When comparing France's regions for their travel and vacation potential, the Loire Valley stands out as a premier destination for a fully-immersive experience of French culture, ranging from ancient architecture, to meticulously crafted culinary genius.
Looking to embark on a different kind of vacation? Let Auto Europe help you plan a one-of-a-kind France road trip through the Loire Valley. Known locally as the Garden of France, the Loire Valley's abundance of vineyards, orchards, and asparagus fields contributes greatly to the restaurant scene, and when coupled with the regions many historic towns and castle attractions, it basically guarantees that travelers of all backgrounds will find something that peaks their interest, and provides an unabated view into French heritage.
Below you will find a comprehensive, 4-day Loire Valley road trip through the most notable destinations, from Nantes to Tours, and everything in-between. Whether you are eager to sample the regions famous wine vintages, or eager to explore ancient ruins, this detailed itinerary will serve as your guide, making sure to lead you to the best Loire Valley wine tours, castles, and hotels - guaranteeing a memorable and exciting vacation in France.
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No region better encompasses the many intracies and facets of French culture quite like the Loire Valley, and today you've arrived in Nantes to begin the vacation of a lifetime. Nantes is chalked full of incredible attractions, and a variety of historically relevant, and engaging sites to visit. If you're looking for a good museum to check out, the eponymous Jules Verne Museum (of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea fame), dedicated to the author's life, features a stellar collection of memorabilia, and a stunning view of the port of Nantes. Nantes is also home to a number of chateaus, castles, and cathedrals, including: Cathedral of Saint Pierre, La Place Mellinet, and the Château des ducs de Bretagne (Castle of the Dukes of Brittany) - all must-visit sites of great historic value.
Within the Nantes city limits, a number of exciting neighborhoods exist, providing visitors with a variety of retail, food, and historic attractions. Most prominently is Place du Bouffay, a pedestrian zone nestled in-between the Castle of the Dukes of Brittany and Saint Pierre Cathedral, known for its medieval architecture and concentration of pubs and restaurants.
France is known for its culinary pedigree as one of the most cuisine-centric countries in the world, and for good reason - the French have been on the forefront of gastronomic innovation since the civilization of Western Europe, and are showing no signs of stopping. Nantes' unique location bordering Brittany from within the Loire Valley provides a near-perfect venue to experience multiple styles of French cooking without having to travel great distances, and the restaurant scene in Nantes exemplifies the many diverse offerings that France has to offer. One notable stand-out is, La Cigale, a restaurant lauded as "the most beautiful brasserie in France," famous for its turn of the century décor, and open kitchen layout where guests can see the head chef meticulously preparing fresh seafood and hors d'oeuvres.
The nightlife scene in Nantes is top-notch to say the least, as a large variety of bars, clubs, and cocktail lounges are spread throughout almost every major district. The most happening area seems to be concentrated in the Bouffay district - an old town pedestrian zone surrounded by the city's most prominent historic architecture. Be sure to try some of Nantes' classic drinks while out and about, most notably, kir bréton - a hard cider mixed with fruit liqueur. Nantes is also famous for its own regional wine, Muscadet - a surprisingly affordable grape blend that is said to go excellent with seafood pairings.
Looking for some swanky lodging options to spice up your vacation through the Loire Valley? Enter Nantes' premier accommodation, the Radisson Blu hotel, a beautifully designed luxury hotel, situated in the epicenter of the city's many attractions, restaurants, and bars. The Radisson Blu offers patrons daily artistic retreats, and each room has been individually crafted by famed French designer, Jean-Philippe Nuel, and features a variety of iconic stylings, and decorative art pieces. If fancy hotels aren't really your cup-of-tea, don't fret - Nantes has an epic selection of hotel choices, possible to accommodate the needs and wants of any traveler.
There are plenty of routes you could take when leaving Nantes on your way to Tours, though the most efficient are almost always the most heavily trafficked and the least scenic options. Instead of creeping bumper to bumper along the A11 expressway, we recommend that you deviate from the main thoroughfare, instead following the D723 as it weaves along the edge of the Loire River, affording you un-rivaled views of the many diverse natural landscapes and access to wineries along the way. It will take you past a number of small villages, all with their own unique charm, and providing opportunities to stop at river overlooks and scenic vistas as you head eastward
Additional Travel Resources: Nantes
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Congratulations! You've made it to Angers from Nantes, and day two of your epic journey through the Loire Valley and all its incredible sites, has officially begun. Angers is historically pristine, and chalked full of great opportunities to experience art, architecture, and the always-immaculate French cooking. In comparison to other smaller French towns, Angers is loaded with amazing, must-visit museums, a few of which include: The Museum of Fine Arts, The Pincé Museum, and the David d'Angers Gallery, all featuring impressive collections of classical-era art, sculpture, and historic artifacts. Architecture-wise, Anger's most prominent attraction is the Castle Fortress of Angers, a massive medieval fortress comprising 17 towers, and featuring a one of a kind tapestry depicting the Apocalypse – easily one of the most well-maintained medieval tapestries in existence today.
When compared to Nantes' propensity toward seafood, Anger's inland locale makes for an abundance of more traditional culinary styles, so expect butter-rich dishes, expertly cooked fowl, and wine lists that are second to none. Coming in as a "locals favorite," is Une Ile, a home style restaurant run by head chef Gerard Bosse and his wine-expert wife. The Michelin starred eatery's atmosphere has been described as "contemporary," and house-specialties include, grilled foie gras, and poached turbot.
The bar-club-nightlife scene in Angers is fairly calm, though the city does posses a few Irish and British pubs, creating a culturally diverse experience for the club-going type. Like much of France, discotheques (dance clubs) are prevalent in Angers, and offer visitors a variety of electronic dance music to groove to.
After a long day of travel, culinary exploration, and some after-hours clubbing, you're going to want a good hotel in Angers. For a smaller French town, Angers is surprisingly accommodating in the lodging department, and a variety of hotel offerings are available. The obvious standout here is the Mercure Angers Centre, a hotel built above the Angers Convention Center, and surrounded by the Jardin des Plantes - a 4 hectare park and botanical garden containing over 2000 different plant species, located directly in the heart of the city. Oh yeah, entry to the gardens is free, seven days a week. Bonus!
Again, in an attempt to avoid the crowded expressway system that spans the Loire Valley, on your journey to Saumur from Angers, it's recommended instead that you follow a less-frequented highway, the D952, making sure to stop at the many Loire Valley Chateaus that line the banks of the Loire River, including the ever-popular Chateau de Saumur. The sheer number of breathtaking vistas overlooking the river is reason enough to spend an extra hour or so that it takes to get to Saumur on the D952.
Additional Travel Resources: Angers
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Welcome to Saumur, a small - often overlooked - French town, with great potential for cultural discovery and historic exploration. Commonly described as the "heart" of the Loire Valley, Saumur is famous for its world-renowned wines, and an immaculately preserved 10th century chateau overlooking the Loire River - the Château de Saumur. The region's rich history contributes significantly to Saumur, as a host of abbeys, chateaus, and castles populate the area, including the famed Château de Saumur, the Monsoreau Chateau, and the Abbaye de Fontrevraud - the burial grounds of Eleanor of Aquitane, Richard the Lionheart, and Henry II.
Saumur hosts a number of local events throughout the summer months, from outdoor culinary and music festivals, to fresh produce markets and wine tastings. Regardless what time of year you find yourself in Saumur, be sure to sample the local wines, and mushrooms - a regional specialty.
One of the biggest benefits to visiting and staying in a small French town such as Saumur, is the wide-range of amazing food and restaurants, available at prices significantly lower than those of the larger cities, without sacrificing quality. As the unofficial "wine capital of the Loire Valley," Saumur's restaurant scene follows suit accordingly, offering a variety of local fare that pairs perfectly with the regions many outstanding wines. Notable restaurants include: Le Tire Bouchon - a bistro-style restaurant known for its experimental fusion cuisine, combining traditional French staples with a variety of ethnic offerings. Le Bigoudan - a famous creperie known for its range of unique hard ciders.
Of all the stops along this multi-day Loire Valley journey, Saumur has probably the most quiet nightlife scene. A few bars and pubs can be found around the main thoroughfare, but for the most part the towns interest in drinking starts and stops at wine tasting, and cocktail lounges. Take a night off of the party schedule while in Saumur, and enjoy a relaxing evening sipping rare vintages, and basking in the shimmering light reflecting off the Loire River.
Keeping in theme with Saumur's quaint, small-town vibe, the hotel accommodations are equally home-y, and numerous bed and breakfasts are available year-round with reservations. For a slightly more luxurious option - without sacrificing the many creature comforts afforded by B & B's - is Mercure Bords De Loire Saumur, a beautiful hotel set overlooking the banks of the Loire River, equipped with all the modern amenities you would ever need, and only a 5 minute walk from the town center.
As you depart Saumur and head for Tours, stick to the D952 once again. Yes, it'll take a little longer than the E60 expressway, but the sheer volume of natural beauty and stunning landscapes that you pass through will make the extra time worth it. The Loire River is the largest river in France; its waters serve as the lifeblood for surrounding vineyards and villages, affording those who travel along its banks a glimpse into a rarely seen view of France, a view unfettered by touristy post-cards, and Eiffel Tower photo ops.
Loire Valley Road Trip Options: Saumur
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It may be the final day of your Loire Valley road trip, but that doesn't mean all the festivities and exciting adventures you've been on have to wind down just yet. Tours, France is a beautiful bastion of French culture, and an excellent destination to close-out an already fantastic journey. Tours is packed with amazing old-world architecture, top-tier wine tasting opportunities, and comprehensive retail offerings for the shopping lover in all of us. One of the city's top attractions is the Cathedral St. Gatien, an epically beautiful Roman-Catholic church built between 1170 and 1547, featuring world famous stained-glass windows, a restored 16th century organ, and Carrara Marble -forged royal tombs. Other points of interest include: Basilique Saint Martin, the Tours Botanical Garden, and the Museum of Natural History of Tours.
As mentioned earlier, the Loire Valley is famous as a wine producing region, and Tours carries the torch nicely with a veritable host of wine tasting opportunities. Just east of Tours is the Vouvray commune in the Loire Valley, famous for its Chenin Blanc grape varietals, and crafting sweet desert wines, and dry sparkling wines. For travelers eager to sample some of the Vouvray specialty wines, be sure to head over the Domaine Huet vineyard, where for nearly 100 years, the Huet family has been making some of regions most heralded vintages.
Restaurant-wise, Tours falls into the more traditional category, with a variety of home-style bistros, and lavish brasseries, serving classic French fare with impeccable wine pairings. The nightlife scene, like in many other small French cities, is expectably quiet, though discotheques and clubs are available; the party lifestyle surrounding such establishments is fairly controlled. At the end of the day, Tours is more about wine tasting, and exceptional food, than it is about clubbing and letting loose on the dance floor.
Being that it's the final day of this 4-day journey, you might as well splurge a little on hotel accommodations in Tours for your vacation finale. For the ultimate luxury hotel experience, a night at Chateau D'Artigny is in order. After touring past the many famous Loire Valley chateaus, why not seize the opportunity to stay in one, and live like a king (or queen!) for a night, putting all of Chateau D'Artigny's lavish amenities to good use. The hotel features an outdoor pool, spa facilities, tennis courts, mini-golf, and a gym, all set in a palatial mansion decorated with classic antique furnishings, and a unique old-world charm. Of course there are other lodging options as well, and no matter what hotel you decide on, you are pretty much guaranteed to enjoy your stay in Tours.
At this stage of the vacation, the next leg of adventure is completely up to you. Depending on your schedule, a day trip up to Paris should be considered. Only 2.5 hours from Tours, up the A10 expressway, is Paris, the city of light, and if you are feeling particularly adventurous, a stop through Orleans on your way north would make an excellent location to enjoy lunch and get in some last-minute site seeing. Regardless of where you choose to go from Tours, whether that be back home overseas, or maybe further on to the French Riviera, we hope that your trip through the Loire Valley and its many enchantments, was a fun-filled, relaxing vacation.
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