The Loire Valley is a beautiful part of France to travel through, a UNESCO World Heritage site where ancient fortresses and grand châteaux tower above the medieval towns that line the river. It’s also home to some of the most famous sauvignon blanc in the world: pouilly fumé and sancerre. It takes only four hours to drive east—travelers will be on highway A11 for much of the trip—from the riverside city of Nantes to Sancerre, though most people break up the journey into a couple of days. Writer Emma John focused her trip on the 180-mile swath between Nantes and the historic town of Cheverny. Here are her favorite spots along the way.
Where to Eat and Drink
This all-organic wine bar is run by the knowledgeable and hospitable Jean-Marie Charles. A rotating list of wines, mostly focused on the local Loire regions, is shown on chalkboard menus, alongside charcuterie, cheese boards, and vegetarian dishes. 5 Rue Saint-Etienne, Angers
Une Fille et des Quilles
Opened in December 2017 by wine enthusiasts Jade Haudebourg and Laurent Petit-Foreix, Une Fille et des Quilles sources organic and biodynamic wines from around the country. They serve glasses and bottles alongside a range of excellent cheeses, charcuterie, and terrines. 66 Rue Baudrière, Angers
Autour d’un Cep
Travelers can also pair the local vintages with some glorious fine dining here, where chef Jérémie Baron crafts his ever-changing menu from the day’s market haul. 9 Rue Baudrière, Angers
Domaine de l’Ecu
Fred Niger’s winery is undergoing a $3 million expansion, complete with a new underground cellar—and a giant quartz crystal shipped from Brazil to improve the wine’s “vibes.” Until then, he’ll happily introduce you to his amphoras and share a glass of “muscadet” with you in his cozy cellar. Tasting room open Monday through Friday. 20 La Bretonnière, Le Landreau.
La Coulée de Serrant
The Joly estate is worth a visit for its views and its history alone: The antiques in the cellar include an ancient wine plough. Along with their namesake La Coulée de Serrant, the Jolys make savennières, another delicious local white wine from the chenin blanc grape. Tasting room open every day but Sunday. 7 Chemin de la Roche aux Moines, Savennières.
Terre de l’Élu
Thomas and Charlotte Carsin met at age 18 and quickly knew they wanted to marry—and to build something together. After studying natural winemaking in California and Champagne, they set up shop for Terre de l’Élu in the Loire Valley in 2008. While the tasting room keeps things modest—akin to sharing a glass in their kitchen—the Carsins’ wines, including their sweet chenin blanc Coteaux du Layon, are exceptional. Tastings by appointment only. 49190 Saint-Aubin-de-Luigné.
GAEC the WineGlass
Toby and Julie Bainbridges’ wines are designed to be easy-drinking, affordable, and popular, and they deliver on all fronts. The Brit Pop, made from the local grolleau grape, is so light and bubbly, it’s easy to finish the entire bottle in a sitting. Tastings by appointment only. firstname.lastname@example.org
Sébastien Bobinet and Emeline Calvez’s winery is a slice of tradition wrapped in modernity, its walls decorated with contemporary art and black-and-white photographs of harvest time. Most of their wines are exported—including the popular Ruben, their signature cabernet franc—but their summer rosés are available only in Saumur. Tasting room open Monday through Friday. 315 Route de Montsoreau, Saumur.
Domaine de Montcy
Winemaker Laura Semeria specializes in delicious sauvignon-chardonnay blends, as well as a wine made from rare romorantin grapes, a cousin to chardonnay. Her elegant estate is also an excellent place to stay: She’s built a wooden cabin smack in the middle of her vineyards. Not only does it have a kitchen, there’s a sauna too. Tasting room open Monday through Friday. From €120 (US$135) per night, two-night minimum on weekends.
Where to Stay
There are plenty of interesting places to stay in the Loire. A number of castles rent out rooms within or near the estate, such as 17th-century Château Cheverny, where the suites come with breakfast for the first two mornings of your stay. From $300.
Château de Noirieux
Located between Nantes and Cheverny, Angers is an urban hub for natural wine. Book a room at Château de Noirieux for a stay at a 500-year-old property where guests can enjoy riverside dining and spa treatments in a natural setting. From $111.
How to Travel Slowly
For travelers who prefer two wheels to four: The nearly 500-mile Loire à Vélo route follows the river from the Atlantic Ocean at Saint-Brévin-les-Pins to the inland city of Nevers. The entire route is marked, with signs pointing riders to campsites, as well as hostels and hotels that welcome cyclists. Les Vélos Verts offers bike rentals from multiple locations, including Blois, Cheverny, and Tours, (from $18 a day). Or travelers can opt for a six-day cycling trip with DuVine, which begins in Tours and ends in Amboise, with stops at castles and local wineries along the way (from $4,995).