire Valley | Things To Do

Though vineyards and wine-tastings are often the main draw to visitors of the Loire Valley (and with good reason), I was amazed at how much this region has to offer. Here are some of the many activities worth adding to your Loire Valley travel plans:

  • Indulge in local Loire specialties like tarte tatin, rillettes, andouillette sausage, and (of course!) the popular goat’s cheese.

  • Join the annual wine walk, Vignes Vins Randos, held each year on the first weekend of September.

  • Visit the village of Rochemenier to see former cave dwellings or even spend the night in a troglodyte hotel.

  • Experience Loire from the river via a canoe rental or sunset boat cruise.

  • Splurge on a hot air balloon ride and enjoy unforgettable views of the Loire Valley from above.

  • Enjoy a leisurely horse-drawn carriage ride through the picturesque vineyards and villages.

 Loire Valley France, Canoe Ride
 Chateau de Saumur, Loire Valley France

If you’re anything like us, you can appreciate a nice glass of wine but are not necessarily familiar with the industry jargon and proper wine-tasting etiquette. Well, fear not! The immersive vineyard tours in the Loire Valley are a great place to learn and we found the winemakers to be enthusiastic, patient and kind while they shared the traditions and stories behind each bottle. The Loire Valley Wines website is also a great resource to help you get started with everything from finding a vineyard to the 3 things to do when tasting wine. You’ll be able to bring all of this knowledge back with you along with a souvenir bottle (or two).

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Thank you to Loire Valley Wines for allowing us to share this magical wine tour with you! All photos and opinions in this post are our own.