Loire Chateaux Trip OVERVIEW

Your trip begins in the Valley of the Loire, also called the Valley of the Kings, south of Paris. After flying into Paris, you will immediately board a fast train that will take you, in just over two hours, from the airport to Amboise, a lovely town on the Loire River, dominated by a château. Amboise will be your home-base for five days. From here you will explore this historic area of France, with its overabundance of châteaux (totaling more than 300) that will transport you back to times gone by.

You will spend the next five days wandering about in this camelot of the kings, where the royals retreated when they fled an unsafe Paris in the early 1400s. Even after it would have been safe to return to Paris, the kings chose to continue to rule from their Loire Valley playgrounds for the next 170 years, building more and more new castles, and adding to their existing ones, to achieve an ever more resplendent lifestyle. 

As the royals hopped among their decadent mansions, they moved their entire court about from castle to castle with them, transporting ever-growing numbers of servants, horses and courtiers, complete with all their resplendent royal fixings—furniture, tapestries, artwork, wardrobes, tableware, and household furnishings. The entourage would dismantle itself and move on, then reestablish itself at the next stop, hanging tapestries and art, and hefting the massive elegantly-carved trunks into position to serve as furniture. It was not until 1589 that Henry IV finally moved the court back to Paris.

During your stay here in the Loire Valley, you will experience the ultimate of mansion tours, five chateaux plus Da Vinci’s mansion. With these will come many stories and intrigues to capture your imagination, as well as a fair about of regal wining and dining of your own.

TRIP HIGHLIGHTS

  • Stay in a townhouse between the Loire river and Amboise Castle, or in Old Town, close to Rue Nationale.
  • Start your visit with a “walk-about” to discover “your” shops (wine, cheese, bakery, deli, fresh market).
  • End your walk-about with a wine tasting in the “Cave” tunneled into the castle wall; select a few bottles to enjoy.
  • DIne outdoors each evening at one of three charming restaurants across from the base of the castle wall. 
  • Experience a French outdoor market. Smell the flowers. Buy some cheese, bread and sausage. Select a colorful scarf. 
  • Visit Clos Lucé, the home François I provided Leonardo da Vinci for the final years of his life, with a tunnel that connected to the castle so the King and the genius could visit. Marvel at the models of da Vinci’s inventions. 
  • Take day trips to nearby Chenonceau, Chambord, Blois,  and Chaumont by train.

How to Get to the Loire Valley

Fly to Paris. Book an overnight trans-Atlantic flight to Paris if you are coming from the US or Canada. Traveling from Great Britain or continental Europe, your travel day will be much shorter, whether by plane or train. Coming from London, consider taking the Eurostar under the English Channel.

Train to Amboise: Your train options will depend on your flight’s arrival time. Check for your best option once you know your actual ETA. You may be able to take the TGV directly from CDG airport to an interim station, St-Pierre-des-Corps. From there you will change to a local train that will take you to Amboise.

Book Your Plane

To book your flight:

  • Start at least 1½ months ahead.
  • Fly hub to hub if possible. Larger airports, particularly hubs, often have cheaper fares.
  • Book on Tuesday at around 3 pm when airlines release a restricted number of seats with deep discounts.
  • If possible, fly on less popular days, when fares are cheaper. Tuesdays, Wednesdays or Saturdays tend to cost the least. Fridays and Sundays are the most expensive days. 
  • Book one ticket at a time to avoid paying the same price for both tickets even when one ticket otherwise would have cost less.

Use the MyFlightSearch.com website to locate the best prices and flight options. Enter your dates and your choice of departure airport, then Paris for your destination. Here’s a sample result, using Charlotte NC as the departure city.

Note that you will have options presented that may save you significant money, especially if you can be somewhat flexible about your travel days. Also, take a close look at the Cancellation Policy. It is rare to be able to change a plane reservation more than 24 hours after booking. As long as MyFlightSearch offers the option of making flight changes for a modest fee, this is a considerable benefit. 

Book Your Train

You will arrive at Charles de Gaulle airport, likely at Terminal 1. Your immediate tasks will include:

  1. Go through passport control.
  2. Gather your luggage from baggage claim.
  3. Pass through customs.
  4. Pick up more Euros at an airport desk, if needed.
  5. Catch the CDGVAL shuttle to the TGV train station in Terminal 2 of the airport.

OR, if your timing is off for catching the TGV from the airport, take a taxi to Gare Austerlitz and travel from there to Amboise.

The TGV portion of your trek will require a seat reservation. So book ahead to assure yourself a seat. The local train portion of your ticket can be used at any time during the designated day.

Note that you may save significant money by booking as two people who will be traveling together. Also look for the Senior option for additional savings.

Where to Stay in Amboise

Stay on the river, near the Chateau or close to Clos Lucé or the pedestrian street, Rue Nationale. These accommodations will be lovely old manor houses or small hotels. So book early in order to have choices. From the moment you chose your digs, you can start imagining and anticipating your trip.

Three Great Sample Options

Les Fleurons

20 Rue de la Concorde.

Housed in a 17th-century townhouse, in the historic district of Amboise, at the foot of the castle, along the river. Guest rooms (4 total) have free Wi-Fi and views either of the Castle or the Loire.

Breakfast is served in the elegant, river-view dining room. 

Hotel Belvue

12 Quai Charles Guinot

Situated in the center of Amboise, this hotel is just 150 feet from Amboise Castle and across from the river. It offers a terrace, bar and restaurant, with breakfast served on the terrace.

Book a room with a river view, or an apartment with a terrace.

Le Manoir les Minimes

34 Quai Charles Guinot

Set on the riverbank, with spacious air conditioned rooms, Castle views and superb furnishings and décor. 

Central location and an easy walk to Chateau, Clos Lucé, train station and main shopping area. Relax on the terrace or at the bar

On the booking.com website:

  • Use Map View to do a flyover of Amboise and focus in on the area where you will be staying.
  • Zoom in to narrow down your options. You will know you’re in the right area when your map looks something like the one below.
  • Hover over the bubbles to see the prices.
  • Click on options that deserve a closer look.
  • Look at the photos, description and reviews. Check for AC and room sizes.
  • Consider superior rooms with more space, views and possibly balconies.
  • Then pick someplace wonderful.

The advantage of staying in this area of Amboise is that you will be right in the heart of it all. You will be able to walk to the Castle and DaVinci’s mansion, the weekly market, restaurants and the shops, the train station and Le Shaker Cafe, where you will have a stunning view back towards the castle.

How to get around in the Loire Valley

For local transportation in the Loire Valley, use the trains. Most of your destinations will be a short hop from Amboise. And your options for travel will be plentiful. Trains are the main mode of transportation for locals and visitors alike.

Train tickets can be booked only after the timetable for those dates has been released–approximately three months before your trip, depending on the country. This will generally be 3–6 months before travel. For your initial planning, use fake dates on the RailEurope.com or Trainline.com website. Two or more traveling together will receive a discount, as will senior travelers over 60. So specify both of these to receive accurate pricing.

Fares are cheapest right after they first go on sale, then rise steadily as seats are sold. Price differences for early versus late purchases can be substantial, especially for long-distance train rides between major cities. As an example, a ticket that costs €130 when purchased on the day of travel can cost €99 when purchased one week ahead or €69 if bought three months early.

You will be booking five trains for your trip, six if you decide to stay overnight in Paris before flying home. Your booking list is:

  1. Charles de Gaulle (CDG) to Amboise (one-way): Day 1
  2. Amboise to Chenonceaux (round trip): Day 3
  3. Amboise to Blois (round trip): Day 4
  4. Amboise to Onzain (round trip): Day 5
  5. Amboise to CDG (one way): Travel Day 

Purchase all your tickets in advance of your trip. With the local trains, you will be able to use your ticket on any train heading for that destination on the same day. Write down all the train times you may end up using so you’ll know when to catch the next train if you opt to miss the one you had planned to take.

Use Uber for Your OTher Transportation Needs

If you are ever stuck… Or if you find the train schedules to be inconvenient… You can always use Uber (or a taxi) as your back-up plan. You will be fairly close to all the chateaux and sights you will be visiting during your trip. Château d’Amboise will be around 0.1 miles from your lodgings and Clos Lucé Mansion will be 0.4 miles away. Parc des Mini Chateaux will be at a distance of only 1.4 miles, Château de Chenonceau 7.3 miles and Chateau de Chaumont sur Loire 10.2 miles. So opting to book a ride to and from some of these destinations will not break the bank.

There are multiple taxi services available in Amboise. And Uber offers rides on demand. You do NOT need to settle for a van tour to carry you about among the various chateaux. Yes, the van will deliver you, along with a group, to the various locations. But your schedule will not be your own. And you often will find yourself frustrated with too little time to enjoy yourself and have the full experience. And you will be giving up the option to pause for a snack, drink or meal when you would like to. 

To be able to use Uber during your trip, set up your account and upload the Uber app to your phone before you leave. Then you will be all set.

Then just click when you need a ride and enter your destination. Edit your pickup spot and receive immediate notification that your ride is on its way, along with the name of the driver and a description of the car. Your payment information will already be on file, so no cash will exchange hands at the end of your ride.

Establish your Uber account while you are still in the US. You will be able to use it in France. This account setup is another task to take care of before you leave so you’ll be ready whenever you need a ride.

A Perfect First Day in the Valley of the Kings

Join us in your mind’s eye on just such a remarkable 5-day trip to the “Valley of the Kings” where you will experience: 

  • History to walk around in
  • Phenomenal food
  • Parks and cafés
  • Eating outdoors, with views of cathedrals or rivers or palaces
  • Fountains and gardens, with benches for pausing
  • Outdoor markets
  • Charming shops
  • People-watching opportunities
  • Unexpected encounters

Arrive CDG airport after an overnight flight. Immediately board the fast train (TGV) to Amboise, in the legendary Loire Valley. Take an Uber or taxi to your abode. When you have checked into your manor house accommodations at the base of the castle wall or in the Old Town, you may opt for a shower and “power nap” after your long night on the plane. Then take your orienteering walk-about. Locate the river, the square beside the Chateau, and the pedestrian street. Spot your wine shop, your deli and your bakery. End your walk at the “Cave” beneath Amboise Castle, for a “dégustation”—a chance to sample the wines of the area. Crisp, dry Rosés. Velvety reds. Delightful whites. Take advantage of this opportunity to make a cultural connection with the smiling dégustation hostesses before you make your wine choices, and discover the warmth and genuineness of the French people.

You will have made reservations for dinner at Chez Bruno, a charming restaurant across from the base of the castle wall. Here you will dine outside, under the stars, and imagine the times when the king lived across the street from where you sit.

Arrive & Take a Walk-About

Amboise is small, and most of what you will be visiting is clustered around the castle. Learn two “Places” (squares), three “Rues” (streets), and the “Quai” (waterfront street) along the river. This is all you will need to quickly feel well-oriented and at home here in Amboise.

Rue de la Concorde. Walk along the road parallel to the river (Rue de la Concorde), keeping the Château on your left (see point “A” on the map below) and the river to your right. This is the first of your “Rues.” If you don’t see the Château as you walk, look up! The Château will be there, looming above you.

Place Michel Debré. Continue to curve to the left, around the wall of the Château, onto Place Michel Debré, a square with shops and cafés at the base of the Château wall. This is your first “place” (pronounced “pl-aah-ce”).

Rue Victor Hugo. Look ahead, with the castle wall to your left. This is the second of your “Rues”—Rue Victor Hugo—the road you later will follow when you visit Clos Lucé, Leonardo da Vinci’s final home. The fat round towers along the castle wall enclose wide ramps that were once used to enter the castle on horseback. During the reign of Charles VIII in the late 1400s, these ramps accommodated the horse and carriage that brought Charles’ pregnant wife, Anne of Brittany, home.

Wine Tasting Inside the Castle Wall

End your walk at the brightly marked entrance to the wine tasting shop, tunneled directly into the base of the castle wall. Request a “degustation” (a wine tasting) and try some of each color—“blanc” (white), “rouge” (red) and “rosé” (rosé)—to determine your favorites.

You may select a few bottles to have on hand for future picnics, or to enjoy from your room, as you watch the sky turn pink over the Loire and begin to take in where you are.

Dinner at Chez Bruno

You will have made reservations for dinner at Chez Bruno, a charming restaurant across from the base of the castle wall. Here you will dine out front, under the stars, and imagine the times when the king lived across the street from where you sit. Or choose the terrace in back for a more intimate meal.

Enjoy the delightful experience of dining outdoors. Take in the surroundings and the people. You have arrived!! Now it is time to treat yourself to a remarkable meal in celebration of your arrival. Escargots? White asparagus? Artichokes? Crème brûlée?

We’ve created a pre-planned trip to give you everything you need for a stress-free trip while retaining your freedom from group tours to enjoy the full experience of being there.