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Thursday, October 31, 2019

Two Old Friends Visit France and This is our Itinerary for 6 days in Loire Valley

When you visit the Loire Valley, it's not hard to see why, once upon a time, French royalty decided to live here instead of in Paris.  The rolling countryside and fertile farmland — ideal for making cheeses, and growing grapes for Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé — provides a perfect backdrop for castles, quaint villages and friendly locals. 

Two Old Friends Visit France and This is our Itinerary for 6 days in Loire Valley

Along the Loire River Valley, the beautiful French countryside is studded with châteaux. Home-basing near Chambord at an amazing Airbnb, we visited five unique castles: elegant Chenonceau, massive Chambord, stately Cheverny, historic Chaumont and the beautiful Château Royal d'Amboise. Along the way, we toured Leonardo’s home, fed hunting dogs, enjoyed the local cuisine, and watched the red deer stags before heading back toward Paris to visit Versailles and stay at a luxury hotel. This was an easy itinerary for two high-school girlfriends to tackle in 7 days with plenty of rest time worked in.  

Note: This itinerary requires a car rental which we rented via at Alamo.  

Day 1 Travel Day -- Paris CDG to Tours, France and onto Huisseau-sur-Cosson

Two Old Friends Visit France and This is our Itinerary for 6 days in Loire Valley

This we left as a travel day and get settled at our Airbnb and thankfully we planned it that way because the day consisted of many delays.

To get from Paris to the Loire Valley can take a few hours. See our review of Flagship Business class JFK to CDG and what we learned about ourselves in a Paris Train Station for specific tips.  We picked up our car in Tours, France at the St-Pierre-des-Corps train station at Alamo.  We opted for a manual transmission and we recommend as small a car as will hold your luggage and passengers, because roads in the French countryside are narrow and parking spaces are small!

We checked into our Airbnb at the Chateaux des Grotteaux, our base of operations for the next 5 days and went to the grocery store for necessities and to learn the immediate surrounding area.  To see reviews of the Chateau, check rates and make reservations at TripAdvisor CLICK HERE!


Two Old Friends Visit France and This is our Itinerary for 6 days in Loire Valley

A whole day - at least - is required to view this location. Chateau de Chambord - the largest of the Loire Valley chateaux - is a masterful blend of French Renaissance and Italian Classical architecture influenced by many designers including Leonardo da Vinci according to legend and was located only 5 miles from our apartment. This was an important part of our itinerary so we wanted to see it early.

Undoubtedly one of the most recognizable of the Loire Chateaux, the Chateau de Chambord's most notable features are its turreted roof top that resembles a French provincial village and its interior double-helix stone stairway in which two separate stairways intertwine around a central axis that would allow some to ascend while others descend without ever passing each other along the way.

The Double Helix Staircase is the Centerpiece of the Chambord

Make sure you head to the roof to see the details up close!

Unfortunately the audioguide was malfunctioning that day and we could have used it for the details. We recommend a guidebook if possible as this large Chateau can be overwhelming. Take a selfie stick to get the best shots possible. The gardens are beautiful and the surrounding park is huge. We learned that the park is open to locals without a ticket (apparently there is some hunting on the grounds that is by exclusive invite only).

Our plan was to return that evening to witness the stags rutting at the Chateau of Chambord. From mid-September to mid-October is the season of love for the red deer stags. At dawn or dusk, amongst the animals, we were able to witness this magnificent, timeless spectacle in the forest of Chambord. The battles can be extremely violent as the stags fight to keep or conquer the hinds. Not only are numerous red deer in the fields but many wild boar and their babies occupy the field. Bring your binoculars!

Dinner at Le Bistro du Cuisiner in Blois was a delicious prix fixe meal of artichoke soup, scallops, beef, desert and of course, wine!

Day 3 Chateau de Cheverny and Chaumont

Chateau de Cheverny

Visiting Chateau de Cheverny in the Loire Valley of France might just be a highlight of your trip. Known for its richly-decorated interior and its connection to the Tintin comic books – it was the inspiration for Captain Haddock’s Marlinspike Hall – this gleaming French castle is the only family-occupied chateau open to the public. The most unique part of visiting the Chateau de Cheverny is standing by the kennels of a pack of baying hunting dogs on the grounds of a magnificent French chateau and the warm seasonal decorations. However you will sense the livable sense of this chateau in comparison to others because of things such as the wedding dress on display or the toys in the nursery, because the family still lives in part of the chateau.

Plan to take the boat ride at Cheverny to enjoy a history of the grounds!

Cheverny feels like an actual home!

Lunch Cheverny creperie. We ordered a charcuterie tray, some of which we weren't sure what we were eating, but some friendly locals and google translate told us!

Chateau de Chaumont

The ancient château, originally built at the end of the 10th century, became notorious in the 16th century when it was acquired by Catherine de Medicis, widow of King Henri II in 1560. In a typical act of revenge against Henri’s favorite mistress and her arch-rival, Diane de Poitiers, the owner, she forced Diane to give her Chenonceau, which Catherine and Diane greatly preferred, in exchange for Chaumont.

Don't be put off by the story; Chaumont is lovely. It’s a gracious, white stone building looking out over the Loire Valley. Powerful and still looking like a fortress on the west side, it has more Renaissance features on the other two fronts. Look out for the entwined ‘D’ of Diane de Poitiers, surrounded by bows and quivers, hunting horns, deltas and crescents of the moon representing Diana the Roman goddess of hunting.

Warning: Don't get lost in the attic! There was a modern art installation when we visited and we seemed to get lost in the creepy attic which will be a story we will tell for years!

Don't get lost in the attic!

The International Festival of Gardens was running during our visit and if you love gardens this is a real treat. This famous annual festival always runs from April to October. Together with the castle and the other gardens, a visit to Chaumont makes a great day out and unfortunately we ran out of time to see the whole garden. Out of Cheverny and Chaumont, the gardens at Chaumont are worth planning more time for than we did. We would rather have spent less time at Cheverny and more at Chaumont for the gardens.

Dinner at apartment

We brought our favorite selfie stick to make sure we had plenty of photos of us in front of these magnificent structures.  Selfie sticks are fun too!  We love this one by for the options of the 47 inches of extension, tripod, camera and attachments.  The clip lock system is easy and fast to use!  Click the photo below to learn more and support our blog at Amazon!  Thank you so much!

Day 4 Chenonceau

The famous Gallery designed by Catherine de' Medici

One of the more beautiful and picturesque chateau on our itinerary would certainly be Chateau Chenonceau.

Built directly over the River Cher about fifteen minutes outside of Amboise, Chateau Chenonceau offers visitors a unique look at over 500 years of French history. Constructed in 1513 at the site of a former mill, the chateau sits in a stunning setting as it spans the River Cher and is surrounded by acres of pristine French countryside. Additionally, the site contains beautiful gardens named for two of the women who played a critical role in preserving and expanding the chateau: Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de' Medici.

The Ladies of Chenonceau

Often referred to as “The Ladies Chateau”, the history of Chenonceau was heavily influenced by a number of notable women from French History:

Diane de Poitiers

  • Katherine Briconnet oversaw the construction of Chenonceau in 1513 and was responsible for its late Gothic and early Renaissance style. Purchased by her husband, Thomas Bohier, the former mill and castle on this site was demolished leaving only the original keep, the Marques Tower.
  • Diane de Poitiers, the mistress of King Henri II and whose name graces one of the gardens added the bridge over the River Cher in 1547. Chenonceau was given to de Poitiers by Henri II and in addition to adding the bridge she was responsible for bringing the gardens to the property.
  • Catherine de’ Medici, the wife of King Henri II and the namesake of the other garden would add the Gallery and the Grand Ballroom on the bridge in 1559. When her husband, King Henri II died, Catherine forced his mistress Diane de Poitiers from Chenonceau and made it her residence.
  • Louise Dupin, the widow of Claude Dupin is credited with saving the chateau from destruction during the French Revolution in the 1790s, claiming that as the only bridge over the River Cher in the area it was essential.

Lunch at Chenonceau self serve and we ate in a horse stall.

Enjoy some wine tasting while you are there. We did and brought back a bottle of champagne for a later dinner.

Dinner at Grand Saint Michel at Relais de Chambord. Outstanding service and food with a beautiful view of the Chateau de Chambord lit at night.

Enjoy the views of Chambord at the bar or the restaurant at Relais de Chambord

Day 5 LES RENDEZ-VOUS DU CHOCOLAT at the Chateau of Villesavin by the Rotary Club of Blois. Our plans were to visit the gardens of the Chateau de Villandry however, rain made us rethink that part of our itinerary. Noticing signs everywhere for this festival and because of the warm hospitality we felt in the area, we said to ourselves why not? Who doesn't love a little chocolate, and quite honestly, this was one of our best days.

King Francis I nominated his friend Jean Le Breton governor of works and finances at the Chateau of Chambord. In 1520, in order to help in his tasks, the king gave him some land at Villesavin and a workforce to build a chateau. This soon became known as ‘the cabin on the Chambord building site’ and although there is a difference of 100 years between the two of them the Chateau de Villesavin is reminiscent of that of the Grotteaux. We were welcomed as locals by everyone and even was asked to participate in a magic show!

Dinner at apartment

Day 6 Amboise

The day started with a drive to Clos Luce the residence of Leonardo da Vinci for the last three years of his life. This fulfilled our desire to see different things at all chateau and what a treat to see the place where the master worked and died. We couldn't help but wonder if any of his DNA was still there somewhere??? The gardens were arranged with information and exhibits relevant to his engineering designs and scenery in his artwork. From Clos Luce, it is easy to see just how close Francois I kept his idol, da Vinci, to his royal residence Château Royal d'Amboise.

The bedroom where Leonardo da Vinci died

Leonardo da Vinci workshop

It is a brief walk to the town of Amboise and if you are not sure where to walk, ask someone or follow the people It is a delightful walk with antique stores and restaurants along the way. We decided to stop at L'Epicerie for lunch, which offered a delightful prix fixe of two or three courses for a reasonable price. A little known fact that we found out from the owner after lunch was that her son operates the creperie next door. The service and food was excellent and a great value for the price.

Lunch Menu at L'Epcerie

On to the climb up to the Château Royal d'Amboise. The chateau is beautiful. Historically, it has been an important site and its interiors reflect this. It has stylish gardens and it is the burial site of Leonardo da Vinci! He was originally buried at an ancient building on the site per his wishes but in the 19th century bones that were likely his were moved to St. Hubert Chapel on the grounds. The chapel itself is amazing to see, and it is well worth a stop outside and inside. Make sure you take in the views of the Loire river as well as the town of Amboise. There is an iPad guide provided which didn't work as well or easily as we would have liked but in places it was helpful.

Original burial site of Leonardo da Vinci

Leonard da Vinci's final resting place in St. Hubert Chapel 

View of Amboise from St. Hubert Chapel

Dinner was back at the Apartment which included a thorough and very interesting tour of the Chateau de Grotteaux inside and a pleasant visit with our hosts, Gael and Cecile.

We hope this map can help you plan your Loire Valley trip!

Day 7 Versailles

We decided to get back closer to Paris with a "relaxing" day at Versailles. Please see our post about the train. Our recommendation is to do something like this or go back to the CDG airport (depends on your departure time in our opinion - ours was noon - so we opted for Versailles). There are many hotels at the CDG airport that would be convenient to stay and the train from Tours to CDG is extremely easy.

We enjoyed a luxurious stay at the Waldorf Astoria Trianon Palace hotel which was delightful after our time in the countryside.

To see the reviews of the Waldorf Astoria Trianon Palace, prices and make reservations at TripAdvisor CLICK HERE!

After our relaxing time at the Chateau of the Loire Valley and at the Chateau de Grotteaux, Versailles was very overwhelming and crowded.  Now we can check that off of our list of places to visit, but not sure we will go back.  We can't even imagine how crowded it is during the high season!

The Hall of Mirrors at Versailles show just how crowded it was!

Tip:  Book a timed entry ahead, because the line for tickets (remember IN THE OFF SEASON) was at least 1.5 hours long.

Bottom Line:

The best time to enjoy everything Loire Valley travel has to offer for many is during the spring and summer, when the warm sunshine allows for outdoor activities. However, we opted to visit the Loire Valley in the fall to enjoy cool temperatures and fewer crowds.  We believe this made our time there more enjoyable and the locals more welcoming.  Even more interesting is that castles can take on a more romantic feel in the chillier months!  Our 7 day itinerary is easy to accomplish with lots of time to relax with your feet up and a great glass of wine!

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  1. I love this area of France for it's beauty and history. You've captured both! Thanks for allowing me to re-visit this area!

  2. What beautiful pictures!! This looks like an amazing trip that you got to share with your friend :) The entire area looks so historic and full of culture. I'd love to visit France one day!

  3. I would love to explore this part of France. It sounds like something I should put on my list 😊