The 5 best road trips in the Loire Valley

Destinations

The scenery in the Loire Valley changes around every curve.

Honey-colored villages give way to lavish castles. Vine-draped fields back onto the lush banks of the Loire, France’s longest river. And although trains serve each of the region’s main destinations, the best way to explore is by car. It gives you better access to the area’s blissful natural surroundings.

Here are the five best road trips in the Loire Valley.

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This gorgeous route weaves through the Loire Valley to towns like Angers © nicolamargaret / Getty Images

1. The Vineyard Road

Best road trip for wine and scenic landscapes

Chinon-Bouchemaine; approx. 145km (90 miles); 2-3 days

Combining emblematic wines with picturesque landscapes, this road trip passes white tufa (limestone) villages overhanging the Loire and vineyards rolling out as far as the eye can see. Start in Chinon, a medieval city with half-timbered houses and dominating royal fortress, before heading for Saumur. The red grape vines that fill the surrounding landscape are used to produce Chinon wine.

Stop en route at Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud, once Europe’s biggest monastic city, before staying overnight in Saumur and enjoying some winetasting. The troglodyte cellars of Bouvet-Ladubay and Ackerman both serve excellent Crémant (a sparkling white wine).

The next morning, cross the Pont du Cadre Noir and take the D952 along the banks of the Loire. The road offers a panorama no one gets tired of. Beige sandbanks contrast with the grey-blue water and in good weather, the river reflects the sky and the trail of clouds, with only a green line of trees to separate them. After 45 km, you’ll arrive in Les Ponts-de-Cé, a southern suburb of Angers. From here connect with the sun-warmed hillsides of the Aubance valley, whose grapes produce sweet, liquor-like white wines like Bonnezeau. Taste a little at The Domaine de la Petite Croix.

In the afternoon, go deeper into the countryside to reach Rablay-sur-Layon village. Here, another dessert wine is produced, the coteaux-du-layon. With its half-timbered houses and stone mansions, the village appears frozen in time. However, the contemporary arts and crafts gallery says otherwise. The residents here have dubbed this a ‘village of artists’with permanent artisan boutiques and rotating exhibitions. As the sun sets, head towards Chalonnes to drive through vineyards during the golden hour.

On day three, head to the hills between Chalonnes and Bouchemaine. Appreciate the river’s proximity to sail on a toue (a traditional wooden boat) in La Possonnière. Then head to Savennières which is home to its namesake renowned white wine. Lunch at Le Chenin, a red-front restaurant facing the church, where the chef’s cuisine celebrates local produce and its cellar illustrates the variety of the terroir. Finish in Bouchemaine, an old fishermen’s village, and enjoy a quiet evening on the banks of the river.

Detour: Aubance Valley is home to the seven-story Château de Brissac, France’s tallest castle. The property also holds its own vineyard and produces fine rosé wines.

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Chateaux pretty enough for fairytale books are dotted across the Loire Valley ©Alexander Demyanenko/Shutterstock

2. A journey through French literature

Best road trip for culture

Tours-Montsoreau; 78 km (49 miles); 2 days

For centuries, the Loire Valley has provided inspiration for writers. Starting at La Riche, near Tours, this road trip follows in the footsteps of a number of French authors and poets. Begin at Prieuré Saint Cosme, the final home of Renaissance poet Pierre de Ronsard, whose poems were imbued with region’s nature and landscape. From here, drive through the valley’s vast flat plains until they suddenly give way to woodland near Saché to visit Château de Saché, a small castle-turned-museum that celebrates the novelist Honoré de Balzac, who would write here when not in Paris. His book, The Lily of the Valley, is set here.

Continue onto Chinon, where another Renaissance writer, François Rabelais, grew up. His best-known novel, Gargantua, recounts the life of a giant with Rabelais’ childhood home, La Devinière, used as Gargantua’s birthplace. Next, head to Montsoreau. Its castle was used as the setting for The Lady of Montsoreau by Alexandre Dumas, author of The Three Musketeers. From the terrace, there are some great views of the rushing Loire River below.

Detour: If you have an extra day, drive two hours to Nantes, the home city of the author Jules Verne. Les Machines de l’île acts as something of a homage to Verne’s fantastic, mechanical universe. 

The Loire River as seen from a viewpoint at Angers in Loire Valley, France
The Loire River weaves and wraps its way through the countryside ©Nicolas Courtade/500px

3. Along the Loire

Best road trip for nature 

Tours-Saint Florent le Vieil; 170km (105 miles); 3 days

This road trip offers a deep connection with nature. It starts in Tours and then takes the D16 to Ussé, where the Loire passes before your very eyes. Stop in Ussé, whose otherworldly castle was the inspiration for Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty, before heading to Candes-Saint-Martin, the village at the confluence of the Vienne and the Loire. At sunset, the white stone houses of the former fishing port turn gold. It’s a lovely spot for a picnic.

The next morning, follow the curves of the Loire along the D952 as far as Bouchemaine. Stretch your legs on the trail connecting Quai de Noé and the former bargees’ village of La Pointe. En route, look for a gray heron, the emblematic bird of the Loire. 

Afterward, get back in your car and climb the hills between Rochefort-sur-Loire and Chalonnes-sur-Loire on the D751. Follow the brown road signs that indicate La Corniche Angevine, a scenic road with plenty of turns. At La Haie-Longue, there are panoramic vistas for far as your eyes can see. Stay over in Chalonnes-sur-Loire.

On day three, take a short detour to drive the 14-kilometer-long island of Chalonnes, one of the few Loire islands you can explore via cat. Leave via the D210 and the René-Trottier bridge to see views of small villages stand out against the lush greenery and white sandbars bordering. You’re heading to your last stop Saint-Florent-le-Vieil, an oasis of narrow streets with vine-covered houses. Once here, head to Mont-Glonne esplanade for one last breathtaking panorama from the abbey that stands proudly above the Loire.

Detour: Consider stopping in Bouchemaine to take a canoe trip down the Loire in Bouchemaine for a moment of disconnection on the river. You can hire one at the Nautical base, quai de la Noé.

Bikers bicycle touring with pannier near Chambord Castle in France, Loire Valley
The Loire Valley is known for it’s chateaux like this whopper at Chambord ©Michal Szymanski/Shutterstock

4. The castles of the Loire Valley

Best road trip for history and architecture

Blois-Chinon; 108km (68 miles); 4 days

Want to go back in time? From the Middle Ages to the Renaissance period, kings, queens, and the nobility established their courts in the Loire Valley, leaving thousands of monuments as their legacy. Visiting them all is a challenge, but this drive takes you to the most exemplary examples. 

First up, Château Royal de Blois. This imposing castle is impossible to miss. Each facade carries a different era: medieval, Gothic, Renaissance, and classical. Don’t miss the sound and light performance that lights each one at night from April to September.

On day two, head to Chambord, built by François I. An aura of delicateness emanates from its finely carved detail and dazzling whiteness. Inside, Leonardo da Vinci’s double spiral staircase will make your head spin.

Head next to Chaumont-sur-Loire, where you can take a midday break along the Loire while admiring the castle. Catherine de Medicis, Henri II’s wife, lived here before claiming Chenonceau – your next stop – from her husband’s mistress, Diane de Poitiers. Wander the gardens before heading to Amboise, where you can spend the night. 

Spend day three discovering Amboise. Alleys edged by half-timbered houses lead to the impressive castle. The guards’ walkway offers the best viewpoint on the Loire. If you sneak around, you may find the secret gallery François I used to pay his visits to Leonardo da Vinci at the Clos Lucé. Afterward, stay the night in Tours, a city with animated nightlife.

On the next morning, head to discover the remarkable gardens of Château de Villandry or go straight to Château d’Azay-le-Rideau. Inspired by the architecture of the Italian Renaissance, this castle was built on an island, allowing the facade to reflect in the water. The immense parkland here is home to exotic trees like sequoias, cedars, and cypress. From here, drive to Chinon. On a rocky promontory, the 1000-year-old Royal Fortress dominates the town. This is where Joan of Arc met Charles VII during the Hundred Years’ War.

Streets running down to the Loire River in the historic center in city of Angers, France
See all the biggest sights, including historic Angers, with the ultimate Loire Valley road trip © Shutterstock / Gennady Stetsenko

5. The ultimate Loire Valley road trip

Best blockbuster road trip

Sully-sur-Loire–Nantes; approx. 350km (217 miles); 10–15 days

The ultimate Loire Valley road trip takes around two weeks to complete but ticks off all the big sights. Crossing all five départements, it starts at the romantic castle in Sully-sur-Loire and ends down the river in Nantes, home of the Duke of Brittany’s castle

The trip gives travelers the perfect chance to taste all the local specialties of the Loire Valley too, like fouées (baked bread ball) in Saumur, rillauds (pork belly cooked in lard) near Angers, creamy Sainte-Maure cheese in Tours, and for dessert, gâteau Nantais (rum and almond cake).

There are plenty of opportunities to stop at castles like Chenonceau or Azay-le-Rideau while remaining on the main roads. Drive from Blois to Angers via the D952, a panoramic road that hugs the Loire. Then avoid the motorway to Nantes and follow the D751 instead. The beautiful countryside is punctuated by plenty of charming villages.

Detour: South of Chinon, check out Château de la Mothe Chandeniers. After losing its roof in a fire, the castle was neglected for years with vegetation allowed to grow inside. However, renovations since 2018 have brought it back to life.

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