Chateaux hopping through a 2-day Loire Valley itinerary
Calling all princesses, if you haven't been to The Loire Valley you had better get your horse and carriage ready. The Loire Valley is a famous region in France, known for over 80 visitable châteaux scattered between a beautiful river and little towns.
You get the charm of small-town France, along with the jaw-dropping architecture of some of the country's most famous castles. With so many things to see, it can feel overwhelming to plan your visit. Below are the details for my 2-day Loire Valley itinerary. I had enough time to visit 4 iconic châteaux, I call them the big 4 chs; Château de Chaumont, Château de Cheverny, Château de Chenonceau and the mammoth that is Chambord.
GO IF YOU LIKE:
ROYALTY | ELABORATE GARDENS | PERIOD DRAMAS | WINE TOURS | BROCADE
EXPAND THE LEGEND ON MY MAP FOR MY 2-Day Loire Valley ITINERARY
While there are many things to do in the Loire, like bike around vineyards, see mushroom caves and a troglodyte (cave house) village you generally visit the region to go châteaux hopping.
There's over 300 châteaux, with over 80 of them open to the public. Deciding which ones to visit can be overwhelming.
The rule of thumb - 2 châteaux per day. My honest opinion is after exploring a few you can move on and save the rest for another visit.
My above map outlines some of the most iconic. The 4 red markers are the châteaux I visited: Chambord, Chenonceau, Cheverny and Chaumont. Each one was beautiful, with unique architecture, pretty gardens and interior rooms filled with history and opulence. Below are some galleries and details for each.
If you want a full map of the châteaux you can reference the Loire Valley tourism website.
Most châteaux close by 6pm, so you want to get started as soon as they open in order to fit two per day into your schedule and avoid lots of crowds.
In France most of the restaurants are closed between 2pm-7pm so you need to plan your lunches timely or else you're eating at McDonald's (no joke). In McDonald's defence, they have regional burgers so I'm never upset when I have to eat there.
Shops and most restaurants are closed on Sundays and sometimes Monday's so plan ahead of time if you're travelling on those two days.
Along the same lines, when you're in a smaller town, don't expect a restaurant to be open even if they say they are online. Sometimes they're just "not in the mood". If this happens, find the town centre and you'll likely be able to grab a bite somewhere there.
Château de Chambord
Chambord, Chambord, Chambord. Easily, my favourite of the bunch and the one that requires the most time. If you're ever told to not bother because it's overhyped, you look that person in the eyes and tell them they're fake news. While it's the most popular, therefore most visited, you don't feel claustrophobic because everyone is spread out. Once you're done visiting the main building you can take a stroll through the gardens or adjoining forest, living out your period drama fantasies.
Château de Chenonceau
As with Chambord, Chenonceau has the trifecta - stellar architecture, dreamy gardens and regal interiors. The most iconic thing about Chenonceau is the fact that it's surrounded by a moat and Le Cher river. What was also really cool about it was the fact that people were canoeing in the river, and going under the arches. If I had more time I would have checked out Canoe Company to see Chenonceau from a different perspective.
Château de Cheverny
Cheverny is more modest but iconically known for being the Tintin château as the author based the comic's Marlinspike Hall on this château. Coupled with the interesting but somewhat disjointed Lego exhibition and the enclosure filled with hounds, it's a fun château to visit if you've got kids.
Château de Chaumont-Sur-Loire
I thought this château had some of the most interesting interior rooms. I was also lucky enough to be there during their art season in which the château exhibited interesting art installations inside and throughout the grounds. The art season ends November 3, 2018 but it seems like they do it on an annual basis, so check online before your visit to see if it's on.
Fill That Belly
The Val de Loire is filled with great little French restaurants offering typical French fare. As with every region in France there are a few specialties.
Two famous cheese are goat's cheeses called Valençay and Selles-sur-Cher. They both have an ashy looking outside. I love them with a dollop of honey.
The region also makes a great rillette. If you don't know what rillette is, AND you enjoy a good paté, then prepare to have your mind blown. While it's similar to a paté the meat is chunkier and the overall texture is fattier and heavily salted (see middle of below charcuterie board).
So yeah the perfect food equation: meat + salt + fat = rillette
Sometimes you need something quick, especially if you're a photographer busy chasing the light. Crêpes are fast, filling and delicious!
Let's also break down the confusion that is crêpes vs. galettes. The general rule of thumb is that crêpes are made with wheat flour, tend to be sweet and filled with things like Nutella, jams and fruit.
Savoury crêpes tend to be made with buckwheat flour and are called galettes. Because of the flour, they're a bit darker and can be filled with eggs, cheese, ham, bacon, sausage, veggies and other fun stuff. Full disclosure, there are some people in France who call them crêpes regardless if they're sweet or savoury. Confused? Nawww.
Don't forget to order wine from the region. They're particularly known for their white wines like Chenin blanc, Melon de Bourgogne and Sauvignon blanc.
Between château hopping, I opted to enjoy lunches in the smaller towns of the region. Montrichard and Beaugency were both beautiful, everything you can imagine Belle would experience as she danced around singing "Little town. Full of little people. Waking up to say. Bonjour bonjour. Bonjour bonjour bonjour!"
When all else fails enjoy duck confit. The French are les rois of delicious sauces.
Where to Stay
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Because of the strong tourism there's tons of hotels and AirBNBs in this area. I personally love staying at Bed and Breakfasts. I find them the best way to chat with locals for insider tips and feel comforted and safe.
I chose Blois as a basecamp because it’s central to most of the châteaux. There’s also a train station in the city with trains to/from Paris.
This bed and breakfast checked every box. It had beautiful big rooms which were comfortable and clean. The breakfasts had all the best French staples like fresh bread, butter, jams, cheeses and meats.
The thing that made this stay the most memorable were the hosts Dominique and Georges. I particularly enjoyed my time with Monsieur Georges who is a photographer and therefore has a wealth of knowledge about photography spots and lighting.
Every morning he would look analyze my shots from the prior day. His criticism stung but was always paired with great tips for improvement. I used those tips to develop a post on 6 Photography Tips I Learned from Monsieur Georges.
The best way to take in the Loire Valley is by car. Simply put, the châteaux are spread out enough that a car gives you the flexibility to see everything in a shorter time frame. Plus taking in the scenic drive is always a plus.
You can rent a car in Paris and make the two-hour drive, or take the train to one of the major cities in the region, like Blois or Tours, and rent a car there. If you’re coming from Paris be sure to check out my Guide to Paris.
If you enjoy biking and have the time, then consider bike tours. You can bike between several of the châteaux and wineries.
Most of the châteaux offer free parking, except Chambord. But don't even think twice about not visiting because of that.
People in the region are used to tourists so they've got a good grasp of English. The smaller towns may be more challenging but the French are very friendly so just flash a warm smile and they'll be happy to help.
If you’re looking for photography tips, a good place to start is my post on 6 Photography Tips I Learned from Monsieur Georges. Here I used tips from Monsieur Georges who ran the b&b we stayed at. It’s a great list and highly relevant for shooting around the Loire Valley.
Most of the major châteaux do not allow entrance with drones. Your bags are checked upon entrance.
If you plan on shooting in the forest area be prepared for mosquito attacks, and if you use bug spray be weary of touching your lenses. Bug spray is bad for lenses.
Most of the interiors do not allow flash
Chambord doesn't allow entrance with tripods
If you want the iconic shot of Chambord (the sunset shot in the above Chambord section) you can go for golden hour even though the château is closed. While you cannot get onto the château premises you can walk to the park right in front of the moat which is exactly where you want to be for the shot anyways.
Chambord - the light is best at sunset
From Chambord, you're only a 20 minute drive to Blois, which is lovely for blue hour photography (see blue hour shots at the top of the page)
Blois has some really interesting stairs. While I didn't have time to shoot this, Monsieur Georges (read where to stay section) says they're well lit and fun for a nighttime photography shoot.
Some of the larger chateaux get filled in the afternoon. So opting to visit first thing in the morning or just before closing time is a way to get less people in your shots. This was particularly beneficial for places like Chambord and Chenonceau.
As with most of small town France you feel safe. Just keep your things locked up and be weary as usual when in the high tourist areas like the major city centers.