We researched trains and buses to get to the Loire valley and on to the south of France, and quickly realised that we were going to pay about the same amount to go by public transport as we were by train – so we hired a rental car and picked it up in the middle of Paris. This was one of the more stressful destinations to get a rental car from, as it meant driving on the right through Paris traffic in a manual car, but we eventually made it out of Paris and down through the countryside. We stayed off the expensive toll roads and on the free roads, which are longer but take you through beautiful countryside. One of the nicest things about France is how easy it is to have a tasty picnic – just get some cheap, amazing tasting cheese and a baguette and you are set! (This actually turned out to be one of the few days we were able to picnic outside of the car – it turned out winter wasn’t quite over)!
We stayed in Tours, a cute little town that we were able to explore a bit by bicycle. (Random side note – Tours and Nice are two of the most challenging google searches as they can be so misunderstood!)
From here, we visited a different chateau and winery each day. There are dozens and dozens of chateaux in the Loire Valley, but to explore them all would be very expensive (each one costs between 10 and 15 euros per person) so we picked our top three to visit. On our first day, we headed to the beautiful Chateau Chenonceau. Here we wandered through the gardens until we came to the chateau, which is perched on an island in the middle of the river. We were able to tour right through the chateau and really appreciated the lit fire and fresh flower arrangements that complemented the beautiful rooms.
In the afternoon we went to the Cave Producers of Vouvray, where we found out that English tours didn’t run in winter…but they let us in, showed us around and gave us a free tasting anyway. French wineries are fabulously priced – here we could get a nice bottle of wine from the winery for only 5 euros!
On our second day we drove to Chateau Chambord (pictured above), the biggest chateau in the valley, which is famous for its double helix staircase inside. It was absolutely freezing here – we would explore a couple of rooms then run to the fire and huddle in front of it!
We visited Domaine de L’Aumoniere winery here, which turned out to be an underground room that the owner let us in to through a tarpaulin – but the wine was excellent and we picked up another bottle.
We also popped into the town of Amboise on the way back for a quick look at their castle. On our third day, we went to Chateau d’Usse. Its claim to fame is that is was possibly the inspiration for the author of Sleeping Beauty – not sure if this was true, but the castle was beautiful (and there was a former underground passageway). One of the best parts about visiting the Loire Valley in winter was we had the chateaux nearly to ourselves which was great.
That afternoon we went to Nicholas Paget for wine tasting and added another bottle to our collection.
Now, you may have noticed we christened our car the Chateau Stalker. Although we only paid to visit three chateaux, we also did a bit of “Chateau stalking”. Here are some of the chateaux we saw from the outside only!