You probably have heard of the Loire Valley castles which are an essential part of French history and have been listed as World Heritage by UNESCO. They are within easy reach from Paris, only 1 hour by train with the TGV.
One of the best options is to take the train to Tours and if you can, hire a car to travel easily around the different castles. Another option when the weather allows it is to rent a bike for some of your journey.
This time, we decided to explore the region around Amboise, which is a town famous for its own castle and medieval architecture.
Leonardo da Vinci’s castle
Amboise is only 30 minutes away from Tours. From there, you can access Leonardo da Vinci’s famous castle : Clos Lucé. You should allow a couple of hours to visit the Renaissance castle where the king François 1er offered him to stay, and the park which displays a large collection of his ingenious inventions, such as the flying machine or the paddle boat.
The Château de Chenonceau
Only 30 minutes, you should not miss my favourite castle which is also one of the most stunning: le château de Chenonceau, with its park, maze, 16th century farm and donkey park.
This royal site is exceptional, not only because of its original architecture but also for the richness of its furniture and its own history.
The castle is also called “Château des Dames” as it was built by Katherine Briçonnet, then embellished by Diane de Poitiers and taken away by Catherine de Medicis, who became Queen of France under Henri II.
It was also luckily protected from the Revolution by Madame Dupin. Property of the Crown, Chenonceau has always benefited from the innovation of its owners at the time.
If you are familiar with Tintin, another great site to explore is the Château de Cheverny, which inspired Hergé for his famous cartoons. At first sight, you will definitely recognize the Moulinsart castle where the captain Haddock stayed.
What strikes the most when you visit the castle is how well preserved the interior decoration is. This will give you a good idea of the French way of living at the time.
On the other side of the park, you will find kennels as hunting dogs still live in Cheverny, and a lovely kitchen garden with beautiful flowers and pumpkins.
Next door, I strongly recommend to explore the interactive Tintin exhibition or go for a ride on one the castle’s electric boats or cars.
Another unusual visit away from the usual castles is Richelieu’s ideal town, which was built by the famous cardinal himself. It is a model of 17th town planning and also includes a beautiful large park. You can learn more about the history of the town and the cardinal in an interactive exhibition held at l’Espace Richelieu.
Where to eat
As for eating options, if you stay in Amboise and want to try simple local cuisine, La Fourchette is one very good choice but make sure you book a table several days in advance as there are not many seats and the restaurant is closed on certain days.
If you are looking into a fancier place, Le Lion d’Or is really good and still offers a 21 euro menu with a starter, main course and dessert, and a high-end customer service. The mushroom soup was very tasty and so was the salmon and veggie meal.
Local souvenirs from the Loire Valley
If you want to bring back some local souvenirs, a visit to the “Caves Duhard” will allow you to sample local wines in a 16th century cellar. Vouvray is a good option if you like dry white wines. The best cheeses are made by Rodolphe Le Meunier and sold at les Halles de Tours where they will advise you on what to choose depending on your tastes. The Rillettes de Tours are also a must, a preparation of meat similar to pâté, often used as spread on bread or toast.
The main city in the region, Tours, is also worth a visit before heading back to Paris. Les Halles de Tours is a must visit if you enjoy food. You should also explore the old town which houses beautiful medieval houses.
If you have time for brunch or afternoon tea, Brunch et Goût Thé is a great stop serving delicious pastries and homemade hot chocolate.
The addresses :
Espace Richelieu, 28 Grande Rue 37120 Richelieu
La Fourchette, 9 rue Malebranche 37400 Amboise
Le Lion d’Or, 17 quai Charles Guinot 37400 Amboise
Caves Duhard, Rue du Rocher des Violettes 37400 Amboise
Galland (for the rillettes), 27 rue Nationale 37400 Amboise
Les Halles, Place Gaston Pailhou 37000 Tours
Brunch et Goût Thé, 19 rue Jules Favre 37000 Tours