Had to cancel our trip this spring so revising locations and itinerary. We will be in the area for at least 5 nights to explore as much of the Loire as possible by rental car. Its our first time in the area. Experiencing the town for home base is a really big part of our travel experience. Our preferences are for walkable old towns where we can explore more in depth, do picnic lunches, shop farmers markets, try the local specialties, see where the locals shop etc. I always try to find accomodations that are in the old center or within walking distance so we don't have to drive to explore the town. I could use some guidance on which town to choose. Blois or Amboise or even another town if I missed a better option. Is 5 nights enough to see the best chateaux and explore the surrounding area? I can add nights to explore a bit further out if you can suggest other towns that match our preferences.
I can vouch for Amboise as an enjoyable place. With 5 nights have you considered 2-3 nights in both? After 5 nights/4 days you may even get chateauxed out. Chartres is worth a stop on the drive back to Paris.
We stayed in Amboise for our Loire Valley explorations.....thoroughly enjoyed its pace and beauty. We visited Chenonceau, Villandry, Azazy-le-Rideau........the Amboise Castle, the chapel where Leonardo da Vinci is buried......wanted to see Chambord but the Seine floods that spring had closed it. We stayed at Le Manior les Minimes.......perfect spot to rest each night after dinner in Amboise. We were there 3 nights. I think you will be pleasantly delighted at this region as we were....we drove from Normandy to MSM for a night and then to Amboise.....found the drive as delightful as anything. There is a wonderful bakery we walked to each morning on the corner of the main walking street in Amboise where we would stock up on our “road food” each day before we took off for touring. Hope this helps!
Thank you for the quick response. We originally intended on renting the car in Tours. If we get overloaded on chateaux and extend our time, would you suggest exploring toward the coast and Angers, or back towards Paris through Orleans or Chartres? We have been to MSM so wouldn't travel that far in that direction. I have no problem dropping the car at a different rental location.
I, on the other hand, opted for Blois. A beautiful walkable town, it felt very centric to all the great Château in the area. The town itself is dominated by the Château Royal de Blois, which was the royal residence of several French kings. Every few nights, they do a nice light and music show on the facade of the Château itself.
On Château, I personally really liked Château de Villandry which is known for its expansive and colorful gardens. It also has a water garden, with ponds and fountains; an ornamental garden with intricate patterns of different flowers and an enormous vegetable garden. Interestingly the vegetable garden was probably one of the most beautiful parts of the garden.
If you are looking to do a daytrip to break the potential monotony of Château, I would strongly recommend a trip to the Musée des Blindés in Saumur. This is one of the top 3 tank museums in the world. They have many different tanks from WWI to Modern and from many different countries too, not just from France. While you are already at Saumur, you should also stop by Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud, which houses the tombs of King Richard the Lionheart and Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, two very historically important people, as you may know :)
Neither is a bad choice, and I think both would satisfy the goals you stated. Amboise is a little more centrally located for seeing chateaux, especially if you want to see the ones west of Tours. Its population is about 13,000, while Blois is about 46,000. Both places have very good chateaux, plus Amboise has the Clos Luce where Leonardo lived and died. You would find a lower ratio of tourists to actual French people in Blois. Amboise is probably more popular among RS fans, and he recommends it as a base, but my own choice would be Blois.
EDIT -- Re your other question, I'd say five nights is probably enough unless you really like a lot of chateaux. Four full days would give you time for eight of them, probably as many as most of us could handle without a break.
A nice thing about Amboise is that they have a very nice chateau Chateau Amboise, right there in the middle of the town center, on a bluff overlooking the river. I thought it was more interesting on the inside than Chenonceau and Chambord. You walk to it up the hill from the very nice and walkable main street. On the grounds is the grave of Leonardo da Vinci, and a short walk away is Clos De Luce where he once lived.
Some great choices suggested up thread. We took the RS Loire to the South of France Tour several years ago. One of our day stops was in Amboise. Even though we did not stay overnight we did enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of this quaint city. If we were to return we would enjoy spending a few days there. It is a good base for the Loire.
I would also give a nod to Chartres if you are headed that way. It’s a lovely pedestrian-friendly town. The cathedral of Chartres is my all time favorite for it’s medieval stained glass. We were honored to tour the cathedral with scholar Malcolm Miller. I highly recommend spending the night to enjoy the Chartres en lumières. It is a spectacular light show not to be missed.
Another vote for Amboise. We stayed 2 nights, I think. If I were to return to France to explore further, I would love to return to Amboise to just spend some time relaxing in town. I, too, loved the chateau in Amboise. When we saw it, later in the afternoon, we almost had the place to ourselves. Chambord should definitely be on your list.
Janis gave you good info about Chartres, and I second all of her recommendations, including the light show at night. Check the dates of when those are running.
On the other hand, besides Chartres, I also really enjoyed Angers and recommend the fortress, plus there’s the bonus of having the Apocalypse (Revelation) tapestries inside the fortress. I spent several hours at the fortress.
Near Angers is Le Mans with a quaint medieval section of town and some gorgeous Roman walls remains with intricate designs. Even if you stop in that area just for lunch and an hour of exploring, it would be well worth your time.
Onzain - halfway between the two
We spent three nights in Amboise in October , 2018 and thoroughly enjoyed it. our party of 6 (3 couples) chose a lovely Air BNB in town. We were close to Leonardo's house. With a rental van, we were able to tours several chateaux and stop at many wineries for tastings. The rental van was picked up and returned in Tours, where we trained back to CDG and spent a night before our morning flight home. I echo the recommendation of a stop in Chartres. We had previously spent a couple of nights in Chartres and in Chinon while on the RS Loire to the South of France tour a few years ago. Loved the region and you could easily do those towns as day trips from Amboise. Have a great trip (once we are able to travel again)!
My sincere thanks for all your advice. It helped tremendously. I think I will add a few nights so I can include your suggestions. Thank you!
We stayed in Blois in a great B&B near the river, loved it and the city.
I can't speak to an experience in Blois. But we stayed at : VillaConcorde, 26 rue de la concorde, 37400 Amboise, for 3 nights in June 2017. What a great experience. I booked through Booking.com but you might contact them directly (?). The building is truly ancient - and the current photos on Booking look as if she has completed lots of renovations since our visit. Greatest thing about the apartment (we had the small ground unit) was that our window opened directly onto the Chateau Amboise stone wall. We had fun watching all the visitors - feeling like a true local. Fun also to stroll for breakfast items and great meals after many had left for the day. We were able to park each evening on the street - and left early each morning to explore. Parking in town is a nightmare during the day. Have had lots of fun remembering our visit in the area.
For Car rental - might look into training into Staint-Pierre-des-Corps. We rented from there for our 3 days. Easy in/out to the station.
Probably the best way to decide is to pick a handful of chateaux you would like to visit, map them out and see which is most convenient. More than a handful of castles in one trip is probably overkill and they'll end up all blurred in your memory.
I chose Amboise based on my map of castles I'd visit. I was perfectly happy with the choice. There are decent eating and shopping options (I visited in Sept. 2017). It's convenient to some of the nicer castles. If I'd picked castles further east, I would have gone with Blois. Since I didn't, I can't give you any first hand review.
A comment on Chartres. Great town, beautiful place to spend a day between Loire and Paris.
Problem for me is I'd traded my rental car for a bicycle when I got to Loire and planned to train back to Paris. When I looked for a train to Chartres, they all went into Paris, then I had to get a separate train back to Chartres. That seemed silly so Chartres came as a day trip from Paris on a different trip.
French friends suggested Blah Blah Car (a ride sharing service) as an option but I couldn't find the app for my phone then (I've found it since).