The Essential Guide to the Loire Valley
Collected by Nancy Heslin , AFAR Local Expert
So exceptional is the Loire Valley, with its enchanting châteaus, religious landmarks, and award-winning wineries, that the entire 310-square-mile region, located between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes, was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2000. Lined with vineyards, orchards, and artichoke fields, it’s known as the Garden of France, but the region is about so much more than agriculture. Come here to sleep in a troglodyte cave, learn more about Joan of Arc, ride a mechanical elephant, and, of course, sample the local Sancerre.
Place Sainte-Croix, 45000 Orléans, France
The Cathédrale Ste-Croix, where Joan of Arc attended Mass on May 2, 1429, during the Battle of Orléans, is most famous for its 10 stained glass windows illustrating scenes from her life. However, the neo-Gothic cathedral—built...
3 Place du Général de Gaulle, 45000 Orléans, France
Joan of Arc’s historical significance lies not only in the fact that she played a pivotal role in leading the French army to victory during the Hundred Years’ War against the English, but also that she was canonized by Pope Benedict XV...
2 Rue des 3 Maries, 45000 Orléans, France
Walking into Ver di Vin feels a little bit like wandering into a scene from Goodfellas. After passing the kitchen on the ground floor, guests descend into a 13th-century vault, complete with vaulted ceilings and exposed stone walls. Here,...
Route de Sancerre, 18300 Sury-en-Vaux, France
Sébastien Riffault, son of winemaker Étienne Riffault, started his own label in 2002 with a strong belief in biodiversity, biodynamic principles, and natural winemaking. On his almost five acres of vineyards near Sury-en-Vaux, he...
31 Place Nouvelle Place, 18300 Sancerre, France
At the Michelin-starred Restaurant La Tour on Sancerre’s main square, chef Baptiste Fournier forgoes today’s culinary trends for simple, sophisticated French fare. He offers just three starters (langoustines, salmon, and mussels) and...
Place de la Cathédrale, 37000 Tours, France
Built between 1170 and 1547, the Cathédrale St-Gatien is a must-see when visiting Tours. Listed as a historic monument in 1862, it features an exquisitely detailed facade, a 16th-century organ, and the beautifully sculpted tomb of Charles...
18 Place François Sicard, 37000 Tours, France
Housed in the former archbishop’s palace, the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Tours features one of France’s most extensive art collections, with works by everyone from Rubens, Rembrandt, and Rodin to Monet and Degas. Outside, the...
3 Rue Principale, 37510 Villandry, France
About a 30-minute drive from Tours, the Château and Gardens of Villandry are a testament to the Loire Valley’s immense beauty. The castle—one of the last great châteaus built in the Loire during the Renaissance—is the...
2 Rue des Lilas, 49400 Saumur, France
Around since 1851, Bouvet Ladubay in Saumur produces 20 different types of sparkling wine. Try them all during a visit to the award-winning winery—just don’t expect a typical tasting experience. Here, guests can learn about the...
53 Rue d'Alsace, 49400 Saumur, France
Built in 1896 on a four-acre park, the five-star Hôtel Château de Verrières offers guests the chance to stay in a majestic castle of yesteryear. From the moment you walk through the massive oak door and see the high ceilings and...
49590 Fontevraud-l'Abbaye, France
Ten miles southeast of Saumur lies Fontevraud Abbey, the largest abbey in Europe and resting home of Henry II, Richard the Lionheart, and Eleanor of Aquitaine. Spread over 32 acres, it feels almost like a miniature village, complete with...
3 Impasse Marguerite d'Anjou, 49730 Turquant, France
In 4 B.C.E., the only residents of Saumur were troglodytes, or people who lived in limestone caves that formed over 90 million years ago. Experience their ancient lifestyle for yourself at La Demeure de la Vignole, a hotel that occupies a former...
Parc des Chantiers, Boulevard Léon Bureau, 44200 Nantes, France
There’s no shortage of boat tours on the Loire River, but for an even more Instagrammable experience, ride a 40-foot mechanical elephant along the water at Les Machines de l’Île in Nantes. Open since 2007 in the town’s old...
Quai de la Fosse, Passerelle Victor-Schoelcher, 44000 Nantes, France
Only open since 2012, the Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery may be relatively new to Nantes, but it’s one of the world’s most poignant dedications to the slave trade and its abolition. Tourists may be surprised to learn that Nantes...
20 Passage Pommeraye, 44000 Nantes, France
If you’re going to shop for Hermès, you might as well do it in an architecturally stunning building. Inaugurated in 1843, Nantes’s Passage Pommeraye features impressive statues, a glass ceiling, and three floors connected by a...
25 Quai François Mitterrand, 44200 Nantes, France
Coffee culture is alive and thriving in Nantes. Experience it for yourself at Espérance Café, one of the city’s coziest places for specialty brews. Try the signature Latte Maria (ristretto blended with salted caramel and...
24 Rue Crébillon, 44000 Nantes, France
Near the Passage Pommeraye and the Théâtre Graslin, the four-star Oceania Hôtel de France offers historic character in the heart of Nantes. Housed in an 18th-century former town house, the 72-room hotel was entirely renovated in...
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