With three days to explore the Loire Valley, fill your itinerary with historic towns, magnificent châteaus, and unforgettable experiences. There’s time to see all the top attractions and visit the cities of the western Loire, but planning ahead is essential to ensure you fit it all in and minimize your travel time. Here are your options.
Day 1: Visit the Loire Castles
Kick off your Loire Valley sightseeing tour with a visit to the largest of all the Loire châteaus: Château de Chambord. The lavish former home of Francois I is renowned for its dramatic double-helix staircase, believed to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci, and its extravagant parks and gardens, which cover a vast 13,500 acres (5,440 hectares).
Not far from Chambord, the Château de Cheverny has two unusual claims to fame: The castle was the inspiration for one of Hergé’s famous Tintin stories, “The Treasure of Rackham the Red,” and is renowned for breeding hunting dogs. Be sure to check out the Tintin exhibition and visit the kennels during your visit.
Stop for dinner in the medieval town of Blois before visiting the final castle of the day, the Château de Chenonceau. Set along the Cher River, this fairy-tale castle is even more magical after dark, with both the château and its gardens beautifully illuminated.
Day 2: Views and Vineyards
The UNESCO-listed landscapes of the Loire Valley afford some incredible photo opportunities, but the most spectacular views are from above. Take to the skies for a thrilling helicopter flight or float over the castles and vineyards on a romantic hot-air balloon flight.
After an unforgettable morning, enjoy a leisurely afternoon bike tour around the forests and vineyards of the Loire. Along the way, stop in riverside towns like Amboise, admire landmarks like the Château du Clos Lucé, and visit château wineries to sample the Loire’s famous wines.
In the evening, head to another of the Loire Valley’s most visited attractions—the Chateau of Villandry, which is known for its stunning Renaissance gardens. Time your visit for the summer “Nights of a Thousand Lights,” when the gardens are lit up by more than 2,000 candles and guided walking tours are followed by a dazzling fireworks display.
Day 3: Visit the cities of the Loire
Spend your final day exploring one of the less-visited cities of the Loire Valley. West of Chinon, the city of Saumur is the historic home of the French Cavalry and is renowned for its unique troglodyte dwellings. Admire its medieval castle, perched on the banks of the Loire River; stroll around the atmospheric old town; or watch a performance at the Cadre Noir, France’s most prestigious riding school.
Alternatively, Nantes is the westernmost city of the Loire and home to the grand Château de Ducs de Bretagne. A mix of historic and modern, the city’s star attraction is Les Machines de l’île, an open-air theme park of mechanical creatures based on the fantasy books of local author Jules Verne. Take a ride on a life-size mechanical elephant, ride the Marine Worlds Carousel, or go behind the scenes and see how the innovative creations are made at the Galerie.