The Loire Valley in France is Castle Paradise. No matter which one(s) you visit you’ll feel like you’ve walked into a fairytale. But the area isn’t just rich in castles, it’s rich in charming towns where time seems to stand still, and in wineries and vineyards serving some of the most refreshing vin that will ever touch your lips. Whatever your reasons for visiting France, a road trip through the Loire Valley should definitely be added to your itinerary! Here are my tips for exploring this enchanting region of France.
1 – Rent a car:
There is no better way to explore the Loire Valley and all of its amazing towns, castles and vineyards than renting a car. With everything being spread out over such a large area, you’ll want the freedom to choose where to go, and go at your own pace. I recommend at least two – three days in the Loire Valley to allow yourself enough time to get to know the area. You’ll never regret staying an extra day, but you’ll be very sad if you don’t feel you had enough time.
Be aware that renting a car with an automatic transmission in Europe is going to cost you a pretty penny. Unless you select that option and pay big bucks for it, you will be driving a stick shift. If it’s been a while and you want a refresher, ask your friends. Someone is likely to have a car with a manual transmission that you can practice on before hitting the French streets.
2 – Research Before You Go:
This is as important to the success of your road trip as renting a car. Research! As I’ve mentioned above, there is so much to see! Which castles do you want to visit? Which vineyards? Which towns? Where will you stay? How long is the driving distance between attractions? Where will you stop to eat during your adventure? All these questions can be answered before you even leave your American couch with a little research (if research isn’t your thing, consider hiring an expert to handle the logistics! Go to MyLadycations.com and request your free consultation today!).
You’re going to want to know which specific castles and vineyards you’ll be visiting in advance, and make reservations where applicable. You’ll also want to map out everyplace you’d like to visit and determine the best route to maximize your sightseeing time and minimize drive-times and backtracking. Don’t forget to make time for lunch!
Don’t decide where you’ll stay until you know where you’re going. You aren’t going to want to drive two hours to your lodging after a busy, long day of sightseeing.
3 – Don’t Over-Plan:
When you realize just how many incredible places there are to visit in and around the Loire Valley you may feel overwhelmed and try to cram as much as possible into each day. Don’t. You want to account for drive time, stops for meals or photo opportunities, and allow enough time at each place to be able to explore at a leisurely pace and not feel rushed. I suggest planning no more than 2 – 3 activities per day, and 3 may be pushing it depending on which ones you choose. Allow at least 2 hours at each castle, ideally longer, especially for the larger castles like the Chateau de Chambord. The castle itself is gargantuan, and the grounds are not to be missed.
One of the things I was most grateful for during our Loire Valley road trip was that we hadn’t over-planned. We had enough time to stop when we saw something we wanted to check out, explore the towns outside the castles, and even have an adventure in Tours when we ended up in the least touristy area of town trying to find snacks.
Pro Tip: Prepare for snack cravings! It’s more difficult to find snacks in the more rural areas of France, just like in the U.S. And remember that basically nothing in those small towns is open on Sunday. You’ll need to find a larger town like Tours or Le Mans.
4 – Find Unique Accommodations:
There are so many incredible places to stay in the Loire Valley to add some local flavor to your trip! The last thing you want to do in an area with so many historic buildings and castles is stay at something akin to a Holiday Inn. I recommend checking out three booking engines: AirBnb, VRBO, and Booking. Just a few of the unique opportunities you’ll find are castles, windmills, watermills, farm stays, private rooms in country estates, and countless small properties with more charm and beauty than you could even imagine. It’s such a gorgeous area, don’t do yourself the disservice of staying in some lame-ass hotel!
Pro Tip: If you want a truly authentic French experience find lodging that also offers a home-cooked dinner. There are lots of farm stays and other accommodations where the hosts will make you dinner, generally with local ingredients and a family recipe. Don’t pass up this opportunity! You’ll get a taste of real French cuisine, it’s usually less expensive than going to a restaurant, and what could be better after a day of sightseeing than having dinner waiting when you’re done?! Click here to view our AirBnb in the Loire Valley that includes breakfast and an optional (and exceptional) home-cooked meal by the host, who happens to be an award-winning chef!
5 – Go Wine Tasting:
There are so many vineyards in the Loire Valley, many of them occupying ancient estates with charming chateau. If you go to a country known for its exceptional wine and don’t go wine tasting, you’re Francing wrong. Whether you’re a wine connoisseur or a suburban wineo, a wine tasting is not to be missed. The region has varied climates and types of soil, creating a different wine in the differing regions within the valley.
I highly recommend the Chateau de Miniere for at least one of your tastings. Set in an old chateau where you can stay or even host a wedding, you can’t ask for more picturesque surroundings to sample their spectacular wines. Bring your credit card. You’re going to want to ship cases of the stuff back home. It’s that good.
6 – Explore Random Towns:
There are little towns dotting the landscape all over the Loire Valley and they absolutely drip charm and character. Make sure you leave enough time in your itinerary to allow for impromptu exploring each day. You’ll pass through and by so many picturesque little places, you’d be doing yourself a disservice to ignore them. Be advised, however, that English is not as prevalent in the smaller towns, so brush up on a few words in French, do the best you can, and enjoy the experience. Remember, being uncomfortable and vulnerable builds character and makes for some pretty great vacation stories to take home, which are more priceless than any souvenir (though maybe not more priceless than the 1996 vintage at Chateau de Miniere, cause OMG it is orgasmic).
7 – Be a Fancy Bitch:
There are times to get all dolled up and cute, and this is one of them. The photo opportunities in the Loire Valley have no end, and you will regret it if you look like a frumpy American on a road trip. You’ll be exploring places as refined and elegant as you could possibly imagine, and if you haven’t dressed the part of the refined, elegant, regal, boss-ass-bitch you are, you’re going to wish you had. Besides, when will you have another opportunity for a photoshoot in front of a fairytale castle?! Have fun with it!