With its picturesque landscapes, fairy-tale castles, and fine wines, the Loire Valley is a popular choice for a day trip from Paris or other French cities. With just one day to explore, there’s no time to spare, so prebook skip-the-line tickets or opt for a tour that takes in all the highlights. Here are your options.
The Loire Valley is home to more than 300 châteaus—most of which date back to the French Renaissance era—and they are dotted throughout the forests, river valleys, and vineyards of the region. With limited time, joining a tour is the best way to explore, and if you prebook skip-the-line tickets, it’s possible to visit two or three castles in a day.
Start your day with a guided tour of the Château de Chambord, the largest of all the Loire châteaus. The masterpiece of Francois I is set amid 13,500 acres (5,440 hectares) of parklands; it’s a majestic sight and the lavish interiors include a magnificent double-helix staircase, said to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci.
Another must-see castle is the Château de Chenonceau, and the journey to this castle from Château de Chambord is all part of the experience, as you pass lush vineyards, riverside castles, and fields of sunflowers in summer. Along the way, stop to sample Loire Valley wines at one of the many château wineries around Vouvray, known for its sweet white and sparkling wines.
Spend the rest of the afternoon at Chenonceau castle, nicknamed the “Château des Dames” (the Ladies’ Castle) after the many noblewomen who resided there over the centuries, including Diane of Poitiers, Catherine de Medicis, and Catherine Briçonnet. One of the most photographed châteaus of the Loire, it’s a vision of gleaming white stone, fairy-tale turrets, and formal gardens, set right on the banks of the Cher River.
The town of Amboise is one of the most beautiful in the Loire, with its dramatic cliff-top castle and medieval half-timbered buildings. Stroll around the atmospheric Old Town, browse the shops for souvenirs, and head down to the riverside after dark for a stunning view of the illuminated castle.
End your day with dinner at one of the many restaurants in town, or for an extra special experience, book a table at one of the Michelin-starred establishments nearby: the 2-star Domaine des Hauts de Loire or 1-star Les Hautes Roches are both excellent choices.