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Advice needed on Loire Valley and Dordogne

Hi all - just returned in October from our five week trip and already in early planning stages for trip next September. First I want to say how much this forum helps me plan our trip each year. So thankful!

We have decided to spend ten days of our five week trip in the Loire Valley and Dordogne regions. We will fly into Paris CDG and head to Amboise. Plan on picking up car in Tours the next day and return it in Libourne, then train to San Sebastián.

This will be our first time in Loire and Dordogne. Here's what I'm thinking:

Amboise - 4 nights ( which would be 3 full days)
Sarlat - 4 nights
St. Emillion 2 nights

I'm thinking we will only want to see about three chateaus in Loire Valley. Rest of the time just "sight seeing", tasting wine and enjoying the area. Haven't gotten to daily itinerary. Just checking to see if I should add more days to Loire Valley and/or Dordogne before I continue my planning.

Thanks for your help.

Posted by
4022 posts

I would drop St Emilion - it was the most disappointing place we visited in our month in France. More American accents than any other nationality! Add a night each to the Loire and Sarlat.

Posted by
5537 posts

I think you have a good plan allowing yourself some “breathing time” in the Loire.

My personal preference for the Dordogne would be to stay somewhere in the countryside — when I went with my parents a few years ago, we stayed at La Roche d’Esteil B&B, which continues to get good reviews although I believe it’s under new ownership. We liked being outside of Sarlat for visiting other places in the Dordogne more easily than fighting getting in and out of town every day — one day visiting Sarlat was enough for us. To me the beauty in the Dordogne countryside is the draw.
We also stayed two nights near Rocamadour, which we really enjoyed.

(But you will get lots of people singing Sarlat’s praises too!)

Posted by
953 posts

Agree with Kim about staying gin the countryside, or the relative countryside. We stayed in Vézac in a sweet family run b&b within easy drive of Sarlat and everything else. Definitely not remote. Visited Sarlat 3 times (10-15 minute drive away) and was glad we weren't staying there. We stayed in Amboise (or actually, just outside it - a theme ;) ). 5 nights might be a bit much for me in that area but thats just me. I cant speak about St Emillion ...
We were in N Spain this past summer and loved it!

Posted by
411 posts

Interesting comment about St. Emillion. Will have to do some more research.

I'm considering a B&B just outside Sarlat called Belle la Plane. Gets great reviews. Can walk into town in about 20 minutes. Thought this would be a good option. Won't need to worry about driving into town.

Posted by
411 posts

Oops. Name of the B&B is La Belle Plane.

Posted by
2556 posts

When I was in Saint-Émilion, I heard more British accents than any other. In fact that was true for my entire time in Bordeaux and the Dordogne. Is it a deal breaker for people on this forum to hear American accents? If so, no one would ever go to Rick's favorite places like Rue Cler in Paris. I am an American so maybe that explains it but I found Saint-Émilion to be lovely. The light when we went was absolutely amazing. One of the most beautiful of our pictures from our travels is of my daughter in Saint-Émilion. We went because my husband loves the wines of the region and wanted to order wines from a particular vendor and it was well worth the trip.

Posted by
16996 posts

I day-tripped to St.-Emilion from Bordeaux this year. I agree that it gets a lot of tourists. But it's an extremely picturesque hill town, and most of the visitors don't see the entire historic area. If you wander around a lot, particularly uphill, you will often be alone--or at least I was on May 31. I'd consider your preference for tiny/rural places vs. small towns and the advantage of a variety of restaurants vs. the disadvantage of the higher-than average tourist load. Note that parts of St-Emilion are very steep. If you're there when it's raining or immediately thereafter, some of the hilly streets can be quite slippery.

The situation in Sarlat is fairly similar, though it's about five times the size of St-Emilion and also has really large markets twice a week: Very picturesque, lots of tourists that don't clog the entire town.

I'm on the record as having been happy to escape from both Taormina (Sicily) and St.-Paul-de-Vence (southern France) after just a few hours because of touist-shop overload and shoulder-to-shoulder visitors. I didn't have the same reaction to St-Emilion or Sarlat. I think the difference is that the latter two have a lot of historic streets that most tourists don't bother with. If it matters, I have zero interest in wine, and I use public transportation.

Posted by
468 posts

On the particulars of your arrival: I take it you’ll be traveling by train from CDG>Paris>Tours, which is the closest you can get to Amboise via train. The station, St-Pierre-des-Cours, is outside Tours city center and has rental car facilities there. Amboise is a pretty short, straightforward drive away. Just saying, you’ll pretty much need a car to get to Amboise, and you’d be backtracking to Tours to pick up a car the next day with your current plan.

Chateau-wise, Chenonceaux is an absolute must. Chambord was impressive, but was a bit of a longer drive. We loved Villandry the most I think, and Azay-le-Rideau was very easy to see on the same day. Taking the Autoroute from Amboise to these two could not have been easier, and the driving was less stressful than getting to Chambord. These chateau generally have picnic areas, Chenonceaux’s was particularly lovely. We really enjoyed putting together a picnic lunch from the shops (and terrific bakery) in Amboise in the morning before starting our sightseeing day. Highly recommend.

There’s a terrific wine shop called “La Cave” in Amboise next to the castle, across from the official Amboise cave set into the castle wall. The owner there gave us a wonderful, informative degustation of the valley’s wines. I couldn’t help but buy a few too many bottles.

Posted by
411 posts

Thanks so much for all of the helpful information.

acraven: I really appreciate your input on St. Emilion and Sarlat. Will probably keep both on our itinerary. I'm thinking it will be easier the day we leave for San Sebastián, if we do it from St. Emilion. We also prefer using public transportation, but I keep reading how difficult it is to visit Loire and Dordogne areas without a car. What are your thoughts on this?

awrzesinki: did you stay in Amboise? I'm not sure we will want to get a rental car the same day we arrive. That's why I was thinking it would be better to get the car another day.

Narnargoon: did you rent a car or use public transportation? I will definitely check out Loches. Why did you take a bus from Tours rather than a train?

Posted by
608 posts

Hi Sue,

We did a similar trip a few years ago and thought it was perfect! The only big difference was that we spent a full week in the Dordogne splitting the nights between Sarlat and Beynac.

If you enjoy wine, I recommend St. Emilion. Yes, it is busy with tourist during the day, but the 11c. monastic underground church carved out of monolith limestone rock is very interesting and St. Emilion wine is incredible!

We dropped our rental car off in Libourne and then took a quick train to Bordeaux. From Bordeaux, we took a train to Saint Jean de Luz for a few days and then onto San Sebastian.

Have fun with your planning!

Christine

Posted by
16996 posts

I haven't been to the Loire; I wouldn't be interested in the interiors of the chateaux.

I agree that the Dordogne is better with a car. I am proof that you can see a fair amount via trains and buses, but some of the really picturesque villages are not accessible at all by public transportation. There is at least one company that operates day-trips out of Sarlat, but they open up just a few villages.

I moved around the Dordogne and the Lot a lot, setting up bases in a number of different and very pretty towns, in order to have good access to buses to smaller places. It would have been impractical to try to see the area from just one or two bases because the trains and buses are not terribly fast and if you start needing to make connections, the travel time can get unacceptably long. These are places I stayed and the side-trips I was able to make from them without a car or a tour:

  • Agen
  • Bergerac (side-trip to Sarlat)
  • Perigueux (side-trip to Brantome)
  • Brive-la-Gaillarde (side-trip to Rocamadour, but that requires a very long walk along a highway with little shoulder--not recommended)
  • Cahors (side-trip to the not-small Figeac and tiny St-Cirq-Lapopie; SCL requires a fair amount of walking but with little traffic risk.)
Posted by
5537 posts

You can absolutely take the train to Amboise, although there is probably not a direct train from CDG.

I imagine you would have to get into Paris and depart from Montparnasse or Austerlitz (both have trains available to Amboise). Austerlitz, being on the east side of Paris, is more convenient to CDG, while Montparnasse could be accessed by Le Bus Direct.

A taxi from CDG to either of those train stations would cost 55€ for up to four people and their luggage.

You could then stay in Amboise your first night, and in the morning rent a car either there or take a train to Tours and rent one there.

(The train station in Amboise is across the river from most of the center of the city, but there is a very nice hotel a short walk in front of the train station).

This might not end up being what you want to do, but it is an option.

Posted by
315 posts

A vote for staying in Sarlat. We found a terrific apartment & location for three nights (lots of research...), & it made all the difference: easy days & meals, phenomenally atmospheric quiet evening walks, bakeries etc. that bonjour'd us with recognition when we returned, all the usual great things about staying put. The big downside was inconvenient parking, but when you can make a town your own, just ramble/cafe-sit/relax (aha: vacation), that's the counterbalancing huge upside. Wasn't our most cost-effective trip, considering the car rental, but ahhh, great experience of living in Sarlat. La Ritournelle apartments, E369 for 3 nts. [Whoops, wrong name. The rental name is Les Apartments de Boitie, Ritournelle is the bldg's 3rd floor apt.]

St-Emilion was massively, maaasssively, overrun by all us tourists, & all the tourist-industry commercialism. This was a July daytrip, hope autumn's atmosphere is better, & that you'd get the aforesaid advantages of staying overnight. The subterranean church is amazing.

Stayed in the countryside outside tiny Sergeac, great B&B (might have been recommended by the La Roche d'Etoile people when they had to temporarily close & cancel our res.). Auberge Castel Merle, E335 for 3 nts.

Libourne has a bustling big Friday market, & terrific Patisserie Lopez nearby.

Bon voyage!

Posted by
288 posts

I always catch a direct train from Charles de Gaulle Airport to Saint Pierre des Corps. That saves a couple of schleps through stations in Paris with your luggage. At Saint Pierre des Corps you can hire a car, and from there it's a 20 minute drive to Amboise.

Travelling to Amboise by train is not only a hassle, but it's pointless if you want a hire car - Amboise is a very small provincial town with one car hire outlet 40 minutes walk from the station. They usually only have light commercial vehicles.

Which leaves a question... why Amboise? It's a small town with many restaurants, one or two of which are pretty good. In September it will be full of Tourists (I mean full to bursting) whilst the surrounding villages will be virtually empty. Check out option in Loches - which is smaller than Amboise but which has more good restaurants, or even Tours, which ticks all the boxes as far as regional towns with all the amenities is concerned.

(I know - I'm local, and locals don't rate Amboise nearly as much as visitors, all of whom see to believe it's "typical" of the area. We do visit, but only when we have to)

Posted by
1183 posts

I agree with Sarlat as well. Yes the countryside is the feature in the region, but Sarlat is a perfect location with plenty of restaurants to choose from after a long day of exploring. I can't recommend enough a walk through Beynac and also a tour of the Lascaux caves. English tours of Lascaux are available.

We did the RS Loire Valley to South of France tour in May. Your time in that area looks about right. I'd recommend an early start, Villandry especially was packed with school kids in the early afternoon.

Posted by
411 posts

Simon - thanks for the information regarding train station and car rental.

I will take a look at Loches as a base rather than Amboise. Are you saying Tours would be better than Amboise or am I not understanding. Isn't Tours more crowded than Amboise?

Thanks for your input

Posted by
288 posts

Sue

Tours is 10x bigger than Amboise - 130,000 people live in the agglomeration of Tours, about 12,000 in Amboise and surrounds. The difference is that whilst almost all the people in Tours are residents and threfore working, taking the kids to school or shopping, almost all the people you will see in Amboise will be either tourists or catering to tourists, all concentrated on 3 streets of mainly poor restaurants. The locals all work in Tours (and often shop there, too)

Tours has a large student population, more restaurants and bars than you can poke a stick at, a huge range of accommodation at all prices.

Amboise, strangely enough, has great accommodation at the higher end of the budget, but is overall poor on food - in a 3 day stay you will find yourself eating at Chez Bruno more than once.

Posted by
2556 posts

Loches is wonderful. We went there in 2018 for a day trip and loved it and are returning in 2020. Amboise is tourist central and I have eaten some of the worst food I have ever had in France in Amboise — too many restaurants that are not relying on repeat business.

Posted by
2837 posts

I agree with Jenniffer about dropping St. Emilion. At most a few hours on a day trip is sufficient. We stopped there a few years ago and spent a couple of hours. It is worth seeing, but that was plenty of time. As to Amboise and Sarlat, we've stayed in both places, and they are both worth visiting. A couple of years ago we spent a week in Beynac, and it was a great location. But if you've found a B&B that's a 20 minute walk from the center of Sarlat, that's great.

Posted by
27 posts

My favorite part of France is the Dordogne Valley! I have been three times and stayed in small towns around the Lot Valley. We went into Sarlat as a day trip and that was enough. There are charming B&Bs, small hotels or cottages in the country and no traffic jams. I would research the caves with the prehistoric art and villages with weekly markets and plan your days around that. Lots of good books to help you.

Posted by
411 posts

Thanks for all of the great suggestions. I've made reservations at B&B's in Chinon and Sarlat. Still undecided about Tours/Amboise/Loches. I've made a reservation for a place in Amboise, but will keep researching.

Posted by
20 posts

If you do stay in Amboise, I can recommend a wonderful hotel: Le Clos d'Amboise.

Posted by
372 posts

We loved Sarlat. St. Emilion was nice, too, but felt like maybe a day was enough.

RE the Chateaux... We house swapped for 3 weeks in the Loire Valley, so visited a good number of Chateaux. Our takeaway was to see different kinds from different eras. For example, we saw 2 small, family or village owned chateaux that showed how small wealthy (everyday, rich landowners?) folks lived. Both were nearish Angers. We moved along the trajectory of history and use - Villandry, Chenonceau, ending with Chambord, which is very beautiful, but SO different in every way than our first several chateaux. Our somewhat serendipitous strategy allowed for a wonderful overview. Before this, I had always lumped chateaux together as "one thing," but now I know how different they all are.