The Loire Valley between the towns of Tours and Blois offers a fascinating landscape of vineyards, forests, gardens and stately chateaux. Although the Loire Valley is home to more than 300 chateaux, our Loire Valley Map shows the best of the chateaux between the towns of Tours and Bloise, mostly situated in a département called Loir-et-Cher, for folks on a tight vacation schedule.
What is a Chateau?
A chateau (pl.
chateaux) is a manor house, sometimes resembling a castle. Many chateaux were hunting lodges, or residences of important people. They were built between the 10th and 20th centuries, although many of the chateaux on the map were built around the Renaissance period.
Visiting a Loire Valley Chateau or two and enjoying the surrounding forest and wine regions has been a top tourist endeavor for a while. Honoré de Balzac write, "Shame on him who does not admire my joyous, my beautiful, my brave Touraine, with its seven valleys in which water and wine flow."
Cities of the Loire Valley
Tours is a good city to stay in to discover the Loire Valley Chateaux, especially if you are arriving by train. It isn't the most scenic city, being fairly industrial, but the old center was rebuilt after the war and it's a decent hub for visiting the valley. There is an airport outside Tours called Tours VAl de Loire Airport offering flights to and from London, and the high-speed TGV train gets you from Paris to Tours in about an hour.
You can get lots of information about the Loire valley and the chateaux from your hotel or at the tourist office in Tours on 78-82 rue Bernard Palissy (there is also an annex of the office of tourism at 1 place Plumereau where you can get information and buy local products and books). Tours also has many museums outlining the art and craft of the Loire Valley, including the Touraine Wine Museum and the Musée du Compagnonnage, which "contains the masterpieces, tools, illustrated and written records of the Tour de France journeymen since 1840."
If you arrive by train, there's still a way to get to the wine country. Half day wine country tours on an 8 passenger minibus are offered by the Tourist Office: Detours de Loire - Vineyard and Chateau.
Your hotel in Tours will be able to guide you toward bus tours of the Chateaux. Here is a list of user-rated hotels in Tours (book direct).
Blois, the capital of the Loir-et-Cher, is also a city that you may consider staying in and using for a base, and it has its own Renaissance chateau. There is a train station at Blois, and you can rent a car there. (Hotels in Blois).
Montrichard is an historic market town on the River Cher between Blois and Tours. Nearby cottages offer a chance to stay and live like a native.
Since Chateau country is part of a rural vacation which might include walking, biking, wine tasting and visiting open air markets, a popular thing to do is to rent a country cottage for a week or so. HomeAway lists over 140 rural vacation rentals in the Loire Valley département of Loir-et-Cher which you can search for by map using the map tab if you like. See: Loir-et-Cher Vacation Rentals (book direct).
Loire Valley Chateaux in a Nutshell
Chateau de Chenonceau has been described as the most beautiful of Chateaux.
The Renaissance chateau stretches across the River Cher on piers. Chenonceau is one of the few Chateaus that you can view without a guide.
Chateau de Chambord was Commissioned as a hunting lodge by Francois I in 1519. It's the largest of the Loire châteaux with 440 rooms, and if it's second to Chenonceau in beauty, it's a darn close second.
Chateau de Chaumont is set on a cliff above the Loire, standing on the foundations of two previous fortresses dating from the 10th and 12th centuries. What to see: the Italian tiled floor in the Salle du Conseil, furniture from the 16th and 18th centuries and the impressive stables built by the Prince de Broglie.
Chateau de Amboise was home to French King Louis XI and his wife Charlotte of Savoy. What to see: the Gothic Chapel of St Hubert; are the remains of Leonardo de Vinci really buried in the north transept?
Plus, the lavish Kings quarters, the Great Hall and the Tour des Minimes, a tower providing access to the chateau to carriages.
Chateau de Villandry features one of the best examples of Renaissance formal gardens in the Loire Valley.
Chateau de Beauregard features an interesting 16th century kitchen, but most come here to see the Picture Gallery containing 363 portraits of Royal family members and aristocracy.
Chateau de Cheverny is an opulent Renaissance styled chateau from the period of Louis XIII. The main draws here are the furnishings and the small hunting museum.
Wine in Loire Valley Chateau Country
The first traces of wine production in this part of the Loire started under Roman occupation. Most of the region is under the AOC Touraine wine region, covering 8,000 hectares in 146 comunes. Touraine Sauvignon Blanc is one of my favorite summer wines, good with seafood.
Vouvray is made from Chenin Blanc grapes, known as pineau blanc in the Loire, and can be made into a sweet wine.
For more on the wines of this region, see Loire Valley Wine.
Loire Valley Tours
Some select tours of the Chateau country from Paris are found in our Loire Valley Tours Directory.
Continuing Your Journey
Heading toward the West Coast of France, you can head for Nantes, or continue on toward Bordeaux to coastal resort La Rochelle. You could also go north to Paris. The A10 Autoroute shown on the map goes north to Paris, southwest to Bordeaux. (Links go to travel guides for each city)
France Rail Passes
If you are traveling by train, a rail pass can save you money if you plan right. A variety of French Rail Passes (Check Prices) are available. Confused by all the rail passes? See How to Choose the Right Rail Pass.
More Information on the Loire Valley
See our Loire Valley Travel Guide directory for more information on the Loire and individual Chateau visitor information.