The tourist brochures say there are over 100 castles in the Loire Valley.    So many! Which castles are best to visit?  And what else is there to do in the Loire?  Food? Wines?

We recently spent three days and two nights in the Loire Valley.

Our starting point was the following:

  • there are a quite a few very famous castles so we picked the top two to visit with a possible visit to another one or two.
  • we weren’t that interested in wine but we did want to experience some great food and/or local markets

Elsewhere, I wrote about our trip in French! Here is the blog post Tips for a Quick Trip to the Loire.  I’d like to highlight (in English), the tips I have for a visit of 3 days and 2 nights in the Loire.

  • Hit the high points but be selective: I would suggest visiting at most 2-3 of the largest and most famous chateaus. Chambord and Chenonceau are great choices. The most famous chateaus are well-known for a reason. Chambord is the largest. Chenonceau has the coolest “gallery” which extends out over the river Cher. However, any of the larger and famous chateaus can be very crowded even in off-season (when we went) let alone in high season. Don’t overdo it!
  • Go off the beaten path: Also choose one of the smaller chateaus. In the smaller chateaus, there will be fewer crowds or none at all. In the castle we visited, Château de Langeais, the tapestries were right there next to us. Same with the furniture. It was a much more immersive experience. The castle is less grand but it is easier to imagine the lives of those who lived there.
  • Stay in one of the smaller towns: We stayed in Blois. It is small enough that it is easy to walk around the city center but large enough to have a good variety of restaurants.
  • Go to the local farmer’s market: Check out the market calendar and go some buy local products. We went to a great market in Amboise and also in Langeais. The Bloise market was very large and nicely arranged in a circle around the town so it was a great way to mix two events – seeing the city and the market at once.
  • Shop: Visiting the Loire is a great chance to buy local produce. The local produce was fresh and inexpensive! We bought wine, cheese, and apples (the produce in season). A good local cheese to try is the Saint-Maure de Touraine! Local wines are Bourgueil.
  • Map out your route to minimize time driving: The distances between Chateaux are actually quite large. With a limited amount of time you probably don’t want to do a lot of backtracking. Our route was Paris -Chambord – Blois – Amboise – Chenonceaux – Langeais – Paris. If we had had more time, we would have stopped at Villandry (for the gardens) or Azey-le-Rideau (also out over water) both of which are on the way from Chenonceaux to Langeais.