Loire Valley of France made us feel that we are suddenly in a fairy tale full of romance, princesses, heroes, knights, tournaments and amazing castles of all kind. Well, the amazing castles are real and Loire Valley is famous for having so many of them – about 50 castles in the region! But they are not the only reason that after our ambiguous feelings about Paris, Loire Valley was true love at first sight.
Rent a car and explore!
Because it’s hard to imagine a more perfect place for fascinating castles than the beautiful countryside along the Loire, Indre and Cher rivers with its lovely small towns and vineyards. We think the best way to explore the Loire Valley is renting a car, and the main reason is that everything is worth a stop there. During our 6 days spent there, visiting the castles, we stopped in a lot of small towns on the way there and back. Those couple of hours walking in the lovely small towns were important part of the magic of Loire Valley for us.
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Another important thing to keep in mind: the lovely cobblestone streets of these towns were not built for cars. Even if you are allowed to drive into the center, you better don’t. You can avoid nervous and frustrated moments on the narrow and often one-way streets by parking a bit out of the center.
Now let me introduce you these adorable gems of the French countryside…
Tours is actually not even so small, it’s the largest city in the Centre-Val de Loire region, but its old city center with the timber-framed houses has the feeling of a small town. Place Plumereau is the main square and the heart of the old town surrounded by several narrow walking streets.
Rue Nationale, the main walking street is busier and doesn’t have that small town feeling. Hotel de Ville de Tours is one of the most beautiful buildings we’ve seen in Tours and the square in front of it is a pleasant place to hang out.
The two most significant churches is Cathédrale Saint-Gatien and Basilique Saint Martin. Cathédrale Saint-Gatien is a Gothic cathedral which has impressed us even after seeing several huge and wonderful churches in Paris. Basilique Saint Martin… well, it was under restoration and we really couldn’t see too much of it, but it’s definitely big. (And we have accepted it long ago that some of the major buildings in every European city will definitely be under restoration at the time of our visit. Nice old buildings, they need a lot of care and love.)
Blois is still one of the bigger towns on the banks of the Loire River with quite a nice river panorama and an 18th-century stone bridge. It’s built on a hill so steep pathways and long staircases add even more charm to its cobblestone streets.
Château de Blois, a Renaissance castle is in the heart of Blois. We didn’t go inside, but its facade itself is very beautiful and there’s a lovely square and a park nearby. The castle and its surroundings were our favorite part of Blois.
Though it was already getting dark we wanted to find Blois’s famous and huge churches, too: Église Saint-Nicolas and Église Saint-Vincent. Unfortunately they were both closed by the time we arrived, but they could still impress us. I mean, just try to look up to this one…
The tiny town of Amboise was once home of the French royal court. It’s located on the banks of Loire River and it’s home to even two beautiful castles. Château d’Amboise is a royal palace while Château du Clos Lucé is rather a manor house where Leonardo da Vinci spent his last years.
We loved its narrow streets with the timber-framed houses and it’s also worth to walk up to Église Saint-Denis, an old church located on a hill close to the center. From the small Ile d’Or island there’s a marvelous view of Amboise and its royal palace reflecting in Loire River.
We haven’t planned to stop in Beaugency mainly because we’ve never heard of this small town. But it was on our way coming from Château de Chambord, so why not? By now it won’t surprise anyone that Beaugency is on the banks of Loire River. We are just addicted to these towns at the river and the main reason is that they all have lovely old bridges which make us feel like we are back in time. Just like the old stone bridge of Beaugency.
Walking on the narrow streets we felt that this place is very old. Even its castle (of course, it has one!) looks rather old than elegant. But this small town has its own Notre-Dame: Église Notre-Dame looks old and nothing special from the outside, but its interior is beautiful and its colorful windows amazed us.
Magic of the French countryside
We didn’t spent longer time in any other towns. But whenever we drove through them or just parked somewhere and walked to a castle we wanted to visit, the fairy tale was still there around us. Langeais, Rigny-Ussé, Azay-le-Rideau, Villandry… their captivating narrow streets, timber-framed houses, old churches and bridges. This was our first real visit to France (I mean, a skiing trip in the Alps doesn’t count or does it?). And while Paris shocked and fascinated us at the same time, the French countryside just stole our hearts gently.
Where we stayed
We found that Tours and Blois are perfect bases to stay while exploring the Loire Valley. We especially enjoyed staying in First Inn Hotel Blois – a new hotel with tiny, but practical and nice rooms. The receptionist was also very friendly and spoke fluent English. 😀
Do you like the countryside? Any favorite small towns?
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