When to Go: June – September is high season. The weather is still nice in May and October, and there are fewer crowds, but some of the smaller chateaus may be closed. The larger ones are open all year.
Chateaus: Visiting the chateaus of the Loire will be the highlight of any trip to this area. Here are some of my favorites.
Chenonceaux: This lovely chateau, which stretches gracefully over the river, was the childhood home of Mary Queen of Scots.
Azay-le-Rideau: This chateau has a beautiful location that makes it seem like it’s floating on the water.
Cheverny: This privately-owned chateau is still owned by the family that has lived in it for centuries. So, unlike the others, it is furnished on the inside. One of the owners’ ancestors fought in the American Revolution, and his citation from General Washington is proudly displayed.
Villandry: This chateau is known primarily for its magnificent gardens, designed to be full of color no matter what the season.
Chinon: A lovely small town, with a ruined castle where Joan of Arc met King Charles VII and told him she was destined to save France.
Angers: The twin-towered medieval castle is more fortress than palace. The interior has a wonderful tapestry depicting the Apocalypse.
Abbaye de Fontevrault: This medieval abbey (and garden) was established by Eleanor of Aquitaine in the 12th C. The “English” kings Richard Lionheart and Henry II are buried here.
Chartres: No trip to this area is complete without a visit to Chartres, the foremost Gothic cathedral in France, if not the world. The stained-glass windows depict Biblical stories. Many were funded by local guilds – a small shoemaker or furrier in the corner tells you who paid for the window. Don’t forget the exterior statues, which are also marvelous.
If Malcolm Miller is still offering tours, be sure to sign up. He is an Englishman who has been living in Chartres for decades, and his knowledge of the windows is unmatched. If he’s not available (he’s getting on in years) you can purchase one of his window guides from the gift shop.
The last time we were there, several years ago, they had embarked on an ambitious cleaning project, which would make the interior whiter and lighter than they have been in years. I suspect they are pretty well along now with this project.
You can also visit the Crypt, which despite the name is not a cemetery but the remains of the prior (11th C) church – they built the current cathedral right on top of it.
Food and Drink
- The Loire is the heartland of France, so most of what you think of as “traditional” French food is available here.
- Most fish will be freshwater (pike or perch) from local rivers, unless you’re close to the coast.
- Some of the best goat cheeses in France – Selles sur Cher, Valencay, St. Maure – are made here. Be sure to try them.
- Local wines include reds made from the Cabernet Franc grape (Chinon, Bourgeuil), whites from the Chenin Blanc grape (Vouvray) and the occasional rose. All the wines are light, fresh and food-friendly. They are rarely available in the US, so do try them.