The Loire is France's valley of the kings, where you will find much of its history and see the great palaces and castles. It is the countryside that inspired Balzac, where Leonardo Da Vinci spent his retirement and where Joan of Arc fought some of the battles of the 100 years war. The Loire is also one of the major wine producing areas of France, and it also has the advantage of being a great centre for cuisine and historical monuments. The walking is hilly at times, but generally the mix of old pathways, farm and forest trails make for fairly gentle walking. Our tour links the great chateaux at Amboise, Chenonceau, Azay le Rideau, Villandry and Chinon with the great vineyards of Vouvray, Chinon, Saumur, and Anjou. The combination of walking, spectacular historical sites, the food and wines of the Loire, makes this walk full of interest and pleasure and an ideal place to start for those with a love of France or setting out on a walking holiday for the first time.
We grade this tour as easy to moderate (grade 2); the region is hilly but there are no prolonged ascents or descents and few steep gradients. Several of the days are however fairly long and prospective customers should bear this fact in mind. See distances in daily itinerary below. Fitness: This walk should present no difficulties for anyone in reasonable condition and accustomed to walking around 20km (12miles) on generally good trails. Day stages: In the region of 15km to 27km per day with little altitude gain, 5 to 7 hours walking per day.
The old town boasts the still impressive remnants of what was a magnificent chateau as well as Le Clos Luce, a redbrick manor house that was the home of the great inventor Leonardo da Vinci for 3 years until his death in 1519. Chateau and Le Clos Luce (which incorporates a museum of models based on da Vinci’s designs) are both open to the public, each visit requiring approx. 1 hour. Overnight in Amboise, a picturesque town on the south bank of the Loire.
Accommodation: A fine provincial wood beamed 2 star Logis de France hotel at the heart of this historic town.
Walking through the Foret d’Amboise to Chenonceau where you can have lunch and then spend the rest of the day visiting one of the very finest of the Loire chateaux, the ‘chateau shaped by women’ which ‘stretches across the River Cher in a perfect harmony of water, greenery, gardens and trees in a fine natural setting’. A visit takes up to 2 hours.
Accommodation: A comfortable 2 star Logis de France hotel, with wonderful exposed beams and a magnificent fireplace in the dining room.
From Chenonceau, start with a short drive (included in tour price) through farmland from the valley of the Cher to that of the Indre and the village of Reignac. The route then follows the GR46 along the valley, through fields of sunflowers to the village of Montbazon on the edge of the city of Tours. A highlight of the day is the ancient Gallo-Roman bridge, which carries the GR41 across a tributary of the Indre. The last part of the day from Veigne to Montbazon is rather suburban and can be avoided by taking a short taxi ride from Veigne to shorten the day to 20.5 km/12.8 miles, 5 hours.
Accommodation: The 5 star Chateau d'Artigny is one of the famous 'Relais et Chateaux' group of hotels. which is situated on a bluff with a fine view over the River Indre. Smart attire is recommended if you chose to dine here.
Today there are two alternatives to choose from.
Option 1: 26.5km/16.6 miles, 6 h - the first is to follow the GR3 (long-distance trail extending the entire length of the Loire valley) from Montbazon along the banks of the Indre to the next night's stop at the evocatively named Azay-le-Rideau. On the way there is time to visit the former home of the novelist Balzac in the small chateau at Sache.
Option 2: 14.5km/9.1 miles, 3.5 h - hire a taxi (approx 45-55 Euros) to take you from Montbazon to the celebrated gardens at Villandry, one of the wonders of France. From Villandry walk past the confluence of the Rivers Cher and Loire and along picturesque woodland paths and quiet roads to Azay le Rideau.
Both Villandry and Azay are awarded the highest accolade of ‘worth a journey’ by the Michelin Guide. The son et lumiere display at the Chateau is highly recommended for a delightful and memorable, if relatively expensive, stroll after dinner. Overnight at Azay-le-Rideau.
Accommodation: The hotel is set in a semi pedestrian street in the heart of this charming village and just 50 metres from the elegant chateau. You will find here, the charm of the past combined with the comfort of today. The 18th century house was built in a style typical of the Tours area. One of the features of the hotel is the 19th century school, situated across the flower decked patio and which, like the rest of the hotel, has been tastefully transformed into delightful accommodation.
There is time for a brief visit to the chateau of Azay, one of the gems of the Renaissance, before continuing your walk by way of the tiny village of St Benoit-la-Foret set in the midst of the vast forest of Chinon and on to Chinon itself, a mediaeval town dominated by the walls of its ruined castle and the centre of a well-known wine-growing region.
Accommodation: The hotel has the charm of an authentic dwelling-place built in the fifteenth century and modified in the eighteenth century. It is just a few hundred metres from the town centre, the medieval quarter and the chateau.
Allow yourself at least one to two hours to visit the chateau and its Jeanne d'Arc museum. You then continue your walk by crossing the River Vienne and follow its left bank downstream for a few km before striking off across the Foret de Fontevraud to the celebrated abbey of that name, the most extensive set of monastic buildings in France. The 12th Century abbey church houses the tombs of several Plantagenet royals.
Accommodation: The estate is a charming country house built with luminous limestone of the Loire Valley. The oldest part as well as the tithe barn date from the 13th century. This agricultural estate was owned by the same family from the beginning of the 18th century. After being entirely renovated, they now receive guests in a fine, elegant and comfortable atmosphere.
Continue your walk to Montsoreau, at the confluence of the Vienne and the Loire, where the caves in the river cliffs are used for mushroom cultivation. From Montsoreau continue through vineyards along the steep south bank of the Loire to Saumur, famous for its wines, cavalry school, and its chateau overlooking the Loire.
Accommodation: A small 3 star Logis hotel in the centre of this historic town. Situated on the banks of the Loire, close to the old town and the chateau.
Arrangements end after breakfast, make your way to the train station for your onward journey.
Being early in the season we did not encounter too many other travelers or huge crowds at Chateaus and Museums. The Chateaus and towns we visited were beautiful and the locals were very friendly and helpful. The hotel accommodation was good, comfortable and very clean.To visit the chateaus Azay le Rideau and the Fortresses Royale de Chinon we used the local bus on that day to allow time to enjoy these wonderful sites. The French countryside in Spring is very pretty and while we had a few showers the weather while walking was good. We would recommend this walking trip and options are possible if 30 km a day is a little daunting!
H Jones, VIC, Australia, 01 May 2016
Per Person, Twin Share