This eastern part of the Loire Valley drive from Nevers to Orléans is relatively unknown. In fact it’s not officially the Loire Valley until Sully-sur-Loire which marks the start of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. This world-famous section runs along the river for 280kms/174miles down to Chalonnes-sur-Loire in Anjou.
This is a peaceful route, taking small roads that run between the river and the canal up to the city of Joan of Arc. Pretty small towns hug the river bank and you pass through some of the great Loire wine-producing regions. You’ll see some charming châteaux that you probably haven’t seen before. It makes for a delightful road trip.
I hope you enjoy this Loire Valley drive from Nevers in Burgundy into the river valley to Orléans.
Loire Valley Routes
Drive the Loire Valley Fast Route
Leave Nevers, one of the larger Loire Valley towns and take the A77 which has tolls. It’s a distance of 166 kms/103 miles and takes 2 hrs 8 mins from Nevers to Orléans.
Drive the Loire Valley Scenic Route
From Nevers to Orléans it is 183 kms/113 miles taking 3 hours 16 minutes without stops but taking in all the attractions (though not counting your time at each visit).
The Scenic Route by the Canal
This scenic route takes you on a lovely small road that runs between the river and the Canal Latéral. Stop for a while and watch the barges make their slow and stately way northwards.
One year we travelled this route in midwinter. There was an ice storm and we stopped to look at the trees covered in white, looking like lace against the blue sky. It was incredibly cold and incredibly clear. We stayed there for ten minutes marveling at the quiet. Then we began to hear a crackling sound. Peering down the canal we saw a large black barge making its way very slowly along the canal, breaking the ice as it went. It’s one of those moments I have never forgotten.
In summer the road is busier but only with local traffic, ignoring the crowds roaring along the N7.
From Nevers to La Charité-sur-Loire
Drive: From Nevers take the D40 and D12 west out of the city to Cours-les-Barres then the D45 north with the Loire to your right. It’s a drive of 32 kms/20 miles taking around 35 mins.
Drive over the 1520 stone bridge (renovated in 2018 happily) to the right bank of the Loire into La Charité-sur-Loire. The small streets by the quayside lead up to Notre-Dame church, once a regular haven for pilgrims on the way to Santiago de Compestela in Spain, now a great walking route. History took its toll on the historic buildings and today, though restored, it’s difficult to imagine the 200 monks who lived here in the Middle Ages.
From La Charité-sur-Loire into Wine Country
Drive: 18 kms/11 miles. 20 mins. Cross back over the bridge and take the D7 along the river.
Vineyards producing the great Loire valley wines climb the banks. Cross the river again and you’re in Pouilly-sur-Loire and the Pouilly wine region in the Nièvre department. The area has produced wine since the 5th century but it was those canny monks who developed the vineyards in the 12th century. Stop here to taste and buy the famous Pouilly Fumé and Chasselas wines.
From Pouilly to Sancerre
Drive: 15 kms/9 miles. 20 mins. Cross back and take the D59 then the D206 up to pretty Sancerre.
This is the second of the well known and much loved Loire valley wines. While you’re here, buy the other great Sancerre delicacy, crottin de chavignol cheese.
On to Briare
Drive: 47 kms/29 miles. 45 mins. The D907 takes you across the river and up beside the Loire to Briare.
At Briare the Pont Canal, the longest bridge canal in Europe, joins up the Canal de Briare with the Canal Latéral à la Loire.
A lovely diversion to the Château de la Bussière
Drive: From Briare take the N7 north on a drive of 14 kms/9 miles taking 15 mins.
The Château de la Bussière is another less well known château that is a real find. Originally a 12th-century fortress, the castle was later completely transformed into a private dwelling. In 1814, the Chasseval family bought the castle; their descendants opened it to the public in 1962.
There’s plenty to see: stables, orangery and a delightful potager (kitchen garden). It’s been called the Château des Pecheurs (the fisherman’s château) for its eccentric collection of freshwater fishing tackle and the coelecanth, an extraordinary prehistoric fish that can live for up to 60 years. What you learn in a visit to a French château is quite remarkable.
Where to Stay
The elegant bed and breakfast Domaine de la Thiau is just north of Briare. By the river, it offers double rooms and suites in an 18th-century house plus 4 gîtes to rent by the week. Breakfast is taken in the conservatory and dinner is offered as well.
Time for Gien
Drive: From Briare take the D43 south west on a drive of 14 kms/9 miles taking 16 mins.
Cross the 16th-century stone bridge into pretty Gien where its charming 15th-century streets bear witness to its importance from the Middle Ages onwards.
There are two main attractions here. Make your way to the château where the young Louis XIV and his mother Anne of Austria hid during the Frondes revolts against taxation from 1635 to 1659. Today it houses the Musée Internationale de la Chasse et de la nature. The museum is mainly about hunting which is entirely apt in the Loire Valley where Kings of France have hunted for centuries. The French Revolution gave all rural inhabitants the right to hunt and it’s a freedom vehemently guarded today.
Gien may be small but it has always been a major producer of fine china. Visit the Musée de la Faïencerie for its collection. The attached factory shop has good discounted china on sale.
More about discount shopping and more factory shops.
Gien to Sully-sur-Loire
Drive: Take the D952 to Sully-sur-Loire. It’s a drive of 24 kms/15 miles taking 25 mins.
The Château of Sully has always been one of my favorites. I first saw it when we had just bought our house in the Auvergne (a long time ago!) and Sully was our first stop on our first journey. The medieval fortress stands full square in its moat. Lit up at night it’s a magical site.
The Loire Valley UNESCO World Heritage Site starts here in Sully-sur-Loire. It takes in the middle course of the river for a 280 km/173 mile stretch from here to Chalonnes in Anjou.
Drive the Loire Valley to Orléans
From Sully to Orléans take the D2060 for 19 kms/11 miles taking 20 mins. It runs along by the river to Châteauneuf-sur-Loire.
There’s a château (naturally), a lovely park, and the Musée de la marine de la Loire. It tells the story of France’s famous river, the people who earned their livings on it and the enormous trade the river carried up and down to Paris and beyond.
Orléans is a delightful town. The capital of the Loiret department, it’s the start of the next trip down the Loire Valley westwards to the sea.
Guide to Orléans
The next part of the drive take you from Orléans to Blois.
Then it will be on to Tours, Saumur, Angers, Nantes and St-Nazaire where the Loire finishes its journey to the glorious Atlantic coast and the sea.
Loire Valley Towns and Cities including attractions, places to stay and how to get to each one
Loire Valley Drive in Sections
Loire à Velo Route – Where to stay, how to book and attractions to see on this great cycle route
Budget Hotel Chains give you some good options on cheap (and good) accommodation in all parts of France