The Loire Valley‘s sloping hills have been the chosen home of royalty since the middle ages. Today, the UNESCO-listed valley still draws the crowds – and not just royalty these days! The ‘garden of France’ is a magnet for the green-fingered traveller, while its world-famous vineyards and thriving food markets are a heaven for foodies. Families are also spoilt for choice with attractions varying from the sublime to the ridiculous… but fun. Here are 20 unmissable Loire Valley attractions you need to know about.
This bizarre new theme park is proving a hit with the kids. France’s first botanical theme park takes families on an adventure, with rides and games awaiting within the flora and fauna – think selfies with dinosaurs and pedalling through the treetops in a giant walnut shell! While the children play, parents can enjoy Terra Botanica‘s beautiful and varied gardens.
Château de Chambord
Surrounded by forests filled with deer and wild boar, Château de Chambord feels beautifully remote, despite being just two hours from Paris. The vast estate has a footprint the size of the French capital and was originally built to serve as a hunting lodge for King Françis I. This property has a wonderful wild side and is the largest château in the Loire Valley.
Château de Chambord, 41250 Chambord, France, +33 2 54 50 40 00
Parc Oriental de Maulévrier
This is the largest Oriental garden in Europe and is home to traditional Japanese bridges and Shinto shrines as well as immaculate magnolias and elegant maples and pines. During summer, you can experience the garden at night (on Saturdays and bank holidays).
Loire-Anjou-Touraine Regional National Park
Located between Tours and Angers, this picturesque national park is a great place to see the local nature and wildlife. Here, you can experience a variety of natural landscapes from vineyards and forests to rivers and even historic troglodyte sites. Twitchers will appreciate the 200 varieties of resident and migratory birds which can be seen around the park. And you can explore the waterways with a canoe or kayak or stick to land on a walk or cycle ride.
The Grand Elephant of Nantes
Children will love this unusual attraction. Located on the Ile de Nantes, you can ride a 12-metre (40 feet) tall mechanical elephant around the town, taking in the city’s sights and attractions, such as the old shipyards and Carrousel des Mondes Marins, as you ride. It even squirts water at bystanders!
The picture-postcard city of Chartres boasts medieval cobbled streets and quaint timbered houses, but it is the cathedral that draws the crowds. Home to the largest collection of preserved medieval stained-glass windows in the world, some of the exquisite designs date back to the early 13th century.
Cadre Noir Riding School
Built on an island within the Indre River, this château is a great example of the iconic Renaissance style, with fairytale turrets gracing its newly renovated roof. Inside, the interior has some romantic Italian flare and you can spot a few familiar royal faces in its portrait gallery!
Chemins de la Rose
This fragrant garden is located in Doué la Fontaine; France’s rose-growing capital. A short walk guides you through a series of themed rose gardens clustered around three lakes and through floral tunnels. The gardens currently display 13,000 roses. There is a boutique selling the flowers as well as the region’s wonderful rose water.
Loire Valley Lakes
The Loire Valley has lots of safe lakes and inland beaches to enjoy, whether you want to burn a few calories on a pedalo or simply relax on the shores. Many of them have great facilities and lifeguards during summer, such as Chemillé-sur-Indrois Lake.
Le Fondation du Doute
Located in a former nunnery in beautiful Blois, The Foundation of Doubt is a contemporary art space dedicated to the 1960s Fluxus art movement – it is the only gallery of its type in Europe. The playful set-up is worlds away from the hush-hush museums and galleries of Paris, encouraging people to interact and question art.
Le Fondation du Doute, 14 rue de la Paix, 41000 Blois, France, +33 254 55 37 45
Château de Chenonceau
Château de Chenonceau, 37150 Chenonceaux, France, +33 820 20 90 90
Musée du Compagnonnage
This museum, housed in a former abbey in the areas capital city of Tours, is dedicated to skilled craftsmen and women of the area. It showcases an enormous variety of works in every imaginable material, as well as old photographs and tools.
The Loire has countless vineyards offering tours and tastings, but during summer they crank it up a notch with vineyard treks, sunset soirées and troglodyte tastings in the caves of Vouvray.
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Tours
Residing in a bishop’s former abode, this museum and gallery has a great selection of sculptures, ceramics, drawings and paintings. Make sure you stop to appreciate the enormous cedar tree on the way in – allegedly, it is one of the country’s finest.
Tours is the capital of the Loire Valley and has a great shopping scene but, for a taste of real local life, wander around one of its many markets. If you have had your fill of the daily foodie events, you could always rummage through the weekend flea market and craft fairs or admire the beautiful midweek flower stalls.
Château de Villandry
This 16th-century property sits on the banks of the River Loire and overlooks three terraces of world-famous geometric patterned gardens. The romantic estate comprises of six gardens, each with their own theme – don’t miss the amazing vegetable garden!
Château de Villandry, 3 Rue Principale, 37510 Villandry, France, +33 247 50 02 09
Tours Natural History Museum
This engaging museum is a great choice for families with displays of everything from stuffed bears and iguanas to ants and snakes! It is great value and there are lots of opportunities for children to learn and interact, including fun board games.
This flamboyant royal residence was a place close to Leonardo da Vinci’s heart – he loved the royal palace so much that he requested to be buried there. Perched on a spur above the Loire, its gardens offer impressive views of the town beneath.