When you drive along the Loire Valley from Orléans to Blois, you’re driving through some of France’s most colorful history.
This is the Valley of the Kings, the hunting ground for countless monarchs. And they hunted not just animals; people were just as expendable.
The Loire Valley is a place of intrigue where Kings betrayed Queens, mistresses betrayed lovers, and dukes, marquises and counts cheerfully did away with their enemies. It’s a great place to visit.
Make sure you visit some of the gardens; they are glorious and very different, running from formal with those well-behaved paths and parterres to a delightful cottage-style garden with ducks and hens clucking around happily.
TIP: There are many châteaux here, so be careful. You can get châteauxed-out quite easily. If you’re visiting in the summer, try to pick your time to avoid the crowds. Go either early or late in the day. The French all stop for lunch so you could skip lunch, visit a château and bring a picnic to eat in the grounds.
Loire Valley Routes from Orléans to Blois
Fast Route: Orléans to Blois is 63 kms/39 miles and takes around 55 mins. Part of it is on the A10 which has tolls of €6.10.
Scenic Route: Orleans to Blois is 88 kms/54 miles and takes 2 hours, not counting stops at attractions.
This is a very short stretch of the Loire Valley drive. But this is also a stretch with some of the major sights to visit so I thoroughly recommend following this, seeing as many as you can and staying in Blois.
The hugely popular Loire à Velo cycle route goes directly between Orléans and Blois along roads and paths beside the river.
First stop on the Loire Valley drive from Orléans to Blois: Meung-sur-Loire
Drive: 19kms/12 miles. 32 mins.
From Orléans take the D2152 that runs beside the river to the delightful village of Meung-sur-Loire where little streams run between half-timbered houses. The name of the village might be familiar; it was Inspector Maigret’s country home and appears in Dumas’ The Three Musketeers.
Meung-sur-Loire is always worth a stop but try to make it on a Sunday for its market.
The Château de Meung has a long history as the palace of the Bishops of Orléans. It held its important position from the 12th century to the Revolution, where bishops welcomed Kings.
The château is ‘two-sided’. One façade is medieval and looks grimly formidable. Abandoned by the bishops, it was transformed into a fortress. Occupied by the English during the 15th-century Hundred Years War, Meuns was taken back from the English by Joan of Arc in 1429. The other 18th-century side is much prettier, rebuilt by the ecclesiastical owners.
There’s a full events calendar during the summer so have a look at the website. You’ll find quite a mix: Joan of Arc’s soldiers, Napoleon’s troops, picnics by candlelight and more.
The Jardins de Roquelin
Drive: Cross the river and take the D18 to Jardins de Roquelin (1 km).
If you love roses, the Jardins de Roquelin is the place to visit. Just three minutes from the centre of Meung-sur-Loire, the gardens are family run. Chickens cluck around the garden in front of the old stone buildings and peacocks sit high up in the trees (how did they get there?)
The gardens are at their most glorious in May and June when over 500 rose varieties fill the air with sweet sights and scents.
Meung-sur-Loire to Beaugency
Drive: 8 kms/5 miles. 12 mins.
Before I heard the 15th century round that goes Orléans, Beaugency, Notre-Dame de Cléry, Vendôme I didn’t know about medieval Beaugency. Like many others I was too busy making my way to the blockbusters like the Château de Chambord. So what a lovely surprise when we stopped there one year.
There’s an 11th-century tower, a 12th-century bridge which for centuries offered the only river crossing between Orléans and Blois, a 15th-century château and Renaissance architecture.
And like so many places along the Loire, Beaugency has a place in English history. In 1152 the Council of Beaugency annulled the marriage of Louis VII of France and Eleanor of Aquitaine in the Romanesque abbey church of Notre-Dame. She married Henry II of England, bringing an enormous part of southwest France to the English crown. It was the start of a centuries-old conflict as English and French Kings fought over ownership of much of France.
Château de Chambord
Drive: From Beaugency, cross the river on the D925 then take the D951 until the turning to the D112 to the Château de Chambord. 24 kms/15 miles. 28 mins.
You arrive on the road taken by King François I in the 16th century. The Château de Chambord which started as a hunting lodge is in the heart of the forest that provided the Kings of France with the ancient thrill of the chase. Chambord is the big daddy of all the châteaux – enormous and hugely impressive particularly seen over the surrounding water.
It’s the chimneys you notice first. 365 of them sit on top of the roofs, heating the 440 plus rooms, 85 staircases and countless corridors. Despite its undoubted magnificence, François didn’t like the place. He spent just 42 days in the building that he had hoped would make him ‘one of the greatest builders in the universe’.
Subsequent kings attempted to make it a bit more comfortable, creating smaller rooms from the vast echoing stone spaces. But it never became a home; France’s monarchs preferred Fontainebleau.
On the second floor the Museum of Hunting explores the royal obsession. The 17th-century tapestries of Diana, goddess of the hunt and the story of Meleager, the huntsman in Ovid’s Metamorphoses are stunning. But even these huge important tapestries that were symbols of great wealth in France weren’t enough to warm the vast cold rooms.
There’s plenty to see here from the splendid interiors to the formal gardens, vineyards and stables.
TIP: For something different book a night at the Relais de Chambord. The boutique hotel is in a separate building, with a modern extension. It’s luxurious, has great view of the château and is expensive but where else can you feel like François I?
Chambord to Château de Cheverny
Drive: 18 kms/11 miles. 22 mins.
Take the leafy D102 south through the great hunting forest of the French Kings as you leave the Loire river and drop down to Cheverny in Loir-et-Cher.
The Château de Cheverny is a Renaissance beauty built between 1604 and 1634 and then brought bang up to date in the 17th and 18th centuries. It’s a family favorite, particularly for Tintin fans. Hergé chose it for the future château of Moulinsart and it appeared for the first time in 1942 in Le Secret de La Licorne.
See the exhibition, walk the gardens which are splendid and be reminded of the great sport of hunting with the sounds of the château’s own hounds.
Cheverny to Château de Beauregard
Drive: D956. 10 kms/6 miles. 13 mins.
Château de Beauregard is another château that isn’t known to lots of people. Built in the forest of Russy it was one of the many hunting lodges of François I.
Its main claim to fame is the long portrait gallery where you walk down a long march of history. 327 portraits of kings, queens and great figures include all of France’s kings from Philippe VI (1328-50) to Louis XIII (1610-43). You’ll also see portraits of other international figures of the day like Francis Drake, Anne Boleyn and Charles V of Spain, the Holy Roman Emperor.
Afterwards stroll through the gardens to the sunken Jardin des Portraits.
From Beauregard to the end of this Loire Valley Orléans to Blois drive
Drive: A quick 9 km/4.5 miles, 12 min drive takes you back over the Loire into Blois.
The old town of Blois is lovely to wander through. Pick up any of the four trail maps from the tourist office for walks taking you over the river, to sections of Renaissance town houses, old streets around the château and Blois’ churches and abbeys. It’s a great town to stay in at the end of the Loire Valley Orléans to Blois drive.
Check out the next stage of the Loire Valley journey: Loire Valley drive from Blois to Tours
Loire Valley Towns – Information on the major Loire Towns including where to stay and how to get there
Orléans Guide – What to see, where to stay, where to eat and how to get there
Loire à Velo Route – Where to stay, how to book and attractions to see on this great cycle route