Blois, only one hour 22 minutes from Paris by train and roughly halfway between Orleans and Tours in the Loire Valley, makes a perfect center for exploring the gorgeous towns with their impressive châteaux (castles) along the river valley. It’s a delightful city, with its old streets clustered around the Château de Blois in the center of the town. Blois makes a perfect short break and is compact and easy to walk around. There's good public transport to some of the châteaux nearby and good train connections to many other French cities.
- In the Loir-et-Cher department (41)
- In the Centre-Val de Loire region
- 48,500 inhabitants
How to Get to Blois
- By car
The distance from central Paris to Blois is around 159km (99 miles) and the journey takes around two hours depending on your speed.
- By train
There is a good train service from Paris Gare d’Austerlitz to Blois station.
- By Bike
Blois is on the main bicycle route in the Val de Loire, which offers 550 km of paths, trails and back roads specially marked out for cyclists. You can pick a part of the route, and there’s a very good section, Châteaux by Bike, that takes you past some of the castles. You'll find suggestions of accommodation, places which are friendly to bikers, places to eat and more in the local tourist offices which also have a very good free map.
A Little History
The town started as the fortified residence of the Counts of Blois in the 10th century. With such a powerful family protecting the town, it inevitably prospered and grew along the river and around the bridge that was built in the 11th century.
The town was a natural trading post on the road from Chartres to Poitou, and the move by the French kings to live in Blois ensured its prominence. Convents and churches followed and the city expanded along the Loire. In 1716 what was known as the Great Ice Break destroyed the old bridge and a new one was built. It’s a handsome structure linking the two banks and was followed by quays along the riverside.
The French Revolution did away with 15 of the churches; the Industrial Revolution brought further expansion particularly around the train station. In 1940 an air raid destroyed nearly 500 buildings; reconstruction took place between 1946 and 1950 and the result is a distinctive old quarter and new buildings that more or less fit into the cityscape.
Today Blois is a thriving city; the natural heart of the Loire Valley with good connections east and west. It makes a perfect base for exploring the Loire river, the châteaux along its banks and the numerous gardens in the area.
Where to Stay and Eat
Blois is a major center, so there’s plenty of choices from modest hotels to chic bed and breakfasts and from top-end Michelin-starred dining to friendly casual bistros down by the river.
For quick snacks and drinks, there are plenty of places along the main roads and in the square in front of the château.
Just opposite the château, this is a good place for a drink and a snack in the small walled garden. There’s a comprehensive wine selection to buy in the cellar underneath the house and good regional products as well.
- Château of Blois - Visiting the glorious château at Blois is the main reason most people visit the city. Dominating the town and the river, it has everything: a history of royalty and intrigue, of romance and dark deeds; spectacular architecture which takes in four centuries and four very different styles; an interior full of fine art and furniture; some wonderful events in the summer, and a truly remarkable son-et-lumiere (sound and light) show on summer evenings.
- The House of Magic (Maison de la Magie) - You can’t miss this extraordinary museum housed in an old red brick house opposite the château entrance. If you can, catch the first show every half hour when the windows open and the heads of six dragons snake out. And don’t think this is just for children; magic of this kind is for every age. The museum is devoted to Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin. Born in Blois in 1805, he made clocks and automates, many of which you’ll see in the museum as you make your way from illusion to illusion on its five levels. There are shows on selected days in the underground theater and special events.
- The Old Town - The old part of Blois stretches out from the château and the Place St-Louis around the cathedral, built during the reign of Louis XIV in 1697. The story goes that the Bishop had wanted the church of St-Nicolas for his cathedral, but as the church was higher than the château (its three spires form a great landmark), the King refused. Instead, Louis offered the site of the former Saint Solenne’s church which had just been hugely damaged by a hurricane. The Bishop had to accept and the church became Saint Louis Cathedral. Today, it’s mainly notable for a set of stained glass windows added in 2000.
- Walking around the Old Town -The Tourist Office has a good map detailing four walks, all around two kilometers long and starting in the town center. With the map, the walks are well signposted with different bronze dials embedded in the pavements.
- The Porcupine route (emblem of Louis XII) takes you along the old streets around the château and into the château’s now public gardens.
- The Fleur de Lys takes you on a circuit to the Puits Chatel district, full of Renaissance townhouses.
- The Saint-Nicolas Steeples is a trail around the western part of the city surrounding what was once an old abbey.
- The Sailing Boat walk is around the left bank area which takes you across the river. It gives you a great view of Blois and the chateau and takes you into Saint-Saturnin Church, once a major pilgrimage destination.
The rue du Commerce and its surrounding streets offer the best shops in Blois, which historically is known for chocolate making through its trading position on the Loire. The chocolate maker Auguste Poulain opened his first shop in Blois in 1847 and rapidly became the great modernizer, establishing his own brand and mechanizing his production. Bought in the 1990s, today you'll see mass-produced (but still very good) Poulain chocolates in every supermarket in France.
Irresistible cakes, patisseries, and chocolates at the shop run by this meilleur ouvrier de France (best in any particular skill) and former chef at the Ritz, Paris. Chocolate or fruit cakes are a specialty; you can also eat them in the salon de the.
- Patissier-chocolatier Stephan Buret - More fantastic creations here, including the Saint-Michel (a confection of meringues with Grand Marnier butter between them).
- Markets - Blois is a natural center for the region, so it has a good range of markets.
- Daily markets
Tuesday morning: Place Louis XII
Wednesday morning: rue Pierre et Marie Curie
Wednesday afternoon: quartier Begon-Coty
Thursday morning: Place Louis XII and rue Chateaubriand
Friday: Quai Amedee Contant, bio market from 5pm to 9pm
Saturday morning: Place Louis XII
Saturday afternoon: Quartier Republique
Sunday morning: Avenue de l'Europe
- Brocante market on the Mail St Jean rue Jeanne d’Arc, second Sunday in each month
From Blois, a local coach company runs buses to Chambord, Cheverny, and Beauregard châteaux and back to Blois daily.
With such a central position, Blois is surrounded by attractions. Here are some suggestions for places to visit.