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Need expert advice please for 13-day trip to Loire Valley

Novato, California
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Need expert advice please for 13-day trip to Loire Valley

My wife & I will be in the Loire valley for 13 days in May 2013.

From Paris, we'll take the TGV to Tours & pick up a rental car. We have never driven in France or Europe before.

Is driving in the Loire easy or difficult? Are the roads flat? Any winding roads? Any tips on how not to get lost?

We prefer not to unpack & pack every night. Our schedule can't be rushed due to age-related issues. We have reservations in Chenonceaux for 3 nights. We would like to visit the chateau or simply walk on the grounds more than once! We are ardent chateau enthusiasts.

From Chenonceaux, what would be a logical place for our next base or permanent base? Our goal is to visit 1 chateau in the morning & 1 in the afternoon (or 3, depending on the beauty & size of the place), with a nice lunch break in between.

What are the ones that require lots of stair/ steep climbing to arrive at the entrance?

How about those with beautiful exterior architecture and/ or beautiful grounds but not so nice inside?

BTW, we don't need any wine tasting activities.

Below is our wish list but will narrow it down, as needed.

Chateau Chenonceau - A Must

Chateau de Chambord - A Must

Chateau de Cheverny - A Must

Chateau of Candé - A Must

Chateau de Villandry - A Must

La Chatonniere garden - ?

Cathedrale St-Gatien - A Must

Chateau d'Usse - A Must

Chateau d' Azay-le-Rideau - A Must

Chateau de Saumur - ? (requires a lot of stairs to get to the chateau entrance)

Chateau des Ormeaux (overnight lodging - near Amboise)

Chateau d'Amboise - A Must

Chateau Clos C-Luce - Leonardi da Vinci - A Must

Chateau de Chaumont - A Must

Sainte-Croix Cathedral - A Must

Breaks from the tours:

Visits to beautiful medieval villages - (Montresor, Montrichard, others - would like to see 4, if possible)

Balloon ride - ?

Boat ride - ?

What can be eliminated? Is 13 days enough?

This is our first independent travel so we definitely need help & guidance from travel experts please. Thank you so much in advance.

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1. Re: Need expert advice please for 13-day trip to Loire Valley

My husband found driving in the Loire very easy and pleasant. In the area where we stayed, the roads were fairly flat between the Indre and Loire Rivers.I believe than any winding roads are subtle and not like switchback roads.

Tips on how not to get lost? Well, I think getting lost would be fun, but a GPS will probably help prevent that. You may also want to look up some of the different kinds of road signs in France. Some roads through the smaller towns allow only one car at a time, and drivers park in pockets to let the other cars pass. A sign will indicate whether you have the right of way.

Regarding chateaux, we loved Chambord. It reminded me of a place for the "knights of old." However, part of the fun of visiting it was taking the stairs to the upper levels and looking out from the rails to the countryside. Don't let the stairs stop you from going, though, because it is a magnificent site to see in person.

Bonne chance!


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2. Re: Need expert advice please for 13-day trip to Loire Valley

I was very sorry to see that the Chateau des Ormeaux, a wonderful place to stay, is permanently closed

My suggestion is to spend time looking at a map, work out how far you are prepared to drive each day and based on that, look at say 2 other places to stay.Then I would search accommodation in these areas on TA and also use the accommodation choices listed on local tourist office websites.To find these search the name of the town and office de tourisme . For example the website for the tourist office in Saumur is.http://www.ot-saumur.fr/ .

The places I have stayed previously on more than one trip,based on location are

West of Tours -Montsoreau (Le Bussy Hotel) and Mestré (Domaine de Mestre) , Doué- a-Fontaine(went there to visit troglodytic sites including great zoo I have visited twice) , Angers .I think the last 2 will be too far west for you.

East of Tours-near Amboise at Chateau des Ormeaux, near Loches (Moulin St Jean) , Chambord (the hotel St Michel right next to and overlooking Chambord ).

I enjoyed my visits to Chinon, Amboise and Blois.

Lots of people on TA like Loches .I spent one day there and it was okay.

I found driving in the Loire pleasant , using the Michelin yellow paper maps together with a GPS I brought from home so I knew how to use it.

Have fun planning and have a wonderful trip.

Paris, France
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3. Re: Need expert advice please for 13-day trip to Loire Valley

That's an awful lot of châteaux you are visiting and I imagine that after you've seen four or five of them you're going to get châteaux overload. Maybe I'm wrong and you're just crazy about châteaux but it's something to think about. I can't really help you with stair issues as I don't remember those sorts of details.

I think you'll find driving in the Loire very easy. You should have a GPS and definitely have good maps. Instead of getting in-depth with my response I'm going to give you links to some threads for you to look at that have a lot of information about the Loire that I'm sure you'll find very useful for planning your trip and that will answer many of your questions, and possibly some question you didn't even know you had. Here are the links:



In regards to what makes a good base after Chenonceaux that really depends on what you want to see and do. Pick someplace that is near to what you want to see and do. Since you've got 13 days there you might want to move a couple of times. It also depends if you want to be in a lively place with lots of restaurants, cafés and shopping and hence, a lot of other tourists. Or perhaps you want a smaller, quieter town. Or maybe you'd like to stay at a nice place in the countryside, or even a château. The most popular towns to base in are Blois, Amboise, Loches and Chinon and all are pretty and lively towns that I'm sure you'd like but there are many other options.

Get a map (you'll see in one of my links I reference the benefits of the Michelin maps) so you can get oriented with where everything is and what the distances are between places. I would suggest getting a good guidebook or two as well. A great website to help you plan your drives is www.viamichelin.com. It will give you driving times and distances between places as well as toll and fuel costs and suggested routes (quickest route, scenic etc.). The drive times assume normal traffic and no stops and I find the drive times very accurate when these factors are accounted for. Once you've looked through the links I've provided come back with any questions and I'm sure people here will give you lots of help.

Paris, France
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4. Re: Need expert advice please for 13-day trip to Loire Valley

Ah, I see you mentioned in your post that you are ardent château enthusiasts so you ARE crazy about châteaux. :)

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5. Re: Need expert advice please for 13-day trip to Loire Valley

I'm really into châteaux but after a certain point I need to see other things. So I won't suggest other châteaux ;-)

You were asking for balloon ride : it's out of my budget so never done it but here's a link for you : http://www.loire-et-montgolfiere.com/home/

Other nice small towns/ villages : Candes St-Martin and Montsoreau beside one another. Crissay-sur-Manse. Montreuil-Bellay closer to Saumur.

You also have the troglodytes in the Loire Valley that you find it the region.

Rochemenier is a nice example of it.

San Francisco...
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6. Re: Need expert advice please for 13-day trip to Loire Valley

If you are experienced balloonists, go for it. But if not, do understand that going up is a breeze but coming down can be very rough. You mentioned age related issues. Be prepared to land on your hip, or side or bashed against the sides of the basket.

Driving in the area is not difficult but many of the small roads are bicycle routes, eg, you may find yourselves behind or among several dozen cyclists on a two lane road. Time and patience consuming.

Le Bugue, France
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7. Re: Need expert advice please for 13-day trip to Loire Valley

I would seriously recommend splitting your trip up into the Loire and somewhere else. I've been to the Loire at least a dozen times, but 13 days there would make me stir-crazy, especially visiting all those châteaux. It's not by any stretch, IMO, the prettiest part of France, and châteaux-hopping can really get old. Why not go to, e.g., Normandy for 4-5 days and get a taste of another completely different but wonderful area of France?

Novato, California
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8. Re: Need expert advice please for 13-day trip to Loire Valley

Thank you so much everyone!

We prefer to lodge in medieval towns with good food, not flooded with tourists & have the opportunity to mingle with the locals, if possible.

On the medieval villages, already looked at 2 & they are so lovely!

The maps in the links are in French. Is there an English version? I'll buy both versions, if necessary.

No Balloons for us then! Get stuck behind a dozen cyclists? How about those 1-way streets?

This is our first visit to the Loire so we are positive we won't get enough of it.

Is it worthwhile to buy a private tour (it's quite pricey) for the first 2 or 3 days to familiarize ourselves with the geography before venturing on our own?

What if we underestimate or overestimate our schedule & end up someplace else at the end of the day?

For emergencies, is it best to buy a prepaid mobile phone for France?

Thank you.

Paris, France
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9. Re: Need expert advice please for 13-day trip to Loire Valley

Well, I know this is going to sound obvious but the maps are in French because.......they are maps of France. However, the legends of the maps (which interpret the icons) are in English and usually German and perhaps Italian and/or Spanish.

I wouldn't worry about being stuck behind bicycles. That's not going to happen frequently, if at all. You're only going to find one way streets if you drive into the semi-pedestrian areas of the busy villages. This is usually never a good idea anyway and you'll almost always see signs for parking outside of the town centers so you can walk to them.

I really don't think it's necessary to do any private tours to familiarize yourselves with the area. If you've done your research and know where you want to go and you have your maps (and/or GPS) you can see anything on your own that you would otherwise have to pay for on a tour. I'm sure for the major châteaux they will have tour guides on the premises doing regularly scheduled tours throughout the day. You'll have to check with each to know the hours and if tours are in English.

Unless you are completely clueless the only place you will end up at the end of the day is your hotel. If you suffer from cluelessness consult a physician. I hope you'll understand that I wrote those last two sentences with the intent of making a little humor, and not to insult you. :)

I don't know much about phones so can't help you with that question. Any other questions? :)

Edited: 14 February 2013, 00:20
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10. Re: Need expert advice please for 13-day trip to Loire Valley

"How about those 1-way streets?" - This was not a big deal. I didn't mean to alarm you. It was just a small example of the importance of looking up traffic signs ahead of the trip.

I hope that you space the chateaux with visits to villages. With that much time, I would do a lot of driving.