France is one of themost popular European destinations for vacationers – and for extremely good reason. It is a country rich in culture and geographical wonder, with a storied history that its villages and cities wear on their sleeves. For travellers tired of urban getaways, there is a provincial countryside like no other to explore!
As far as provincial French vacation destinations go, you couldn’t do much better than the Loire Valley. The Loire River charts a peculiar and long-winded course across France’s north and midriff, more or less; incidentally, at over 600 miles in length, it’s France’s longest river. Around 270 of these miles are the topic of today’s conversation, accounting as they do for a unique and beautiful valley that saw the construction of over 300 châteaux (for the initiated, country homes and castles for French nobility, the construction of some of which date back to the 10th century).
With 300 châteaux to choose from in this profoundly picturesque pastoral place, it can be hard for the vacationer to plot out the best possible trip through the Loire Valley. As such, here are four suggestions for where to visit for your own taste of French valley peace.
Château de Chambord
The Château de Chambord is an utterly stunning Renaissance-era country house, with gargantuan gardens and palatial interiors just begging to be explored. Chambord as a region is probably most famous for its contributions to liqueur, with American-derived Chambord liqueur based on a 17th-century recipe made here; today, the Château de Chambord charts its own path via its on-site vineyards.
Around 60 miles west of Chambord, on the other side of Tours, lies the Château d’Azay-le-Rideau. This is an early Renaissance build, a truth worn on its spires with pride. This château is not on the banks of the Loire, but rather the Indres – or should we say ‘in’, built as it was on an island jutting out into the water?
Of all the bike tours France has to offer, a trek along the Loire Valley could prove to be both the most accessible and the most rewarding – as, again, such delights as Chambord and this incredible water-borne masterstroke are mere miles apart.
Château de Chenonceau
The Château de Chenonceau is another river-borne marvel, this time situated in the middle of the River Cher – east-south-east of Tours. Chenonceau was another 16th-century build, but its own claims to fame differ from the rest; here can be found stunning gardens, an even more stunning Old Masters museum collection and a fine dining experience like no other.
Finally, we come to the Château d’Ambroise, which is a mere stone’s throw north of Chenonceau and a touch more Gothic to boot. The Château d’Ambroise is history manifest, having borne witness to some of the greatest figures of the Renaissance. Not only is Leonardo da Vinci thought to be buried here, but Charles VII also died here after an unfortunate accident. Between plottings, revolutions and grisly acts of mass justice, this riverside destination has soaked in its fair share – making it all the more fascinating to visit.