With only a 3 hour drive from Paris, the Loire Valley is a land of fairytale castles, vineyards, and gastronomic pleasures. I recommend a visit of a few days, covering a circuit south of Tours, along the River Loire to Langeais, and along the River Indre to Azay-le-Rideau, Montbazon and Montlouis-sur-Loire.
How Far is the Loire Valley from Paris?
Azay-le-Rideau is just over a 3 hour drive from Paris and, once off the autoroute, there are so many gems to visit nearby.
The Loire Valley is a beautiful and large region that merits a visit of at least a few days. I have seen many tourists opt for a day trip from Paris to Loire Valley castles. Honestly, if you visit for only a day, you’re missing out on a lot!
However, if you are going just for a day, then the area around Blois is closest with the legendary Château de Chambord about 2.5 hours’ drive from the capital.
Hotel Diderot in Chinon
Enjoy the change of pace from the capital and step back in time to the châteaux of the renaissance. Using the town of Tours as a base with its many choices of hotels and restaurants, you may prefer to choose the smaller towns and villages where the pace is slower and some quite sleepy.
There are many chambres d’hôtes (B&Bs) and great value hotels such as the Hotel Diderot in Chinon, run by my friend, Jamie Schler and her husband, Jean-Pierre. Jamie’s legendary homemade jams are a must at breakfast on buttery croissants and fluffy brioche. Chinon also has many restaurants nearby: La Part des Anges (also the name given to one of our favourite Chinon white wines) and Restaurant Océanic.
It’s not unusual to see this scene in castle gardens in May, especially around lime (or linden) blossom trees. Known as tilleul in French, their leaves are dried for a typical night-time infusion. Herbal infusions like this are very popular, like lemon verbena (verveine). Have you tried this lemon verbena ice cream?
Most Loire châteaux have beautiful gardens, but the most famous garden is that of Castle Villandry, between Langeais and Tours. When we were last there in summer, the pears were ripe but we were even encouraged to eat the grapes growing near the herbal gardens, to encourage growth! Incidentally, the Loire is particularly famous for its cherries, pears, apples and plums (links to more info on my market pages).
Local Loire Wines
Wine lovers will adore this fabulous wine country, under the appellation Touraine, as it surrounds the town of Tours. White wines of the Loire are predominantly chenin blanc, also known as pineau de la Loire and are either sparkling or still in dry, medium and sweet. Other grape varieties are Sauvignon, Arbois and Chardonnay. All whites are mineral and oceanic (more on that in my forthcoming Saumur post).
The dry (sec) and demi-sec chenin wines are fruity with floral honey notes and typically go so well with the local goat’s cheeses (fromages de chèvre). Paired with chèvre, they give a sensation of honey when paired together. Try a chilled chenin blanc with this goat’s cheese walnut pasta sauce, for example, or with a warm goat’s cheese salad. With such excellent value for money, a visit to many of the cellars helps to find out more and stock up.
Many vignerons around Azay-le-Rideau choose to make organic wines, like Château de la Roche en Loire in Cheillé (highlight: 2009 Cuvée Céline. It’s so intensely fruity and “oily” that it can easily cope with partnering a meal from start to finish). Like all organic wines, you’ll see a lot of deposit at the bottom: c’est normal. Domaine de la Noblaie in Ligré makes an impressive white, La Part des Anges. More wines to come in my next post around Saumur.
Most Loire reds are served slightly chilled: such as those from Bourgeuil, Chinon, and Saumur.
Châteaux of Azay-le-Rideau
Did you know there are two castles in Azay-le-Rideau? The most popular is the recently refurbished renaissance castle of the same name, built on the banks of the Indre. However, during peak tourist season it can become pretty busy. I recommend a visit up the road to the other renaissance Château l’Islette. It’s privately owned and the visit centres around the love affair of sculptors, Rodin and his mistress, Camille Claudel, as it was their passionate get-away destination from Paris. See “La Petite Châtelaine“, sculpted by Claudel here (although now a bronze reproduction), their love letters in a room devoted to them.
As the castle is actually lived in, take a walk around the beautiful decor – in particular, the modern and well equipped kitchen. The gardens are also beautiful with a tea room and restaurant in the little ivy-covered mill overlooking the castle.
In Azay-le-Rideau, I recommend a visit to the Potager en carrés, a French herb and vegetable garden and school where local gardeners are only too pleased to talk about their growing techniques and savoir-faire about the medicinal use for plants and herbs in cooking.
Gastronomic Restaurant in Saché
Just a 10 minute drive out of of Azay-le-Rideau is the village of Saché, probably most known for its gastronomic restaurant, L’Auberge du 12ème Siècle run by Kevin Gardien and his partner, Stéphanie Marques. Serving local Touraine specialities, this is our kind of gourmet French restaurant serving great value for money in a beautiful location. I’m looking forward to returning since they received a Bib Gourmand award in the 2022 Michelin Guide.
Nearby in the area: Balzac lived in Saché (now a castle museum), and just up the road in Monts is where the abdicated King Edward VIII married Wallis Simpson at the Château de Candé in 1937.
Les Poires Tappées – Pear Tappers
After Azay-le-Rideau, the famous fairytale castle of Château d’Ussé is where Walt Disney was inspired for his own fairytale land – and highly recommended for a family visits (there’s a wax museum in the top roof towers portraying The Sleeping Beauty). However, en route, a visit to the village of Rivarennes merits a stop at la Maison de la Poire Tapée.
These are literally dried and preserved pears that got their name from tapping them with a hammer. The tradition continues today by just a small number of artisans but it was all the rage at the end of the 19th century. After being ruined by phylloxera which had wiped out its vines, the locals moved into this industry. Pears are dried and kept in a vast oven for a few days, turned daily and “tapped” with a little hammer which flattens them. They are then preserved in bottles and can be kept for ten years.
A bit off the main tourist track is the town of Montbazon, a 30 minute drive from Azay-le-Rideau. It’s located on the river Indre between the towns of Veigné, Monts and Sorigny. The town is famed for its 10th century dungeon and medieval fortress – with many activities suitable for families and opportunities to see how medieval life, and cooking, took place. Banquets are also planned over the summer and try their medieval wine, Hypocras. Great view of the region from the top.
Restaurants in Veigné
Veigné has many excellent restaurants to choose from. Here were our favourites:
Domaine de la Tortinière – the restaurant (michelin guide) is perhaps pricey but we found the quality of the food and service is spot on (as long as it’s not too busy outside at lunchtime). We ate here a few times over lunch, dinner and breakfast too as stayed a few days so highly recommend.
Le Moulin Fleuri – this old mill amongst the flowers has a lovely tranquil location and at the time of our visit was indoors due to cold weather. Although good, the best time to visit is when outdoor eating is possible during clement weather, as the spot is idyllic with good food. Reasonably priced. My highlight was the dessert: a lime soufflé served with a little pot of gin sorbet.
Hardwood Burger Bar – our kids loved this place in particular. And so did we, for something more casual.
Teatime: and for a French goûter or picnic, there’s nothing like bringing homemade macarons from either of my books! The Loire Valley has many gorgeous picnic spots to enjoy the local wines, cheeses and fresh fruit from the market.
Both Vouvray and Montlouis are nestled amongst more vineyards and where the chenin whites reign. So a trip to the local cellars are definitely worth visiting, notably Patrice Benoit and Alain Joulin et Fils in Montlouis.
This is where staying in a château with extensive dalia gardens is possible at the Château de la Bourdaisière. It’s home to the National Tomato Conservatory with over 700 varieties of vintage tomatoes. Lunch at the tomato bar during tomato season is a real treat to taste a simple salad of a few varieties and discover the real taste of delicious tomatoes. However, if it’s crêpes and savoury galettes, then there’s a super crêperie in Montlouis too.
Disclaimer: None of the above links are sponsored. The above is based on my family’s personal visits and selected favourites.
This post was first published 20 June 2011 but is now completely updated following several visits to the region of the Loire Valley and Touraine.
What a lovely village, and the chateau?! Oh my! Lucky you to have Antoine to take you away to such places. Too bad the meal wasn’t 20/20, but then again, it could have been worse 😉
Now I want to visit the Loire Valley!!
Thanks Christina. Yes, I could do with another trip to the Loire – so much to see and do there. You’d love it!
Great blogs all of them.
These were great blogs. Suddenly want to be in the LOIRE!!
Ping is on to something…. that cheese looked heavenly! What a wonderful respite for the two of you! I’m so happy you had the time together, and what wonderful place to visit!!
You never stop to amaze me! What a nice post!! Keep the good work!
I’m as green as the guacamole I’m snacking on at the moment! How enviable! Nesting in a turret and dining on a meal you claim you needed a crane to help you out of your chair…absolutely wonderful!!!!! Please tell me more Wine Artist *le sigh*
Certainly they didn’t know they had a wine artist in their midst. Everything is so beautiful, ouch for that mattress, I would have needed the wine too. I’m going to let you tour me around when I make it over there.
Jill, this was an amazing trip along the menu you gave us. I am so jealous but proud of you for not forgeting your frugal roots. I too am a Scot living in California now but originally from Kilmarnock and I would have done the same thing. I cant wait for the macaron post!
Thanks for sharing..
What beautiful places and such scrumptious food. I’ll take one of each, please 🙂 Great getaway!
What a wonderful getaway! The food photos look great, but I love those travel pictures. Lucky you!
Such beautiful places that just delight your heart, places that you can only see in Europe, how I miss the history behind each building (you won’t see that in Toronto unfortunately)…great destination for people who live in Paris like my brother, I will definitely tell him about this post 🙂 Have a great weekend!!!
Oh, Jill, what a lovely holiday!!! Every bit of your weekend looks divine…your gorgeous accommodations, the wineries, and the fabulous food!!! I’m sorry your back is still giving you trouble…how nice of Antoine to ply you with wine to help those aching spots relax 🙂
Azay le Rideau has to be my favourite Loire chateau. I visited it as a child and took my family back two or three years ago and it hadn’t changed a bit. I have a picture of that huge fireplace just like yours!
‘Meanderings through my Cookbook’
What a wonderful little trip and wow does the food look amazing, sorry about your back though…
Hope you are having a great week!
Thank you for transporting me to this beautiful French location. I love your pictures and your narration. That cheese plate looks and sounds so amazing.
Jill this trip sounds fabulous! So jealous ;)! Looks like you got to try lots of delicious food and wine! I love all of your photos :)!
Hi Jill! Wow what a beautiful place! I really wish to visit Europe…so different from the US! The duck looks delicious! I mean everything does. I need to save up money for our family vacation in Paris (and beyond)! Thanks for sharing your lovely weekend with us. 🙂
Glad you had a great weekend. It’s really necessary to have some time away from home and just enjoy some great food and wine and especially being away from computers and all other electronic devices.:-) Your pictures are amazing and it seems you had some good and some wonderful experiences. Hope your back gets better soon and hope you have a magnificent beginning of summer.
Jill, this looks like a fairy tale! I found myself tearing up as I read your post! (I’m such a sap!)… And those amuse-bouches! OMG! I am so glad that you got some time away in such a picturesque setting!
Jill..what a wonderful getaway you had! And that meal…how many courses was that? I lost count as I was scrolling down the page for dessert! Thank you for taking us along on this excursion. I love looking at the travel photos you share! It sounds as though you had a lovely time. And I hope your back is on the mend! : )
I am so glad you got that getaway! 🙂 Sounds like an amazing place (in spite of having to travel on your back!)… The food looks yummy, but those cheeses – oh those cheeses! I would be in cheese heaven! That duck looks pretty yummy too! And I think the mint sorbet is so pretty! Cannot wait to your new macaron flavor! Goats’ cheese or wine flavored, perhaps? 🙂
Oooooo, I am wild with jealousy. What a fabulous place, really. I need a two day vacay from kids, but I’d be happy to be in a shack in the woods for it 😉
As a fellow Scot, also married to a Frenchman, thanks for bringing back lovely memories of a visit to the Loire Valley. I just love the fact that France has such a wide and rich selection of cheese and they are anything but bland! Great post Jill 😉
What an amazing get away! I felt like I was there with you! (although I’m sure you and Antoine were glad I wasn’t) I haven’t been to the Loire yet but hope to soon… your post confirmed this. I LOVED the article! Way to go Jill!
What a lovely little holiday. I am quite enamored of the cheese tray. Really lovely.
That is fantastic!! Jill, you lucky woman! Antoine, bravo!!
I’m sorry that you’re still dealing with back pain :(( I hope you get better real soon!!
Looks like a really fun trip! I visited a few places in the Loire valley when I was on study abroad and it seemed like such a pretty area. Makes me want to go on vacation!
Wow. All of that looks and sounds amazing. Such a beautiful place and the food looks stunning. Glad you had a break and had such a good time.
Glad you had a good weekend, and so lovely to have time without the children. The food sounds really interesting. I really enjoyed my weekend in Paris back in April, the first break without children in a long time. Do hope your back improves soon, it’s miserable being uncomfortable all the while. Could the tree be a lime tree?
Thanks, Sue. Lime tree good one, but it’s not.
Sue, I’m an idiot and owe you an apology. In French, this is known as a “Tilleul”. I have always had it in my mind that it’s linden blossom, which is correct – but today just discovered yet another translation, which is a lime blossom tree. So, there are 2 ways of saying it. You were totally right and I’ve learned something. Thank you!
Well I would never have got the French name right, but our house is in an Avenue of Lime Trees. They look really lovely at the moment but I have to say that the cars all end up covered in rather sticky tiny droplets of something that comes from the trees. You have to wash the screens every time you get in the car at this time of year. I’m looking forward to seeing what you can do with them as I definitely have access to a huge supply!
Sounds like you had a wonderful time. It all looks fabulous. A great picture you have sketched for us. I’m not entirely convinced you thought the Auberge was quite up to scratch though 😉
This sounds like an amazing weekend! So jealous of your weekend away, not only the amazing food (those prawns look delicious), and beautiful scenery – but the time!! It has been over a years since my husband and I have spent a night away from our son. Hopefully in August we will get a weekend to ourselves.
Erin, here’s to your time away in August. Even if it’s just a weekend, it’s so important. It’s amazing how quickly we can get taken up with routine, problems, work, kids and just a couple of days together, it’s great to talk about other things and act like kids ourselves!
Your meal looks interesting, shame some of the courses didn’t live up to your standards – you should have reined in your inner Scot lol! Is that a mimosa tree by any chance?
Thanks, Janice. Good try, but it’s not mimosa…
What a gorgeous post!
Though I can tell you as a former wine artist who got to spend a weekend in a turret at Chateau Beychevelle, they ain’t all they’re cracked up to be.
Depending on the season and the region they can be very hot and filled with summer bugs. Who knew?
But I have NOT explored the Loire vallee…
Hehee, Carol. It was my dream to stay in a château and we did, just up the road within walking distance. I’m still recovering from the antique bed yet! I like being a wine “artist”, though. Spitoon wasn’t so elegant. I used it only for the red wines which is a bugger when trying to miss the white trousers 😉
What a beautiful mini getaway. That palace is spectacular and the feast looked over the top.
It’s so much fun to travel vicariously through your blog. What a lovely trip you had…and such delicious food!
Looks amazing. Surprised that red wine was served chilled. I tried chilled red wine once and noticed sediments. Maybe this does not happen if its chilled for a short time instead of days? Travelling lying flat – you can think of it as travelling first class:)
I miss French restaurants to much! This meal looks so delicious! And my favorite castle is Le Rideau, I pictured myself being a princess there!
First off, congrats on your first featured piece with Discover France! I’m heading over there straight after commenting to check you out 🙂
Your weekend looks loverly! The castle is very cool. The restaurant is neat too but it seems as tho there were some hit and misses. Fun times regardless, I’m sure. Thanks for sharing and go see a chiropractor! Buzzed
See, it was worth tagging along with us 22 years ago to Tours University. Wish we had been tagging along with you. You’ve come a long way since we dished up gammon and pineapple. Loved the blog – want to go there now!!
Aha. Don’t remind me of the gammon-pineapple, argh! Glad you liked the post but honestly, you would have found it hard to find some space in that car, with me sprawled out going, “ooh, ahh, ouch”. That’s why Antoine took me to some wineries, I think! 😉
NO WAY I cannot believe this! My parents were in Cholet for my dad’s exhibition on the weekend!!! You were soooo close! Ohhh all of you make me miss France so much! My parents sent me photos of the little chateau they slept in… what beautiful area of France really! Great post Jill and congrats on being a featured author for Discover France! <3
Oh your poor back, and French B&Bs are not renowned for their comfortable beds! Sounds like the food made up for the discomfort though. Great photos, Jill. I’m usually halfway through my food before I remember to take a shot of the (now messy) plate.
Hester, Antoine never even saw me take the photos. I felt terrible taking them and did it so fast since it’s the first time I’ve done it in a restaurant! As for the bed, I was probably better sleeping in the car, but then that defeats a romantic weekend, n’est-ce pas? 😉
The lobster dish looks amazing! The bed of crispy potatoe, the asparagus, the unique sauce and the majestic lobsters…mmmm….you must have had the ultimate gastronomical experience!
I have to confess – envy is all over me (and I’m not talking about perfume, here :)))
great article, Jill!
Sounds heavenly! Even checking out the roof of the car for 3 whole hours was worth it 😀 and then 3 hours back? I’d probably just skip everything and just have the cheeses … mmm.