Loire Valley Itinerary – 3 Days Exploring these Charming Chateaux

The Loire Valley is nestled between the villages of Sully-sur Loire and Chalonnes, with the area listed as a World Heritage Site. On this Loire Valley itinerary, you’ll pass by historic towns going by the names of Blois, Chinon, Orleans, Saumur and Tours.

Sometimes known as the ‘Garden of France’, the Loire Valley is most well known for its charming chateaux. It’s set amongst rolling hills, lush vineyards and exquisite market gardens. Depending on the season, you may pass cherry orchards and fields of asparagus and artichokes.

This road trip has you following the famous meandering Loire River to visit some of the best fairytale Loire Valley Chateaux.  These grand French Renaissance-style chateaux are often hidden amongst the rolling green hills and stately forests, offering just a glimpse of the grandeur inside.

castle drawing

This Loire Valley Itineray includes these 5 chateaux:

1) Chateau d’Ussé

2) Chateau De Azay-Le-Rideau

3) Chateau de Villandry

4) Chateau de Chenonceau

5) Chateau du Chambord.

 

Loire Valley Itinerary Map

Loire Valley Itinerary: Day 1

What better way to begin this adventure than at the historic town of Saumur, overlooking the Loire River and on the doorstep to these romantic chateaux.

  • Explore the historical town of Saumur
    • Sample the local wines
    • Visit the National Riding School – L’ecole National d’Equitation
    • Visit the Saumur Chateau on the hill
  • Visit Chateau d’Usse – Drive 35km from the town of Saumur to the village of Rigny-Ussé

Loire Valley Itinerary: Day 2

  • Visit Chateau De Azay-le-Rideau – Drive 15 kilometres from Chateau d’Usse to the village of Azay-le-Rideau
  • Visit Chateau de Villandry – Drive 11 kilometres north from Azay-le-Rideau

Loire Valley Itinerary: Day 3

  • Visit Chateau de Chenonceau – Drive 53 kilometres from Chateau de Villandry
  • Visit Chateau de Chambord – Drive 58 kilometres from Chateau de Chenonceau
loire valley itinerary - window view to the chateau gardens

Chateau Villandry gardens

Loire Valley Itinerary: Best 5 Chateaux to Visit

With more than 300 chateaux in the Loire Valley, the choice of which ones to visit is overwhelming. It’s likely you’ll want to visit the most popular and spend the time enjoying the different experiences at each one.

We visited as we motorhomed through France in the area in early Spring, out of the peak season, and found that none of the chateaux were particularly busy. Chateau Chenonceau was the busiest but we also thought it was the prettiest.

We chose not to go into all of the chateaux as we find the exterior the most enchanting part. However, that said, we did venture into the Chateau Villandry to admire the exquisite garden designs and the chateau interior to understand the old way of life.

Chateau d’Usse

This very picturesque château was the inspiration for the tale of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and has been associated with many other Walt Disney movies.

Chateau d’Usse- Loire valley itinerary

Chateau d’Usse – The stuff of fairytales!

It has been a family home for more than two centuries and still to this day, remains the private residence of the Duke of Blacas and his family.

For more information, such as opening hours and prices go to the Chateau d’Ussy website.

Chateau d'Ussy - Loire valley itinerary

Chateau d’Usse – Loire Valley

Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau

Set on an island in the Indre River, that feeds into the Loire River, this exquisite chateau is a lovely example of French Renaissance architecture and was once a 12th-century feudal castle.

CHATEAU DE AZAY-LE-RIDEAU - Loire valley itinerary

The pretty Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau

Construction of this chateau was both slow and complex as the river silt did not make for a very solid foundation. Would you believe that the building’s large stones had to be transported from a site 100 kilometres away!

The French State purchased the Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau in the early 20th century and it joined the distinguished list of Loire Valley UNESCO World Heritage sites, along with the other chateaux in this post.

For more information, such as opening hours and prices go to the Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau website.

Chateau de Azay-le-Rideau moat

Chateau de Villandry

 

Villandry-flowers at Chateau Villandry in the Loire Valley

Originally a 14th-century fortress, the chateau you see today was built around the fortress’ old keep. The gardens have continually altered their theme over time. Originally Renaissance styled, these gardens were replaced with an English theme and then in the early 20th century returned to the beautiful ornamental Renaissance gardens and hedgerows that are present today.

Villandry-gardens

Swathes of clipped Boxhedge at Villandry, Loire Valley

Chateau de Villandry - Loire Valley itinerary

The exquisite gardens of Chateau de Villandry – our pick for the most beautiful on our Loire Valley Itinerary

The ornamental garden is planted in the form of love symbols, representing fickle, tender, passionate and tragic love. Our autumn visit meant we were out of season for any flowers that were blooming. However, this was offset by the chateau interior which was luxuriously appointed. This decorative splendour was typical for the era.

For opening times and prices visit the Chateau of Villandry website.

Villandry Gardens

The finery inside Chateau Villandry

Chateau Villandry 1

Chateau de Chenonceau

The Chateau de Chenonceau, built-in 1576, is a beautifully situated and exquisitely fashioned chateau spanning the River Cher, not far from the Loire River. It is often called the ‘Ladies Chateau’ because many prominent French women have lived here over time.

In its time, the chateau has housed scholars, academics and philosophers and in more recent years, served as a military hospital in WWI. You cannot help but be irresistibly drawn to the beauty of its architecture.

Chateau-Chenonceau

The exquisite Chateau de Chenonceau  .. our favourite in the Loire Valley

Loire Valley Tip: Fantastic free views of Chenonceau (we were told this tip from a cleaning lady we met in the chateau car park):

Cross to the southern river bank via a bridge to the east of the chateau. Once across, follow a trail that takes you right past the back entrance to Chenonceau. If you need the parking spot that we used for our motorhome then this is where we parked off the D976 roadway. It really is worth it for these fantastic views.

For more information, including opening times and prices visit the Chenonceau Chateau website.

Chateau de Chenonceau - Loire Valley Itinerary

Chenonceau Chateau – Loire Valley

Chateau de Chambord

With its French Renaissance architecture, this unfinished chateau (building ceased in 1547), is the largest in the Loire Valley. Sitting on about 13,500 acres, it was primarily used as a short-stay hunting lodge. At that time, with no nearby villages to supply food, the château residents hunted the animals within the forest.

Chateau de Chambord - Loire Valley Itinerary

Chateaux de Chambord in the Loire Valley

Would you believe that the chateau was actually not permanently furnished!  People who stayed here needed to bring their own furniture for their stay.

Chateau de Chambord - Loire Valley Itinerary

Moat around Chateau de Chambord – Loire Valley 

Chateau de Chambord - Loire Valley Itinerary

Chateau de Chambord’s intricate architecture

During World War II, many art collections from the Louvre Museum in Paris were secretly stored here. Not only that but It is also the site where an American B-24 Liberator bomber crashed. The two surviving pilots were secretly hidden in nearby villages and re-joined their own forces some months later.

A memorial plaque commemorates this event. The plaque can be found to the north-east of the chateau, just off a walkway that borders the chateau’s moat.

For more information, including opening hours and prices visit the Chambord Chateau website.

Commemorative plaque outside the grounds of Chateau de Chambord - Loire Valley Itinerary

Where Should I Stay on My 3 Day Loire Valley Itinerary?

Day 1 (Chateau d’Ussy)

 Day 2 (Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau; Chateau Villandry)

 Day 3 (Chateau de Chenonceau; Chateau du Chambord)

How to get to the Loire Valley

  • Both Nantes and Tours have international airports.
  • Trains run from Paris to Tours, Angers and Nantes with Angers being the town with the closest train station to Saumur. The national train line is SNCF and you can book SNCF tickets online here.

We were continuing our Europe motorhome trip so we were travelling through France as we headed north on our road trip across Brittany and Normandy before detouring to spend two days in Paris.

Driving this Loire Valley 3 Day Itinerary

Driving this short road trip and having the freedom to adjust your Loire Valley itinerary to suit your timings and tastes is probably the best way to explore the area. If you don’t have your own transport then we use Rental Cars Connect to find the best car rental deal.

If you are looking to hire a motorhome – which gives you even more flexibility with your Loire Valley Itinerary then we use and can highly recommend  Motorhome Republic who find the best deal for you in the country that you require the motorhome.

Loire Valley Itinerary: What you Need to Know about Driving in France

  • In France you drive on the right.
  • You will need to have the following documents:
    • Drivers licence (An international driver’s licence isn’t required)
    • Vehicle insurance
    • Vehicle registration document
    • Passport
  • You are also required to have the following in your vehicle:
  • Driving a right-hand drive vehicle in France requires adjustments to the front headlight beam patterns so that the dipped beam doesn’t dazzle oncoming drivers. You can purchase cheap beam deflectors to deflect the beam which are just stickers placed in a specific spot for your make/model of vehicle which is in the instructions. We used these on our front headlamps. Just be aware that if you have an accident when your lights are in use without these deflectors in place, then insurance claims may be voided.
  • Many of the motorways have tolls. To avoid them you can program your navigator to avoid tolls and you can also use www.autoroutes.fr to plan your trip and find out costs of tolls etc.
  • Speed Limits are as follows unless otherwise signposted and on dry roads
    • 130 km/h (80 mph) on toll motorways
    • 110 km/h (68 mph) on dual carriageways and motorways without tolls
    • 80 km/h (50 mph) on other roads
    • 50 km/h (31 mph) in towns. Town name starts the limit, a bar through the town name is the derestriction sign

This Loire Valley 3 day itinerary includes the most beautiful of the Loire Valley chateaux but as mentioned already, there are many more to whet your appetite. It certainly gave us a good taste of the French Renaissance era.

If you enjoy the fairytale chateaux, you may also be interested in a road trip through the Alsace in north-east France. An area filled with delightful medieval half-timbered houses – straight out of a Hans Christian Anderson fairytale. Another area, full of beautiful villages and towns, is the Dordogne

For more options check out the TraveLynn Family suggestions for the Best Chateaux in the Loire Valley to visit with Kids.

Additionally, for an extensive list and a map of the chateaux along the Loire Valley visit ExperienceLoire.com.

Are there any other chateaux that left you feeling just wonderstruck? We’d love to hear from you.

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