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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.
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
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.
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!
With such a rich history, it can be easy to overlook the area’s thriving contemporary arts scene. This new art gallery, which opened in Tours in March 2016, is a great place to start. Unlike a museum, this dynamic arts centre is constantly adding new exhibits. It is illuminated at night, allowing curious passersby to catch a glimpse of some of the artwork as they head out for dinner.
This is one school you will want to attend on your holidays; the French National Riding School’s Cadre Noir. Located in Saumur, this world-famous riding school opened in 1815. You can tour the grand arena, the stables and the immaculate tack room. Make sure you book a public performance where the ecuyer (master rider) will demonstrate the art of horsemanship through jumping, prancing and lunging. The theatrical shows are hypnotic.
Ecole Nationale d’Equitation, Avenue de L’école Nationale D’équitation, 49400 Saint Hilaire Saint Florent, France, +33 02 41 53 50 50
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Château d’Amboise, 37400 Amboise, France, +33 247 57 00 98