For our first time in the Loire valley, we decided to stay in a central location and chose the city of Tours, one of the largest in the region of Centre-Val de Loire. We stayed at the Hotel Oceania L'Univers downtown. This historic hotel opened in 1846 and now has a spa and an indoor pool. It also has a private garage inside the hotel, which is very convenient. There are a lot of wonderful restaurants nearby. We had a couple of nice dinners at the Brasserie L’Univers next door.
When we planned our trip, we chose to visit on average three castles a day. Most of them located near Tours, Amboise, and Blois.
Our first château was Chenonceau. It is the only castle where we had to preorder tickets and reserve a time slot. One of the real-life Disney castles in France, Chenonceau was built over the water in the 16th century. It is still owned to this day by the Menier family, a dynasty built on chocolate.
After a short drive we had lunch in the town of Amboise before walking up to the castle. Built on top of a cliff overlooking the Loire, the palace has impressive views. We were looking forward visiting the tomb of Léonard de Vinci, but unfortunately, the chapel where he is buried was closed for renovations. On the way back to our hotel in Tours, we had a last castle to visit, the Château de Chaumont. It stands on a raised hill just behind the village itself. As with many castles in the Loire Valley, the chateau was built in the 15th-16th centuries on the site of a much older castle. It was the property of Queen Catherine de Médicis, then her rival Diane of Poitiers, the mistress of King Henri II.
Our first stop the next day was at the Château de Chambord, a one-hour drive from Tours. It is the largest castle in the Loire Valley. It was built to serve as a hunting lodge for King Francis I, who maintained his royal residences at other castles in Blois and Amboise. The lavish property has 426 rooms and 282 fireplaces. A short drive from Chambord, the royal castle of Blois was our second stop. It is known as one of the most prestigious Renaissance monuments in France and was home over the years of seven kings and ten queens.
We started our last day in the Tours region by visiting the Château d’Ussé, Sleeping Beauty’s castle. It has been owned by the Duke of Blacas and his family for more than two centuries. Part of the tour consists of an exhibit showcasing the story of Sleeping Beauty. The French Garden was designed by Le Nôtre and terraced by Vauban. The castle was not too crowded, and we had a great visit. This is worth the short drive from Tours. It only took us 20 minutes to reach the Château of Azay-le-Rideau, one of the best examples of early French renaissance architecture. It is often called the Floating Loire Valley Castle. You need to have tickets to walk to the castle, but it is worth it as you will be able to take amazing photos. The inside of the castle is sparse, so it does not take too long to visit. After a good lunch at the château’s restaurant, we continued our trip to the Château of Villandry. The estate of Villandry is privately owned and still belongs to the descendants of the Carvallo family. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known as the finest example of Renaissance Garden design in Europe. The tour of the inside does not take too long, but it takes a while wandering throughout the beautiful gardens.
Our last day was spent in Bourges, a town located in the south-east of the Loire Valley. After a two-hour drive from Tours, we checked-in at the Hôtel de Bourbon Mercure. The property used to be an old abbey, which was completely renovated in 2018. The lobby and the rooms are contemporary. They also have a very nice restaurant located in what used to be an old church. Unfortunately, we were there on a Sunday, and it was closed that night. The rest of the city looked like a ghost town, and I would suggest visiting the city on a weekday. We spent the afternoon in the old town and visited the cathedral of St Etienne, one of the great masterpieces of Gothic art. The church became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1992. We also took the little tourist train, a 45-minute journey around the old town. You can take the train in front of the cathedral.
We were in the Loire valley during a heat wave, but it was still a perfect trip, and we were able to take beautiful photos with a blue sky. We visited seven castles in three days, which might be a lot if you are prone to spend a lot of time in each venue. For
us we had an excellent outlook of the region, and it made us want to come back.