How to Visit the Loire Valley in a Day

May 1, 2013

Château Chenonceau, Loire Valley, France | Design Mom

The Loire Valley is the region along the Loire River, a little south and west of Paris. It’s famed for its numerous castles that tower above the river. And lucky for us, driving to the region only takes about an hour and a half from our house.

Château Chenonceau, Loire Valley, France

So last year, on the last Sunday of May we hopped in the car after church and made a day trip of it. Our goal was to see two castles and to get a general sense for the region. We knew one day wasn’t really enough time, but figured a day trip would almost be like a scouting mission for a longer trip. The first castle we stopped at was Chateau Chenenceau.

Château Chenonceau, Loire Valley, France | Design Mom Château Chenonceau, Loire Valley, France | Design Mom

Some castles are more kid-friendly than others, and this one is probably the most family-friendly that we’ve visited — lots of options for roaming and free-ranging, and the weekend we were there, it wasn’t too busy at all.

Château Chenonceau, Loire Valley, France Château Chenonceau, Loire Valley, France Château Chenonceau, Loire Valley, France | Design Mom

There are gardens to explore, bridges and moats, a grand checker-board hall with views of the river, and on the way out we explored the garden maze and had a little picnic. Also. We took a TON of photos. So please forgive me if this feels like a photo dump. : ) Hopefully it will be helpful for anyone out there who’s considering a visit to the Loire.

Château Chenonceau, Loire Valley, France

We did not take an extensive tour of the castle interior — the weather was great, so we made the most of the grounds.

If this had been an overnight trip, it would have been fun to rent kayaks or hire a boat to take us on the river. The castle was built to span the river and boats can go back and forth directly beneath the castle arches.

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After Chenenceau, we tried to visit the next castle down the road — maybe 15 minutes away. But we were too late and it was closed. Alas! So instead, we went into the charming nearby town for ice cream, then explored the marshy banks of the Loire River while we watched the sunset.

Loire Valley, France | Design Mom Loire Valley, France | Design Mom Loire Valley, France | Design Mom Loire Valley, France | Design Mom Loire Valley, France | Design Mom Loire Valley, France | Design Mom Loire Valley, France | Design Mom Loire Valley, France | Design Mom Loire Valley, France | Design Mom

It was such a satisfying day. And we can’t believe it’s been almost a year and we haven’t been back yet! We keep thinking it would amazing to go back for another day trip, and rent bike. We hear there are wonderful bike paths along the river.

Have you ever heard of the Loire Valley? Is it on your travel wishlist? Or maybe you’ve already been — if yes, what’s your favorite Chateau?

P.S. — The 7th child is our niece, Roxcy. She stayed with us for 3 months last year to get a taste of the French life.

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{ 47 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sandra Gonzales May 1, 2013 at 10:06 am

Love all the photos! Thanks for sharing.

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2 Design Mom May 1, 2013 at 12:43 pm

It was a LOT of photos. I hope it wasn’t too much. : )

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3 Brandy @ The Prudent Homemaker May 1, 2013 at 12:54 pm

I could have done even more photos! It wasn’t too photo heavy at all. I would have liked more of the gardens.

I cannot take my children there, but I can show them the photos that you take, so please, show us lots of photos of your trips, so that we can share them with our families, who only dream of such opportunities.

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4 Karen May 1, 2013 at 10:18 am

Oh those curls on baby June!!! Adorable! And please share info about your beautiful embroidered dress. Was that a local purchase? So pretty!

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5 Design Mom May 1, 2013 at 12:44 pm

That dress is one of my favorites for warm weather! I actually found it on ebay under a search for caftans.

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6 christina @ homemade ocean May 1, 2013 at 10:36 am

Ohhhhh one place I have actually been! I can not forget those beautiful trees lining the path :)

You have such a beautiful family….I love when you share photos of them.

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7 Design Mom May 1, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Thank you, Christina! I’m glad the photos aren’t overkill for you.

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8 Cathy Hunter May 1, 2013 at 4:09 pm

Seven years ago last month, I spent 2 weeks with my daughter who lived in Paris and taught ESL in nearby Lagny. We took a day tour of the Loire Valley, and my favorite castle was Chenonceau. Besides photos of the maze, grounds, the hallway that crossed the river below, the windows, etc. etc., I took a picture of a waffle iron hanging on the wall; it looked like a big flower, shaped with 5 hearts meeting at the center with the pointed ends of the hearts. :-)

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9 Corina May 1, 2013 at 11:03 am

oooh, yes , many many moons ago in a previous life I visited the Loire Valley on a hot summers day. I enjoyed seeing the photos of all your kids enjoying themselves together.I can’t recall the name of the Chateau I visited but it had a marvelous double spiral staircase- I think designed by Leonardo Da Vinci. One day soon I hope to revisit with my kids. Thanks for sharing!!

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10 Design Mom May 1, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Oh. That’s sounds amazing. I think I need to do a search on “leonardo de vinci staircase” to see if I can figure out which chateau it is. I’d love to see that!

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11 Carol May 1, 2013 at 1:01 pm

Chambord is the one with the amazing double helix staircase supposedly designed by da Vinci–it was designed so that someone could come down without passing anyone coming up. I did a study abroad there 16 years ago and we spent a week on a charter bus touring the Loire Valley…of course I saw all of it as a college student so I have no idea now which would be most family-friendly or not but all of them were so unique and marvelous to see! I’d LOVE to take my kids through all of them now!

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12 Cathy Hunter May 1, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Besides the unique staircase, Chambord is also the castle with a variety of rooftops, cupolas, little towers – it made me think a committee designed the roof and no one could agree which to make; so they used all the designs!

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13 MB May 1, 2013 at 11:13 am

When I was 15 or 16, I visited the Loire Valley châteaux with my grandmother (who would have been around 80). We stayed in a mouldering old parsonage, in a tiny village near Loches… and we loved visiting some of the lesser-known châteaux – there’s something special about roaming around when there are no crowds. I loved Chaumont, which I remember being perched on a bluff above the river (this could be a false memory, though!). I also remember that Villandry had the most spectacular gardens. And there was the sweetest teahouse in Amboise (I think…), just below the château.

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14 Design Mom May 1, 2013 at 12:48 pm

Such sweet memories!

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15 giulia May 1, 2013 at 11:42 am

looks like such a fun day! i love these travelogues of yours:) and, a question, is that Amorino ice cream! I’m sure you’ve heard of it, it’s a gelato place, they are all around europe, and they serve the ice cream just like that, rose shaped.

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16 Design Mom May 1, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Yes! Totally Amorino. So recognizable!

Our friends, Audrey & Nic, introduced us to the Amorino flower cones when we were in Barcelona, and now we make a stop whenever we see an Amorino shop. Yummy! And pretty!

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17 Annabel Vita May 1, 2013 at 11:50 am

I love the Loire! Last summer my fiancé and I went on a French road trip focusing on places we could swim in rivers and the sea! We went to Azay-le-Rideau and kayaked through the moat of the chateau there. It was such a lovely, relaxing holiday in our little tent.
http://annabelvita.com/2012/08/31/wild-swimming-in-france/

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18 Annabel Vita May 1, 2013 at 11:54 am

Oh! My favourite chateaux are chambord, chenonceau (yay!), and the chateau de candé (wallis Simpson and prince Edward were married in the library and carved their names in the wall).

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19 Design Mom May 1, 2013 at 12:53 pm

That sounds like such a cool way to plan an itinerary. We love finding rivers and lakes to swim in!

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20 Alice May 1, 2013 at 12:41 pm

Have you visited Mont Saint Michel? It’s at the top of my list of places to visit in France.

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21 Design Mom May 1, 2013 at 12:55 pm

Many, many times. We love it there! When visitors come, the first thing they want to see is the D-Day sites, and the second is Mont. St. Michel. So lucky for us, we’ve seen it in every season and every kind of weather and every stage of tide. : )

Here’s a report of our very first visit — less than two months after we moved here.

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22 Nicole May 1, 2013 at 12:51 pm

My husband’s family lives in the Loire so I know it well and agree entirely that Chenonceau is the best chateau to visit if you only have a small amount of time. I really like how much furniture is in the house (normal, since it is actually still a family home) and how they dress it up with huge seasonal flower arrangements. Wanted to put out a word of warning about the river, however. Its terribly dangerous because of the shifting sands that create sudden drop-offs, whirlpools, and strong currents, which change from year to year and even season to season. If you were to go back, I think Chaumont is really lovely, Villandry has a fantastic garden, and Usse is great for kids due to its link to the Perrault fairytale, Sleeping Beauty.

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23 Design Mom May 1, 2013 at 12:58 pm

I’d so glad for your recommendations, Nicole! Thank you. Chaumont is on our list, but I hadn’t heard about Usse. We love Perrault, so that would be a fun one for the family.

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24 Robin May 1, 2013 at 1:02 pm

All lovely.

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25 Design Mom May 1, 2013 at 1:32 pm

Thanks, Robin!

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26 Barchbo May 1, 2013 at 1:16 pm

I love reading about your family’s travels! For some reason, I always get such a tickle out of June and her facial expressions! (All of your kids are darling. June just gets me. It might be the curls!)

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27 Design Mom May 1, 2013 at 1:32 pm

June! She turns 3 soon and I can’t even stand it.

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28 Darcie B May 1, 2013 at 1:18 pm

Thanks for this photo log! I have been reading your blog for a few years and have France envy! My husband, 7 children and myself go to France every summer for a month. Our goal is to try to get there for at least a year. I would love to get the inside info about how to make it happen!

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29 Design Mom May 1, 2013 at 1:33 pm

A month in France sounds like an amazing tradition. I’m rooting for you to make the year work too!

If it helps, there are are links in my FAQs about how we made it happen.

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30 Jennifer F. - American Mom in Bordeaux May 1, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Thank you for the lovely post!! We went up to the Loire Valley last Fall & had the same feeling – We NEED to go back! We saw Cheverny, Chambord & Chateau de Clos-Luce (Leonardo daVinci’s home). Such a beautiful place and we also found it very family friendly!! Thank for sharing about Chenenceau – it’s one we missed and after seeing your photos, I know we have to go. Thanks for all the photos – beautiful!!

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31 Design Mom May 1, 2013 at 1:34 pm

Clos-Luce is at the top of my list now!

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32 Shelley May 1, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Yes, I have heard of the Loire Valley, but hadn’t realised it was famous for castles. We’ve cycled around the Dordogne (I remember mainly the food) visited Provence, where Bill’s son now lives and we just returned from our third trip to Paris (and there is still more to see!). The Loire Valley is likely to be our next major motorhome trip, probably next summer. Lovely photos – I’ll be sure to check out that chateau!

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33 Mandy May 1, 2013 at 2:17 pm

LOVE the photos. Beautiful. I have been to the Loire Valley a few times, but never to Chenenceau. Have you all ventured to Fontainebleau yet? For the forest? The most amazing bouldering (climbing) and wonderful hiking paths through huge boulders with ferns and sand is right there. I would imagine it might only be 2-3 hours for you to get to? My son LOVES it! Lots of castles and sites to see in the area as well and wonderful gites to rent. I can send you some links if you have a weekend to go. Anyhow, thanks for posting! I love seeing your posts of the places you visit and your precious big family! The picture of the kid all holding hands is awesome!

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34 Lizzie May 1, 2013 at 2:51 pm

I used to live in Gien, a town on the Loire about an hour from Orleans. It is famous for its beautiful earthenware – if you get that far west along the Loire, definitely check out the factory shop!

Did you know that the Loire is considered the only remaining “wild” river in France? I am not exactly sure what that means, but everyone in Gien made sure I knew about it.

I highly recommend doing a kayak/canoe trip on the river. It is absolutely the most picturesque way to experience all the villages that used to depend on the river!

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35 Michelle May 1, 2013 at 3:44 pm

These pictures are just beautiful! And there is definitely not too many. The one of your kids leaning over the bridge looks like a scene from Sound of Music. Glad you had a fun day and made some memories. : )

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36 RR May 1, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Definitely recommend the beautiful gardens at Villandry — we didn’t even bother buying the ticket to go inside the actual chateau. I’m sure kids would enjoy this one!

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37 PARIS BEE kids blog May 1, 2013 at 5:27 pm

Isn’t the Loire Valley amazing? We go regularly and I never cease to be stunned by the sheer beauty that I see everywhere: the Loire, the Vienne, the castles, the beautiful sunny skies. It’s really heaven….

xoxo PARIS BEE kids blog

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38 Amy May 1, 2013 at 8:32 pm

Our little family of four is heading to Paris & the Loire Valley this June. As Lila (9) would say, “I’ve been waiting my whole life to go France!” I am so excited. Our home base in the Loire is an apartment in Amboise.

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39 Christelle May 1, 2013 at 8:52 pm

Chenonceau is my favorite chateau but with kids I would definitively consider Amboise, mainly for a visit of Léonard de Vinci’s house, le clos Lucé. You’ll see his work (lots of it) and his actual house. I still remember the size of his bed…. soooo small! Le Clos Lucé is located just behind Chateau d’Amboise, François 1er’s chateau, in which you’ll see an amazing staircase. Amboise is a very nice little town to visit. Enjoy!

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40 Regina May 1, 2013 at 10:48 pm

Thank you for sharing! All the photos are lovely, but I especially like the far shot of the kids exploring the river banks. Reminds me of something I’d see in a picture book!

I visited the Loire once . I was just out of college and together with my cousin and a couple of friends we selected the cheapest B&B ever, rented bikes, and made our way to the nearest chateau. I no longer remember the name of the chateau– my lasting memory is the bike ride. (We were also not very fit and were super exhausted when we arrived at the chateau!) I really hope I can do that again someday, this time with my kids and hopefully I will not be huffing, puffing, and panting all the way. :)

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41 Tracey May 2, 2013 at 6:08 am

Really beautiful photos. I’ve wanted to visit Chenenceau for years (dare I say decades!) and this post has made me even more excited to see it one day!

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42 Caitlin May 2, 2013 at 10:26 am

Thanks for sharing these beautiful photos! It takes me back to a summer I spent traveling in France by myself (!) after my freshman year of college. I visited three chateaus in the Loire valley that summer, and think you made the right choice visiting Chenonceau. One of my fondest memories, though (and I think it was mentioned earlier) was visiting the Clos Lucé – a guesthouse near the chateau d’Amboise. The chateau in Amboise is actually pretty cold and fortress-like, and I didn’t care for it too much, but the Clos Lucé was downright magical. It’s where Leonardo da Vinci lived out his remaining years, and the extensive grounds are full of reproductions of his inventions, taken from his journals and sketchbooks. If the weather is nice and you all want to spend some time outdoors, I really recommend Clos Lucé!

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43 Emilie May 2, 2013 at 12:44 pm

Gabrielle, you and your family should visit La Charente and Charente magnifique you go back to US ! It is absolutly lovely, charming, and the light is just magic there !

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44 Hadley Duncan Howard May 2, 2013 at 2:03 pm

So lovely! We took our children to Chenonceau this past September and it was magnificent! (Although I had massive, pain-in-my-chest anxiety that day about one of them falling off a bridge or balcony, so that’s what I remember most about the experience. It wasn’t like me at all!) The gardens are absolutely amazing. Definitely one of the best places in the Loire.

And Amarino! I’d know that rose-shaped cone anywhere!

Oh, France. I miss you.

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45 Château du Petit Thouars May 2, 2013 at 2:37 pm

Oops, can’t tell if I made an error with my comment, as I didn’t see it appear.
Just wanted to say that hope we will get you back to the Loire Valley — if you’re looking for a great bike ride you can start in Chinon, stop by at the château for a wine tasting at our historic tasting-room (open to the public year-round) or picnic overlooking our vineyard, then head to Fontevraud L’Abbaye, where Richard the Lionheart is buried, and then finish up in Saumur. That would be a great day!
We hope to see you and any of your readers soon!

Château du Petit Thouars
St. Germain sur Vienne (La Chaussée)
37500, Chinon

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46 Lisa May 6, 2013 at 7:06 am

All so wonderful – and all so different. We loved Chenonceau and Chambord of course, and my 7 old daughter adored Usse and all the Cinderella references. Chinon is fascinating because it’s very much shown as a defensive fortress of its time, the installations are great.
One thing we really enjoyed as a family and I highly recommend is getting to know the stories of the kings and queens and courtiers who lived in these chateaux. Great tales, and then looking for peoples’ initials in the decorations, well talk about bringing history to life ….

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47 Fiona Seow November 13, 2013 at 12:13 pm

Loire valley is a wonderful place, endless sights and wonderful history. Love your pictures. It’s a huge area to cover, which means you can either spend weeks here and not finish seeing everything or wanting to come back over and over again. The husband and I came for a week and left with a property bought :p
We love this area and we hope to see your readers come and visit us too.

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