Loire Valley towns and cities offer so much. You’ll discover stately cathedrals and churches, unusual attractions, good hotels and accommodation of all kinds. The Loire Valley is known as the ‘Garden of France’ so you know there’ll be plenty of great restaurants and bistros, not to mention the Loire Valley wines.

Old sailing boat on river Loire with Blois in the background and an old sstone bridge
Blois on the Loire ©Laurent-Alvarez-ADT41

And of course, in the UNESCO World Heritage section of the Loire Valley, the glorious châteaux for which the Loire Valley is famous are all worth a visit.

Overhead view of Loire Montsoreau in Anjou with viens in front, castle to right and Loire in background
Loire Montsoreau vines in Anjou © Jean-Sébastien Evrard

When you hear about the Loire River, you think of the Loire Valley in central France. But the river stretches so much further than this short but fabulous section.

I have taken a few liberties here and have called the whole Loire river the Loire Valley because I wanted to include the first major town the river goes through which is very close to my house in the Auvergne. I love discovering different river sources. Last year I went to the source of the Allier and the Loire. This year if it’s possible, I plan to visit the source of the Dordogne, the Tarn and the Lot. Visiting the source of a river adds to its fascination. You’ve seen where it is born born and for me it makes me determined to follow it to its final destination into the ocean. So please bear with my slight deception here.

This article takes in nine towns on the course of the Loire river from east to west. You’ll be familiar with some of the towns, but I hope others will inspire you to visit.

The main Loire Valley towns start with Le Puy-en-Velay in the Auvergne where the river is modest. Then it goes through Nevers, Orléans, Blois, Tours, Saumur, Angers, Nantes and St-Nazaire where the Loire finishes its journey to the sea.

Le-Puy-en-Velay

Le Puy-en-Velay dramatic photo with lowering clouds over the town showing pinacles of volcanic rock with monuments on top of chapel, cathedral and statue
Le Puy-en-Velay © Tourist Office

Le Puy-en-Velay, the first of the Loire Valley towns and cities, is very near my house in France so I am particularly fond of this strange place. You can’t miss its main features as you approach. The religious statues and buildings sit on volcanic pinnacles that rise up from the streets and give the town a theatricality out of all proportion to its fame.

Looking up very high rocky pinacle in Le Puy to the Aiguille of St Michael Pilgrim Walking routes in France
Le Puy-en-Velay St Michel d’Aiguilhe Public Domain via Wikimedia
Three Landmarks

Climb 134 steps up a steep pedestrianized hill past lace shops, small restaurants and cafés to reach the Cathédral Notre-Dame. Just be thankful we’ve moved on from the Middle Ages when pilgrims went up the slope on their knees.

Just next to it the Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe stands on an impossibly sharp pinnacle. It’s a much stepper climb up 268 steps. But it’s worth it for the fabulous view over the town and the surrounding hills.

The red terracotta statue of Notre-Dame de France is something different. It was built in 1860 from 213 canons seized from the Russians by the French at the siege of Sebastapol in 1855 during the Crimean War.

Soldiers in 16th-century dress in huddle on ground holding weapons with lady in middle part of Le Puy Renaissance Festival
Renaissance Festival Le Puy-en-Velay © Jordan Fontanille/Le Puy TO

Don’t miss Le Puy’s magical illuminations in the summer and at Christmas. And if you’re here in the third week in September, you’ll catch the great Renaissance festival, the Fête du Roi de l’Oiseau.

Le Puy is the start of one of the most popular, and best organized pilgrim routes to St James of Compostela in Spain.

Le Puy-en-Velay is the capital of the Haute-Loire department in the Auvergne, a superb dramatic region of France and it’s very little known. Well worth a visit!

Where to Stay in Le Puy

In Le Puy
Le Bristol is a delightful, old-fashioned hotel in the centre of town with a good restaurant.

Outside Le Puy

Auvergne view from top of high hill looking out over harvested yellow field to rolling hills and valleys in background
Auvergne views around La Grangette © Mary Anne Evans

For the best value, simple décor, superb views and a meal fit for a king (or a hungry pilgrim), book at La Grangette. This bed and breakfast just beyond St Pryvat d’Allier is a delight and if you’re walking and without transport, the welcoming owners will pick you up in the evening and drop you off the next day at a nearby village.
I have to confess: the owners are friends of mine. But it’s not just me who recommends La Grangette; many of the guests return again and again.

Le Puy-en-Velay Tourist Office

How to get to Le Puy-en-Velay from Paris

By train: There are several routes by train from Paris to Le-Puy-en-Velay. All of them involve changes.

Via Lyon: TGV trains leave from Gare de Lyon taking 1 hr 57mins to Lyon Part Dieu. The connecting train from Lyon to Le-Puy-en-Velay takes around 2 hrs. Total journey time around 4 hrs 30 mins.

Via St Etienne: Trains leave Gare de Lyon taking from 2hrs 54 mins to get to St Etienne Chateaucreux. The connecting train from St Etienne to Le-Puy-en-Velay takes around 1 hr 30 mins. Total journey time around 5hrs 50 mins.

Via Clermont-Ferrand: Intercity trains leave from Paris Bercy Station taking from 3 hours 28 mins. At Clermont Ferrand you have to change onto a TER express train to St Georges D’Aurac, taking around 1 hr 15 mins.
At St Georges d’Aurac you have to change again onto a local train taking around 50 minutes to Le Puy-en-Velay. Total journey time 5 hr 54 mins. This is the most scenic route but you need time and patience.

By car: Le Puy-en-Velay is 543 kilometers (338 miles) from Paris and takes around 5 hrs 30 mins.

Nevers in Burgundy

Looking at the stone bridge very long on the Loire river leading into Nevers
Nevers © Daniel Villafruela/Wikimedia Commons

Nevers is a strange mix of a city located where the Loire and the Nièvre rivers meet in Burgundy. Since the 17th century it’s been famous for its faïence but it’s also a city tied to Bernadette of Lourdes, the saint born in 1844. There’s a concrete modern church dedicated to her, but of greater interest is the Espace Bernadette. Located in the convent of St-Gildard where the saint died, it tells the story of her life. Nevers isn’t one of the great sacred sites of France but pilgrims come to see her small, embalmed body in its glass-fronted shrine.

Nevers is part of a collection of Villes Sanctuaires, or Sanctuary Towns. It’s also the capital of the Nièvre department in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region.

Gargoyles on Nevers Cathedral © AEngineer/James Mitchell/CC-BY-SA 2.0

Start with the glorious Cathedral of St-Cyr. Built from the 12th to 16th centuries with Romanesque and Gothic features, it’s also known for its amazing gargoyles.  

The Musée de la Faïence et des Beaux Arts in the restored Abbaye de Notre Dame shows world-famous pieces from the 16th to the 20th centuries. Excellent multimedia presentations take you further into the art.

The hugely enjoyable Loire à Vélo route starts just west of Nevers.

Where to Stay in Nevers

Hôtel de Clèves in Nevers wshowing modern reception with white sofa and black upholstery at end below a mirror
Hôtel de Clèves in Nevers

The Hôtel de Clèves is a good comfortable choice in the centre of town. It has smart, simple rooms, a friendly welcome and good value prices.

Château de Prey near Nevers showing bedroom with bed on right, polished wooden floors, classic furniture and floor to ceiling French windows with pretty drapes looking onto park
Château de Prye near Nevers

If you fancy a more luxurious bed and breakfast, try the pretty Chateau de Prye. The 18th-century building is set in the countryside east of Nevers in a fabulous park.

Nevers Tourist Website is run by Burgundy Tourism.

How to get to Nevers from Paris

By train: Intercite trains from Paris Bercy direct to Nevers take 1 hr 56 mins.
TER trains take from 2hs 32 mins.

By car: Nevers is 242 kms (150miles) from Paris and takes around 2 hrs 45 mins.

Orléans

Loire river at Orleans with large river in central part, and buildings on left bank, white stone with tower in distance
Loire river at Orleans Public domain via Wikimedia

Orléans is one of the major Loire valley towns and cities. It’s a popular starting point for trips around the Loire Valley but it’s a delightful city in its own right and worth a stay. Gracious 18th– and 19th-century streets are lined with neo-classical buildings and galleried arcades. It’s a green town with plenty of gardens and the Parc Floral de la Source du Loiret just outside the centre is well worth a visit, particularly in the heat of the summer.  

Green bronzed statue of Joan of Arc looking up at her on a horse in main square in Orleand
Statue of Joan of Arc in Orléans Public domain via Wikimedia

Think of Orléans and you think of Joan of Arc. During the Hundred Years War (1339-1453) she led the French troops who forced the English to abandon their Siege of Orléans on May 8, 1429. References to the liberation of the city by Joan are seen all over the town, in her statue and in the stained glass windows in the cathedral.

Parc Floral in Orleans looking from shady river bank with chairs over water and to chateau in distance on a hill
Parc Floral in Orleans © Loiret Tourisme

Don’t miss: The Cathedral Sainte-Croix, the Musée des Beaux Arts with its excellent art collection including beautiful 18th-century pastels, and 20th-century masters like Picasso, Gauguin and the sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska who was born just outside the city.
The excellent son et lumière nightly show takes place from May to September.

Here’s a detailed Guide to Orléans including places to stay.

How to get to Orléans from Paris

By train: Intercity trains from Gare d’Austerlitz to Orléans take from 1hr 12 mins.

By car: Orléans is 132 kms (82 miles) from Paris and takes around 1 hr 40 mins.

Drive the Loire Valley between Orléans and Blois

Jardins de roquelin with little girl looking over iron gate at lawn and trees beyond and rose bushes in pink flower toright
Jardins de Roquelin

If you are driving around the Loire Valley take the Orléans to Blois route which has some glorious châteaux to visit. You may know Chambord but have you visited Beauregard? The Jardins de Roqeuelin are not to be missed and there’s a great Sunday market in the charming riverside town of Meung-sur-Loire.

Blois

Loire at night looking at Blois from dark river with boat in water, lights on buildings and darkening sky
Blois and the Loire at night © P Bousseaud/Centre Val de Loire

The huge Château de Blois dominates this bustling Loire Valley town. It’s right in the centre, surrounded by winding streets that are lined with old houses, cafés, shops and restaurants. Built over four centuries, the château is an extraordinary mix of styles.

It was the grand home of seven kings and ten queens, place of royal intrigue, the scene of the death of the infamous Duc de Guise…You’ll discover more on a trip through the château which was built as an urban palace.

Blois chateau covered in light scenes with different colours as part of their nightly son et lumiere show
Son et lumière at Blois © FLeguere

Do book for the summer evening son et lumière (sound and light show). As the sun sets and the shadows gather, the story of the château comes alive. Scenes flicker around the walls, music, the sound of carriages and horses, speeches and more echo in the enclosed courtyard. It’s really ripping good yarn stuff!

There’s also the strange but fascinating House of Magic (Maison de la Magie), full of odd automata and clocks. You can’t miss it. Opposite the château a show takes place on the outside of the house every half hour in summer.

The old town is lovely to wander through. Pick up any of the four maps from the tourist office for walks taking you on trails over the river, to sections of Renaissance town houses, old streets around the château and the churches and abbeys of Blois.

Where to Stay in Blois

Facade of Anne de Bretagne hotel in Tours. Facade of 19th century3-storeybuilding covered in ivy, parasols in front garden and hedges
Anne de Bretagne Hotel

The Hôtel Anne de Bretagne is in the centre of town in a leafy square. Simple but pretty, light-filled rooms and a good breakfast in the garden in summer make this a favorite.

Maison de Thomas chic bed and breakfast in Blois. Showing one room with old beamed ceiling, double bed with crisp white sheets and window
Maison de Thomas © Louis Defer/Maison de thomas

If you’re after a chic bed and breakfast, try La Maison de Thomas. It’s in a pedestrianized street and has just 5 rooms. The décor is stylish; the welcome friendly. There’s a good breakfast served in a pretty room and they are well geared up for cyclists.

Blois Tourist Office

How to get to Blois from Paris

By train: Intercity trains from Paris Gare d’Austerlitz to Gare de Blois Chambord take from 1 hr 26 mins.

By car: Blois is around 185km (115 miles) from Paris and the journey takes from 2hrs 10 mins.

Drive the Loire Valley between Blois and Tours

Chenonceau chateau in Loire Valley from acres of flower beds full of bright red flowers with gracious white stone chateau in background
Château de Chenonceau © GOG93/CC-BY-SA-4.0

The Loire Valley drive from Blois to Tours takes in more treasures. Two glorious châteaux used as pawns in a power game between a Queen and a Mistress; Leonardo da Vinci’s last home and some wonderful gardens are in store.

Tours

Tours is a big city, located where the Loire and Cher rivers meet in the Val-de-Loire department. Less well known to visitors than other Loire Valley towns and cities, it makes a good base for visiting the châteaux and attractions of the western Loire. 

In the Middle Ages, Tours was an important centre for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. It was a starting point for French pilgrims and for others coming from Boulogne, Tournai and the Low Countries who met up here to begin the long walk.

Tours in the Loire Valley, main square with empty tables and chairs in centre surrounded by old half-timbered tall houses
Tours © V Treney

The lovely old town clusters around two different quarters. Around place Plumereau – a lively meeting place full of cafés and bars, the winding streets are lined with old houses, many of them half-timbered. There’s also a Romanesque basilica and cloisters to visit.

Rose stained glass window in Tours cathedral predominantly blue glass behind top of organ loft with pipes and figures
Stained glass in Tours Cathedral © Zairon/CC-BY-SA 4.0

The cathedral quarter makes up the second historic area. The Cathédrale St-Gatien is a flamboyant Gothic building dating from the 12th century. Inside highlights include the 16th-century tomb of Charles VIII and Anne de Bretagne’s two infant children and some stunning stained glass.

Garlic in huge piles at the Basi land garlic fair in Tours
Basil and Garlic Fair in Tours © Grand Celinien/CC-BY-SA-3.0

There’s a market here every day except on Mondays. Check out the annual markets which include the Foire de Tours (first weekend in May usually but in 2021 Jul 2-11), the Garlic and Basil Fair (July), a huge flea market (first Sunday of September) and a Christmas market (three weeks before Christmas).

Where to Stay in Tours

Hôtel du Manoir in Tours showing main reception cum drawing room. Old fashioned bu pleasant 19th century room with pillars and staircase at end
Hôtel du Manoir, Tours

In Tours: The 2-star Hotel du Manoir is an old-fashioned, comfortable hotel between the cathedral and train station. The 19th-century townhouse has 20 individually decorated rooms and offers an excellent breakfast in the vaulted cellar.

Château de Beauvois hotel showing nighttime shot of warm stone hotel with slate rooves and turrets lit up against background of dark hill and darkening sky
Château de Beauvois

Outside Tours: You’re in the Loire valley so why not go posh? The Château de Beauvois fits the bill perfectly. In Luynes, just 15kms/9.3 miles from Tours, it’s a peaceful, grand place. It is pricey but worth it if you want to splash out.

Tours Tourist Office

How to get to Tours from Paris

By train: TGV trains from Paris Gare Montparnasse to Tours take from 1 hr 20 mins.

By car: Tours is around 238km (148 miles) from Paris and the journey takes from 2hrs 35 mins.

Saumur

Couple kayaking on the Loire at Saumur with chateau and bridge in background
Kayaking on the Loire at Saumur © Jean-Sébastien Evrard

Saumur lies between Chinon and Angers. This Loire Valley town is famous above all for two things: its excellent sparkling wine (you can visit many of the producers), and its military associations.

The Armoured Corps Academy and the French Cavalry Academy are housed in 18th-century buildings around a dusty square. Once the extensive parade ground, now it’s a car park. The Musée des Blindés is a must for military fans with over 200 armored vehicles from the German Panther to the U.S. M3 Lee Grant. For an expert view on this, check out Mech Traveller’s review.

Horse lovers should visit the National Riding School (Le Cadre Noir) just outside the center where you can see riders training horses for those complicated dressage moves.

Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry. September with high walls and turrets and towers of Saumur castle and green grass in front. Highly coloured illustrated manuscript from the 17th ecentury
Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry. September. Public domain

The Château de Saumur stands above the town, catching the sun with its fairytale white towers, delicate stone tracery and mullion windows. Built in the second half of the 14th century by Louis I it was depicted in Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, the 15th-century illuminated manuscript. It houses a museum showing decorative and fine arts from ceramics to those tapestries for which France was so famous.

Saumur Tourist Office

Where to Stay in Saumur

Château de Beaulieu in Saumur showing gracious 18th century stone 3 storey building with slate pitched roof seen from the garden. Lawn in front and tree to one side
Château de Beaulieu in Saumur

The 18th-century Château de Beaulieu is just near the banks of the Loire. Built in the 18th century, this grand bed and breakfast has just five bedrooms going from grand to cosy. With a lovely garden and outdoor pool, it’s just 2 kms from the center of town.

Le Londres hotel breakfast room in Saumur. Brightly coloured orange wall with shelves and objects on it, tables and chairs and chandelier
Le Londres breakfast room

Le Londres is a good value and centrally located hotel with an individual approach to its fun decor. Views of the château and a good breakfast make up a very good package.

How to get to Saumur from Paris

By train: TGV trains leave from Paris Montparnasse to Angers St Laud where you have to change onto a TER tain to Saumur. It takes from 2 hrs 44 mins.

By car: Saumur is 321 kms/199 miles from Paris taking from 3hrs 5 mins.

Angers

Angers castle looking fromone corner with street on right with people on bicycles and huge round tower and formidable walls on left with pretty gardens in front
Angers Castle ©-J.-Damase/Pays-de-la-Loire Tourism

The capital of the ancient county of Anjou is a wonderful find. Better known to the French than to foreign visitors, Angers has a château and an extraordinary tapestry. And Angers does have a history with England through marriages and wars.  Fifteen Plantagenet monarchs from Anjou ruled England between 1154 and 1485.

The formidable château, more a defensive fortress, was started in 1231. Today it’s relatively intact along its 1-kilometre long wall with its 17 round towers.

Apocalypse Tapestry in Angers of panel of woman on right receiving wings
Apocalpyse Tapestry in Angers of woman receiving wings © CC-BY-SA 4.0

But it’s the Tapestry housed inside that will conjure up the horrors of the end of the world. The Apocalypse Tapestry is 100 metres (326 ft) long. The gallery is dimly lit, protecting the fragile dyes of the extraordinary work of art, woven in Paris between 1373 and 1382 for Louis I of Anjou. It displays, in grotesque and often horrifying detail, the last chapter of the New Testament of St. John about the Apocalypse.

Anjou Tourist Office

More about the glorious history of tapestries in France from Bayeux (strictly not a tapestry) to today.

Where to Stay in Angers

Hotel du Mail in Angers showing small space in front of hotel with tables and chairs and shuttered windows and trees
Hotel du Mail © Mary Anne Evans

In Angers: The Hôtel du Mail is a former 17th-century convent has gone a long way since its spiritual beginnings. A startling red hallway with a winding staircase, bold colour schemes in a classical setting and a delightful leafy courtyard.

Château de Briottières at night. Near Angers dark blue sky, and classic chateau lit up with lights to show warm stone walls, towers and angles
Château de Briottières

Outside Angers: Château de Briottières is set in 120 acres of parkland. There are ten beautifully decorated rooms in the château, a swimming pool, home cooking to be enjoyed on the terrace and bike rides (bikes provided free) in the nearby forests. Or book the cabin in the woods which comes with its own sauna. It’s 28 kms (17 miles) north of Angers and takes around 38 minutes to drive.

How to get to Angers from Paris

By train: TGV trains from Paris Gare Montparnasse to Angers Saint-Laud take from 1 hr 28 mins.

By car: Tours is around 294km (183 miles) from Paris and the journey takes from 3 hrs 03 mins.

Nantes

Serpant of metal in water standing on stilts with head towards camera in Nantes Estuary with clouds in sky
Huang Yong Ping, Serpent d’océan, Saint-Brévin-les-Pins on the Estuary © Franck Tomps / LVAN

When you get to Nantes, you can feel the ocean. The city might be on the Loire but it’s an estuary city, living between land and sea, pulling you towards the west coast and the Atlantic. And it celebrates the estuary each year with its summer-long Voyage à Nantes, a trail of public art works that twists its way from Nantes out towards the sea.

Nantes city showing tall building and tower of the palace, with cathedral and other classic buildings in the background and a cloud swept blue sky
Nantes © Yann Caradec/CC-BY-SA 4.0

It’s also a fabulous and gracious city which has reinvented itself over the last 15 years or so.

Nantes was once the capital of an independent Brittany. It owed its later 18th-century fame and fortune to the Atlantic trade to America, exporting Africans into slavery from here. There’s a very moving Memorial to the Abolition of Slavery in an underground passage near the river.

Chateau de Nantes showing large white stone building on five floors at an angle from the gravelled courtyard. With slate roofs and towers
Château de Nantes ©Guiguilacagouille/CC-BY-SA 3.0

There’s plenty to see in Nantes, starting with the Château des Ducs. Built in the 15th century it started its life as a great palace then became a prison. Bluebird was incarcerated here then publicly executed in 1440. I’ll leave the other intriguing prisoners for you to discover on your visit.

Huge mechanical elephant in his gallery in the Ile de Nantes
The fabulous Elephant in the Ile de Nantes Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Most famously, it’s home to Les Machines de L’Ȋle, an innovative, extraordinary company that makes huge machines in the shapes of carousels, elephants. Most recently they have built the Dragon of Calais.

There are lovely old parts, well worth wandering through before sitting in a pavement café watching the world go by. The former industrial part has been mightily spruced up, and don’t miss a trip along the estuary itself.

Where to Stay in Nantes

The 4-star La Pérouse Hotel is chic and contemporary. Light and airy with pastel shades and a very good use of pale woods on the floors and walls, its 1930s furniture fits right into the 46 good sized bedrooms, bar and breakfast room.

Yellowcoloured bedroom in L’Hôtel in Nantes with two beds and window looking onto the chateau
L’Hôtel in Nantes

L’Hôtel opposite the château is another hotel that has gone for the contemporary look and does it very well. Its 31 rooms are decent sized (try to book one with a great view); there’s a good breakfast, a small outside area and a warm welcome.

Nantes Tourist Office

How to get to Nantes from Paris

By train: TGV trains from Paris Gare Montparnasse to Nantes take from 2 hrs 55 mins and you have to change at the Gare de Nantes onto a regular train to Haluchère-Batignolles station, Nantes.

By car: Nantes is around 385km (240miles) and the journey takes from 3hrs 30 mins.

Saint-Nazaire – The Last of the Loire Valley Towns

People on left on industrial platform looking at a ship being constructed at Chantiers navals St Nazaire
Visit the Chantiers Navals

Saint-Nazaire is an industrial city with one of the biggest shipyards in the world. The Chantiers de l’Atlantique has built superliners from SS Normandie to RMS Queen Mary 2 and MS Symphony of the Seas, the largest passenger cruise ship in the world. Try to visit it; the sheer scale of what they do is pretty impressive.

Submarine Espadon in Saint Nazaire showing strange long copper coloured submarine in copper container, faintly sinister
Spadon submarine in Saint Nazaire © Rama/CC-BY-SA 2.0

Most of the attractions in Saint-Nazaire are industrial such as the Wind Turbine Museum, the submarine Espadon, and Airbus.

Saint-Nazaire is in the Loire-Atlantique department of Brittany.

Saint-Nazaire Tourist Office

Where to Stay in Saint-Nazaire

The top luxury hotels in Saint-Nazaire are away from the industrial centre at La Baule-Escoublac. Try the Hôtel Le Castel Marie-Louise, a Barrières group and Relais & Châteaux Hotel with a Michelin star restaurant and all the luxury a 5-star hotel offers.

Le Manoir des quatre Saisons in La turballe, Atlantic coast. Pleasant long two storey stone buildings with grass, trees and copper beech tre in foreground
Le Manoir des Quatre Saisons in La Turballe © Arnaud Dréan/Le Manoir

If you’re on a more modest budget and want to stay near the sea and visit Saint-Nazaire for the day, try Le Manoir des Quatre Saisons at La Turballe on the sea. It’s a 26 kms/ miles, 26 minute drive into Saint-Nazaire.

How to get to Saint-Nazaire from Paris

By train: TGV trains from Paris Gare Montparnasse to Saint-Nazaire take from 2 hrs 52 mins.

By car: Nantes is around 438 kms (272 miles) from Paris and the journey takes from 4hrs 21 mins.

More Information

For more options on where to stay in all the Loire Valley towns have a look at this Budget Hotel Chains in France

Rivers of France

Departments of France

The Atlantic Coast of France