THE LOIRE VALLEY TOUR
The Loire Valley became fashionable with rich and royal Parisians during the French Renaissance period, when successive kings, queens, dukes and nobles built their pleasure palaces here.
The entire area is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and as such it’s an ideal touring destination. You can easily see two or more chateaux in a day - you could even stay overnight in one if you wish!
In a nutshell
- 5 night self-drive tour
- Chinon to Chambord via Tours, Ambois and Blois
- Ideal for history, castle and culture enthusiasts
- Go in summer time to see the Loire at its most picturesque
- Extend your tour with a stay in Paris
The tour starts in Chinon which is a 251 mile drive from Dieppe, 346 miles from Calais or 359 miles from Dunkirk. From Chinon you drive to Chambord via some of the most iconic and famous French chateaux including Villandry, Chenonceau and Blois – a total distance of 126 miles.
Day 1. UK - Chinon
After your Newhaven-Dieppe, Dover-Calais or Dover-Dunkirk crossing you drive south to Chinon, whose narrow cobblestoned streets and half timbered houses wind up to the imposing chateau, a favoured residence of Henry II, one of the English Plantagenet kings.
A short drive from Chinon, the Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau stands on an island in the Indre River. With its elegant turrets and spires and genteel façade beautifully reflected in the water, this chateau looks like a fairytale in stone.
For a change of pace, Chateau de Langeais is an imposing medieval fortress rebuilt as a chateau, or try a tour and tasting at Chinon’s family-owned Pierre & Bertrand Couly winery, which has been producing fine wines for generations.
Overnight in Chinon.
Day 2. Chinon - Tours
From Chinon you drive 29 miles to Tours, a city that exudes rich cultural heritage as well as the youthful energy of a thriving university scene. It’s a short drive from Tours to the beautiful Chateau de Villandry, the last of the great Renaissance chateaux built on the banks of the Loire. Famous for the symmetry and harmony of its architecture, Villandry is also known for its immaculate terraced ornamental, kitchen, herb, water and flower gardens.
The exquisite Chateau de Chenonceau is also an easy drive from Tours. The most visited and photographed of all French chateaux, Chenonceau is known as ‘the ladies chateau’ as it is largely women who, over the centuries, have designed it, lived in it and shaped its destiny.
Overnight in Tours.
Day 3. Tours - Amboise
The drive to Amboise is just 15 miles and as you approach you’ll see the sumptuous Renaissance-style Royal Chateau of Amboise presiding over the city below. This chateau has a long and colourful history, but its heyday was during the reign of Francois I who held lavish balls, feasts and tournaments here.
At King Francois’s invitation, Leonardo da Vinci came here in 1516 and spent the last three years of his life living as part of the King’s court in a manor house near the chateau. His home and its grounds are now a museum where you can see his bedroom, kitchen and numerous canvases and gadgets that offer a glimpse into the mind and life of one of the world’s greatest artists and inventors. At his own request, he was buried in Saint-Hubert’s Chapel in the grounds of the chateau.
Overnight in Amboise.
Day 4. Amboise - Blois
From Amboise you drive 21 miles to Blois, whose lavish Royal Chateau is a testament to the power and the riches of the French royalty throughout the Renaissance. Chateau de Blois became the preferred residence of French royalty for more than a century, after Louis XII was born here in 1462.
Subsequently home to seven kings and 10 queens of France – and now classified a Museum of France – its opulence is breathtaking, as are the 35,000 priceless works of art that adorn the walls of its Royal apartments and Fine Arts Museum. Of all the Loire Valley chateaux, Blois offers visitors a sense of the magnificent scale and spectacle of life in the French court during the 15th and 16th centuries.
Overnight in Blois.
Day 5. Blois - Chambord
It is just 10 miles from Blois to Chambord, the last chateau visited on your tour and the largest in the Loire Valley. Originally built as a hunting lodge for Francois I, Chambord stands in 13,000 lavish acres of parkland populated with wild deer and boar, and is considered to be one of the best examples of Renaissance architecture in France.
The complex is huge, with over 440 rooms and 85 staircases, including a magnificent double spiral staircase designed by Leonardo da Vinci, who Francois appointed ‘First painter, architect and mechanic of the King’ when he came to France in 1516. More than a castle, Chambord is the vision of a young king with two great passions in life: architecture and hunting.
Overnight in Chambord.
Day 6. Chambord - UK (optional via Paris or Amiens)
Today you head back to Dieppe (200 miles), Calais (287 miles) or Dunkirk (292 miles) for your return crossing to the UK. You could stop in historic Amiens for lunch on the way, or alternatively you could break your journey with an overnight stay in Paris, France’s famously beautiful and romantic capital.
Whatever you do don’t forget to leave time to shop at one of the hypermarkets before you sail home. There are huge stores conveniently located at both Calais and Dunkirk ports, so it’s easy to fill your car with all your favourite French foods - as well as great value wine, champagne and beer – before you drive onboard.
- Explore France’s most famous Loire chateaux (www.experienceloire.com)
- Tour and taste at Pierre & Bertrand Couly winery
- Discover the story of Joan of Arc
- Visit Leonardo da Vinci’s home at Amboise (www.vinci-closluce.com)
- Spend a night in a historic chateau
- Extend your tour in the iconic French capital
Where to stay
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