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A wonderland of majestic palaces, fruit orchards, vineyards, old world villages, cosy B&Bs and spectacular cuisine, a week in the Loire Valley can slip by all too quickly. While driving through with a luxury car is inevitably going to add to the glamour and thrill of the occasion, it does create problems of getting by unscratched, not ticketed or fined for that matter.
We have therefore prepared a driver’s guide for a road trip through the Loire Valley. So that from behind the wheel of a super stylish Ferrari or a beastly Lamborghini you can arrive at some of the most remote and tucked away gems of the Loire Valley. Alternatively, hiring a car also gives you the means to arrive at more popular destinations without the hassles of public transport. Yet at other times, you may just want to be able to walk around exploring secreted nooks and crannies at your leisure. The trick of course, is knowing how to do it right and that’s where this guide comes in.
If you are arriving from Paris, a luxury car rental, be it a Ferrari or Porsche, can be made available to you with an advanced booking. From Charles de Gaulle airport the Loire Valley is typically just a three hour journey along the national A10. While a driver’s license is sufficient to rent a car in France, to actually drive a car you should have either an International Driver’s Licence or a notarized translation accompanying your driver’s license, either of these will ensure that you don’t incur any problems.
As a city with a lot to offer, Tours makes an excellent base to stay. However as the streets can get very crowded, with almost no parking available, ever, it is absolutely critical to make sure that your hotel has on site parking. Some of our favourite accommodation options include:
Ronsard Hotel - A modern and elegant hotel, with polished surfaces and a good continental breakfast.
Hotel du Manoir - A quiet and charming private mansion, it offers many useful amenities, of which parking is just one.
Hotel L’Adresse - Located in the antiquated "Place Plumereau" area, the hotel carries the historical elegance of its neighborhood but gives it a modern twist with its interior furnishings.
If you are willing to risk it, La Maison Jules is a particularly lovely place to stay as a beautifully reconstructed 19th century mansion. While it promises to be a haven of serenity during your stay, it can only partially promise available parking. Located either at a public parking space around 200 meters away or at the Vinci parking “Tours Gare” which costs 12€ for 24 hours, which is a reasonable fee.
The other benefit of staying in Tours, means that you can enjoy the full range of entertainment available at the many bars, restaurants and nightclubs, without having to give thought as to who is going to be the designated driver. Each of the hotels listed above are located in the center of the city and are in prime walking distance to the city’s nightlife hotspots. There are a number of Michelin starred chefs and thriving bars that could rival some of the most celebrated in Paris. So here’s our list:
Le Zinc - Scoring top reviews for its elegant French cuisine, Le Zinc is all about a lesson in intimacy. From its warm and private interior that only seats two dozen or so, to the old world style of cooking, adapting culinary traditions that have been passed down from one generation to the next.
La Roche Le Roy - is one of the city’s Michelin award winners. Famous for its incredible food and warm welcome, every course is thought out to refined detail, creating meals that have a fantastic fusion of flavours.
Le Gambetta - Who would have thought that a dinner plate could have the same potential for creativity as an artist’s canvas board? Well it appears that the team of chefs at Le Gambetta saw no difference and their creative masterpieces often looked too good to eat. Though you ought to, because the food tastes as good as it looks.
Ok, now to the business of heading out and quite possibly the reason why you chose the Loire Valley for your vacation in the first place.
Amboise- Straddling the Cher river is the romantic palace of Amboise, an inviting town with a pleasant old quarter and a hill top chateau. A castle has been here since ancient roman times lending a lot of influence to the region as a crossroads for merchants. During your visit take the chance to stroll through pleasant grounds and enjoy commanding views of the region. Clo Luce, a small château located just down the street was provided as a gift to Leonardo da Vinci who was invited to reside in France. Leonardo spent his last 3 years in Clo Luce, where he served the king as royal engineer, architect and painter. Today a visit to this small château lets guests interact with display models of Leonardo’s remarkable inventions, that are each built according to his notes. From water pumps, gear systems, tanks and flying machines.
Travel time from Tours: 30-40 minutes
Chenonceau - Graceful throughout, Chenonceau is regarded as the toast of the Loire. A 16th century renaissance palace, it arches gracefully over the Cher River. The grand gardens combined with the serenity of the riverside setting makes it one of the most celebrated locations in France. Almost each of the rooms has its own fireplace that was used to warm enormous beds, while the hung paintings given an indication of the owner’s pedigree and their association with the king of France. Constructed as the first great pleasure palace, it has an enormous gallery that spans the width of the river and is ornately decorated as from the start it was intended for high society. Another remarkable fact regarding Chenonceau is that the original design of the palace and its ongoing renovations were made by women, be it the wives or mistresses of the kings of France.
Travel time from Tours: 40 minutes
Cheverny - Built and decorated over the course of just 30 years in the 16th century, Cheverny possesses an architectural harmony and unity of style. Fortunately this is still evident today as the palace has been immaculately preserved, undoubtedly thanks to a descendant marquee who lives in residence. The rooms are all beautifully furnished from a music room, the children’s nursery, the morning parlour and the salon, providing a lively indication of what life must have been like for the palace’s earliest inhabitants. Cheveney survived the throes of the French Revolution intact, thanks to its owner’s reputation of being good to his workers.
Travel time from Tours: 60-70 minutes
Villandry - Completed in 1536, Villandry is treasured for its remarkable landscaped gardens. As the last great Chateau built on the Loire, the focus of attention was clearly on the astoundingly beautiful and vast gardens. Arranged in elaborate geometric patterns, to this day they are painstakingly maintained.
Travel time from Tours: 25-30 minutes
Chambord - Astoundingly huge, the magnitude of Chambord strikes you immediately on arrival. By far the biggest of the Loire châteaux, Chambord has more rooms with fireplaces than days of the year, with 440 rooms in total. The outer perimeter is surrounded by forest as the grounds were used as a game preserve for deer and boar which still run wild. Starting out as a humble hunting lodge for bored nobility, it eventually developed to become a monument to the royal sport of hunting.
Travel time from Tours: 60-80 minutes
There are still many more interesting and novel things to do in the Loire Valley, especially once all the palaces begin to overwhelm you. The following were some of our favourites:
Located in the Regional Natural Park of Loire-Anjou-Touraine, the troglodyte village of Rochemenier is a silent and mysterious underground world, providing fascinating insights into an ancient past.
First founded in 1101 by the itinerant preacher, the Royal Abbey of Fontevraud was an enormous complex of religious buildings. In more recent times the historical fortification has been converted to host a cultural center. Offering an array of interactive activities and installations, this place is not to be missed!
Unusual by all accounts, a trip to one of the mushrooms caves and museums, is likely to be a new experience for you. Showcasing the caved-in harvesting of numerous types of mushrooms, it promises to be a novel experience and something slightly different to the norm. Plus the onsite cafeteria does a ripping mushroom pie.
With all these activities and lovely places to visit, just one week in the Loire Valley, really isn’t long enough!
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