You would want the Michelin 310 for the Mayenne, Orne, and Sarthe, and the 317 for the Indre-et-Loire and Maine-et-Loire.
If you are in a rush, you may be stuck with the autoroutes. They are not scenic. To us, the flat part of the country near Chartres (the Beauce) is the most boring possible drive and seems to go on forever. We will do anything to avoid that. (But maybe you are from flat country and will enjoy it.)
I don't know the route through Orleans, and any route I might recommend to the west of Chartres would take you way out of your way and slow you down. So I am thinking that an alternative might be to pick out your lunch stop at a scenic town or village just off your high-speed route with an outstanding restaurant. That would give you a nice break and a good meal.
From the comfort of your computer at home, you can use viamichelin to get an idea of routes, times, and possible restaurants. You don't need to go top of the line; Michelin gives its Bib Gourmand label to places where the food is good value and the surroundings are not intimidating. You can do a search for any Bib Gourmands near where you might want to stop.
On the actual day, if you have a netbook, you can park by a McDonald's and use their wifi to do your internet search when you have a clear idea of where you'll be when hunger strikes.
I searched the Most Beautiful Villages website
and came up with nothing near your route. Sorry! (There are lots of beautiful villages closer to Loches, so eventually you'll have your pick of these.) I'm out of my usual area here, but I wanted to give you at least one idea that's not too far out of your way. I can recommend Vendome as a bustling, very charming town (not a village). Google maps and Viamichelin seem to think it's 2:11-2:25 hours from Paris.
Until you get off the Autoroute you are looking at a drive as interesting as crossing the Darling Downs (in fact, most of the scenery will remind you very much of the Darling Downs. Same crops, same dull flatness.)
Travelling any other way but the Autoroutes just extends the boredom. This is one reason why we always catch the train from Tours to Paris - it's over in an hour - driving Paris to Loches will take you between 4 and 5 hours. (the other reason for catching train is that for two people it's cheaper)
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Diz: When we picked up Célestine we drove back that way. I didn't want to be competing with traffic on the autoroutes until I got to grip with driving her. I didn't see much of the scenery, but what I did see more or less aligns with your thoughts.
Maybe I am spoiled, living here I do :)
Can i ask a question here.....where would be the best place to pick up a car on the outskirts of Paris when heading to the Loire Valley....from there we will be touring France and Italy for several weeks.
Airport pickup will subject you to a 40€ surcharge (same as train stations). Place d´Italie would be an excellent place to pickup a rental car for those heading south from Paris. There is no surcharge for picking up at an in town office and there are many rental offices located near Place d´Italie.
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