Loire Valley

Come to live a fairy tale visiting the spectacular French Castles of the Loire Valley and let Decouvertes guide you during this immersion in centuries of history and culture.

These well preserved castles are jewels of unequalled architectural beauty. But the Loire Valley is also pretty villages along the banks of the Loire River, impregnated with the harmony of surrounding landscapes and gardens. And don't forget to taste the local cuisine and the wonderful wines, superb examples of the richness of this region.



On the south bank of the Loire, 23km upstream from Tours, the pretty town of Amboise has built up around the fortified chateau, an impressive structure but empty compared to some of the Loire's other masterpieces. Amboise also boasts the Clos-Lucé where Leonardo da Vinci spent the last three years of his life.




The sixteenth century's kings of France certainly knew how to build an impressive home, as the Chateau de Blois clearly demonstrates from its commanding position overlooking the town of Blois. It is a large stately home steeped in history, in a steep medieval town. There are lots of other chateaux, large and small, within reach of Blois, just in case you haven't exhausted yourselves by the end of this one.




In spite of the fact that the Chateau de Chambord is the largest in the Loire Valley, it was only really designed to be Francois Ier's hunting lodge for when he went hunting in the Sologne, which gives you some idea of his incredible power. He did, after all establish the monarch's absolutism. The chateau has 85 staircases, 440 rooms and a chimney for every day of the year. It was designed by the Italian architect Domenico de Cortona in 1519, although some say that da Vinci had a hand in it too. Its tour de force is the double helix staircase, the Great Staircase, which consists of two separate spirals that entwine but never touch as they lead up to the roof. The roof itself is like a giant chessboard with all the chimneys, and it was here that the royal court gathered to watch tournaments and the return of the hunters.




The village of Chenonceaux is famed for its glorious 16th-century chateau Chenonceau (spelt without the 'x'). Approached by a striking tree lined avenue, the chateau spans the River Cher and its most famous feature is the arches across the river. For a different approach go through the gardens created by Diane de Poitiers on the east (left as you advance) or those planted by Catherine de Médicis on the west (right).




Tours is the capital of Touraine, the Tours area known for its Vouvray wine and chateaux, such as the renaissance pleasure houses of Villandry, Langeais, Azay-Le-Rideau and Chenonceau, and the medieval fortresses of Chinon and Loches. Tours itself is a hub of activity with 30,000 students, impressive parks, 18th-century boulevards and cafés lining the streets, a bit like Paris for the provinces. In 1870 and 1940, the French government was based here. Furthermore, there is no accent in the Tours area, so it is a great place to learn French. Tours is also a good place to stay if you have no car as trains and buses run to most of the local sights of interest, including chateaux and wine caves.




Orléans is on a bend in the Loire and is the most northern of the Loire Valley's repertoire of historical towns. There is an important university in Orleans that continued to teach law after Pope Honorius banned the teaching of law in Paris in 1219. More famously, Joan of Arc liberated Orléans from a seven-month siege by the English in 1429 and then took Dauphin Charles VII to Reims to be crowned. May 8th is Joan of Arc Day and the whole week is filled with parades and fireworks.