Exploring the Heart of the Loire Valley in and around Touraine
Castles, goat cheese, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Franc, river tours, cobblestone streets—the Loire Valley is the quaint destination for all of these things. Just a little over two hours from Paris, this destination is an obvious choice for wine professionals but hits all the right notes for any traveler. You can take a look at current flight deals into Paris here.
As a wine region, the limestone-rich soils and varying climates make it a prime location for many different grapes. The Loire Valley is a long area that hugs the Loire River on both sides, covering 634 miles (1015 km). Because of how different one section is from the next, it is broken up into 3 sections going from west to east—Lower Loire (Pays Nantais), Middle Loire (Anjou, Saumur, and Touraine), and Upper Loire (Centre). Each section makes decidedly different styles of wine and each utilizes different grapes. Some classic and recognizable wines from the Loire Valley are Sancerre, the “high-end Sauvignon Blanc” from the Sancerre region, Cabernet Franc from Chinon, Muscadet (so great with oysters!) from the Lower Loire, and Vouvray which is made from Chenin Blanc.
For the sake of this travel guide, your home base will be in the delightful area of Touraine, in the Middle Loire offering plenty of excursions to surrounding areas. Check rental car options with Auto Europe or Sixt Rent a Car if you’re driving from Paris.
Top Hotels in Touraine
Location is key, especially if you plan on exploring the Loire Valley in-depth. In the Middle Loire and right on the river in Blois, Mercure has an indoor pool, gym, and a wine bar. The breakfast spread includes French staples along with local cheeses and honey.
For a more quaint, countryside feel, this Relais & Chateaux property in Ozain is situated in the heart of wine country. Gastronomy seekers will relish the on-site restaurants. From Bistrot to chef Rémy Giraud’s two Michelin star restaurant, everything is top-notch. Think caviar, squab, lobster, and chocolate made on-site.
Where To Eat in Touraine
In the heart of Tours, this is a great stop for authentic French crêpes. Sit outside and enjoy the bistro culture and people watching.
Le Lift, in the town of Orléans, features the local bounty of the region in a retro-futuristic dining area. The creative menu is met with local pairings of wine. Sit on the terrace for a view of the Loire River.
Le Chai at Manoir de Restigné
Chef Damien Cousseau’s organic restaurant set inside of the Chateau combines sightseeing and culinary arts.
Nearby Château de Blois is this inventive restaurant set in a former grocery store. The focus is on regional ingredients and boasts some of the freshest fish coming straight from the river to your plate.
Top Tours & Things To Do in Touraine
The Loire Valley is known for its gardens and chateaux and there are many ways to experience them. In fact, in 2000, Unesco added the chateaux of the Loire Valley to its World Heritage list. Many of these sights can be seen from river cruises or private boat rentals. Cycling is massively popular in the region and it’s also a great way to take in the sights.
Château de Chambord in Touraine is a marvelous sight to take in, either from a tour of the inside, viewing from a boat on the nearby river, or to see the fireworks on the castle grounds at night.
Château de Amboise is a stunning castle boasting overlooks with panoramic views of the river and an array of cottage roofs speckled across the valley. Most notable is the fact that you can visit Leonardo DaVinci’s tomb on the chateau grounds.
Interestingly, many troglodyte caves are underfoot in the Loire Valley. There are tours in which visitors can hike through as well as unusual experiences, such as dining inside of one! La Cave aux Fouées in Amboise has a full restaurant inside of the cave, as well as a mini-museum of antique tools.
Château de Villandry is the perfect place to go on a beautiful day. Walk or bike through the six beautiful French gardens.
When you see a six-headed dragon popping its many heads outside the ornate windows of a building exterior, you will know you have found the House of Magic. Dedicated to the magician, Robert-Houdin, it serves as an exhibition on the history of magic, and work of Houdin, as well as optical illusions of all kinds.
Chateau de Chenonceau is a 16th-century castle that is literally built over the river bed of the River Cher. A stunning sight from the outside, but wait until you see the art masterpieces inside.
Wineries To Visit Around Touraine
While there are many excellent wine bars and cafes to grab a glass, we recommend beating out the middleman and going straight to the source.
Domaine Sauvète is an organic winery located on the Toucheronde hillsides overlooking Cher. Half of their 17 hectares (42 acres) are dedicated to white grapes (Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and Chardonnay) and half are devoted to red wine grapes (Gamay, Malbec, Cabernet and Pineau d’Aunis). Guided tours and tastings are available, as well as workshops and classes. Electric scooters can be rented to tour around the stunning vineyards. Fun events like family treasure hunts make this a great place to bring the kids.
Domaine Plou &Fils in Touraine offers free tours of the vineyards and the troglodyte cellars as well as tastings of its delicious wines. There is something for every wine lover here, ranging from bold Malbec (called Côt), crisp and racy Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blancs, rosés, and even sparkling wines.
Shops & Markets
Max Vauché Chocolatier is an absolute must. Tour the facilities to learn how the chocolate is made. Lining the hallways and side rooms are galleries of statues made with chocolate! Of course, there is a tasting and a gift shop to grab a gift to bring home.
La Caf’Thé is an adorable shop brimming with spices, teas, and other delights.
Farmer’s Markets are obviously very popular in such an agro-friendly area. These markets are unlike the ones you might be used to in other parts of the world. Imagine a dizzying array of oysters, whole rabbits and chickens, entire cheese shops full of dairy… a walk through one will have you culinarily inspired for months.
Touraine Flea Market nestled along the side of the Loire River is the perfect spot to bring something truly unique home. Cash only, so don’t go empty-handed unless you want to pass up the beautiful, bright saffron-colored Le Creuset Dutch oven for only 17 euros by accident!
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