The complete Loire Valley drive takes you from Le Puy-en-Velay in the Auvergne to Saint-Nazaire on the French Atlantic Coast where the mighty river empties into the ocean after its 630 mile (1,013 km) journey.
I have divided this Loire Valley drive into six major sections. The first and the last stage have less well known attractions but offer spectacular views and some great surprises. The most popular routes are in the sections from Orléans to Saumur, taking in the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Valley of the Kings. It was in this part of France favoured by monarchs for centuries that much of the history of the country was made.
Click on the heading for a Loire Valley drive through each section.
One of the least known of the routes along the Loire Valley passes through two cities steeped in industrial heritage and the arts. Visit the château built on an island in the river and the spa town of Bourbon-Lancy. The route takes in one of France’s great canals and finishes at the delightful town of Nevers.
The small roads between the river and the canal will surprise with an old town with medieval quays and an engineering feat that answered the great challenges of building France’s canal system. Plus two famous wine-producing regions, a château with a stunning kitchen garden, and a town famous for ceramics (and one of those tempting factory outlet shops).
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Loire Valley starts here. The route finishes at Orléans, a city well worth a longer visit.
This Loire Valley section takes you into the intriguing, and often bloody, history of the French monarchs, their wives, mistresses and scheming courtiers. It has some of France’s greatest châteaux to wander through, less famous ones to discover, and a garden for rose lovers.
More blockbuster châteaux in this part of the Loire Valley drive plus the last home of Leonardo da Vinci. Go off the beaten track for beautiful gardens and surprises. Did you know about the fabulous gardens at Nitray, or the château that has the National Tomato Conservatory with over 700 tomato varieties, and a good bed and breakfast?
Châteaux and fortified castles offer more turbulent French history while some of France’s great potagers (kitchen gardens) show how well the French Kings and Queens ate. The English Plantagenet royal family lies in state in a great French Abbey which has a hotel, restaurants and a contemporary art museum.
This last section starts with familiar attractions then takes on the feel of the sea as it nears the Atlantic Ocean. Plus fascinating unknown châteaux: the ‘medieval Doomsday bunker’ and the ‘Giant of the Loire Valley’. Great cities vie with each other with world famous tapestries and huge machines that walk around the town. The Loire Valley drive ends at Saint-Nazaire whose major shipyards have built the world’s greatest liners.
Loire Valley Towns and Cities with attractions, places to stay and how to get to each one
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