This region starts at Chartres in the north, taking in the most historically significant stretch of the huge Loire River (left) between Sancerre and Tours, and stretches south past the cathedral city of Bourges and the empty Brenne Regional Park with many small lakes and villages - a major site for birds.
The big-site chateaux of Chambord, Blois, Amboise, Azay-le-Rideau and Villandry are all in this region, along with the cities of Tours and Orléans. It’s wine-growing country too.
Here are, for illustration, two suggested 3-day / 2-night itineraries - do get in touch to discuss a tailor-made programme for your group:
See and compare churches & cathedrals from 806 AD, the 1000s, the 1200s, and the 1400s. Explore the chateaux of Sully (1300s moated fortress), Blois (1500s/1600s - Gothic to Classical) and Chambord (Renaissance grandeur from the 1500s). Enjoy the vineyards of Sancerre.
START ORLEANS (1hr from Paris by train)
Start at an Orléans hotel - or at the Gare Les Aubrais at 9.25 a.m. (meeting the 8.26 a.m. train from Paris Gare Austerlitz). Drive 30 minutes east to the tiny village of Germigny-des-Prés. Visit a jewel of an early church - an Oratory (small church established to pray for the dead) dating from 806 AD, with a stunningly preserved Byzantine mosaic over the apse. Then we move on 10 minutes to St Benoît-sur-Loire for coffee then a visit to the Abbaye de Fleury with its fine Romanesque church, much of it 11th-century, including the intricately carved west porch. Sully-sur-Loire is only 15 minutes away for a lunch break and an early afternoon visit to the Chateau de Sully: a late-14th-century fortress built to guard a ford on the Loire. Fine pepper-pot turrets, moat, and the 17th-century living quarters of the Duke de Sully.
One hour drive east to Sancerre - drive amongst the vineyards and stop to taste the crisp white Sancerre wine. Overnight in a hotel in the hilltop town.
The Oratory of Germingy-des-Prés,
A closeup of the Palais Jacques Coeur, Bourges
45 minute drive to the cathedral town of Bourges. Walking tour taking in the 15th-century Palais Jacques Coeur, a rare survival of a private residence in Flamboyant Gothic style, and the Gothic Cathedral, mostly dating from the 13th-century (the only cathedral in France with five aisles).
After lunch we drive 90 minutes north to Blois where we drop our bags at our city-centre hotel before a guided tour of the Chateau. The Chateau courtyard demonstrates three distinct styles - an early-16th century Gothic wing in brick, Francois I’s stunning Renaissance wing from mid-16th century (with an amazing spiral staircase), and finally a 17th-century Classical wing.
Afterwards, free time in the old streets of the town - coffee, ice creams, shopping, and free evening in the town.
30 minute drive to the chateau of Chambord, the largest of the Loire chateaux, dominating the surrounding forest. Introductory external tour before time free to explore the interior. The chateau was begun under Francois I in 1519.
After time for lunch, 90 minute drive north to end our tour in the city of Chartres: walking tour taking in the early-Gothic Cathedral, renowned for its early medieval stained glass. End at station for train back to Paris at 5.34 p.m. (into Paris 6.50 p.m.).
This tour could be adapted to start/finish at a Paris hotel if the tour involves a minibus/coach - it is an approximately 2 hr drive to/from our first & last sites. It is also possible to a link to Eurostar travel from the UK: evening Eurostar & night in Paris before the tour. Final day: get 4.51 p.m. train out of Chartres, Paris Montparnasse 5.53 p.m. Eurostar out of Gare du Nord 8.13 p.m., London 9.39 p.m. British time.
Enjoy six very different chateaux. Hear about the kings and queens, English and French, who left an imprint on this area - from Eleanor of Aquitaine and Catherine de Medicis to Richard the ‘Lionheart’ and Francois I. Enjoy the quiet solitude of the lakes and forests of the beautiful Brenne Natural Park.
Start in Tours at a hotel, or at the TGV station Tours / St Pierre-des-Corps - trains from Paris in just under an hour (e.g. Paris Gare Montparnasse 8.46 a.m., arriving 9.45 a.m.).
Drive 30 minutes to the chateau of Villandry, scene of Henry II of England’s submission, just months before he died (1189), before French King Philip Auguste. Introductory tour then time to explore the famous ‘English’ gardens and the chateau with its 12th-century castle tower. Move on 15 minutes to Azay-le-Rideau for a lunch break then a visit to the ‘fairy tale’ moated chateau. Started by a financier in 1515, Azay charms with its lightness.
Drive 35 minutes west to Fontevaraud Abbey to see the abbey church with the tombs of Henry II of England and Richard I (the ‘Lionheart’), together with Henry’s estranged wife Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Just 20 minutes from here to our overnight stop in the town of Chinon, on the Vienne river. Fine views of the ruined castle stronghold of Chinon, where Joan of Arc came to see Charles VII to urge him to fight.
Drive 90 minutes south-east across beautiful countryside to the Brenne Regional Park, a huge quiet area of undisturbed forests and lakes. Start with coffee by the lakeside, then a choice between two sites each just 10 minutes away: time in the Maison de Nature at Chérine (lake boardwalk to see baby tortoises; chance to watch for birds), or to the Park Centre, which includes a short walk to an old chateau (great exterior views).
Back together again for lunch by the lake.
1 hr 20 minute drive north to the small village of Fougères-sur-Bièvre: guided visit of the 14th-century fortified chateau, part castle, part fine home - on the cusp of the Renaissance.
15 minute drive to countryside hotel with restaurant for the night.
45 minute drive to Chenonceau, the chateau that spans a river - the Cher. Started by Charles VIII’s financier around 1500, then confiscated, the chateau became tied up in the 1550’s in the rivalry between Henri II’s lover Diane de Poitiers and his wife Catherine de Medicis. Chenonceau has some claim to be the most beautiful of the Loire chateaux - certainly it is the most photographed!
After time for lunch, drive on 20 minutes to Amboise - visit the 15th-century chateau high above the Loire, followed by the nearby Chateau de Clos Lucé where Leonardo da Vinci lived for the last three years of his life (1516-19). From here it is just 30 minutes back to Tours Ste Pierre-des-Corps TGV station (departures at e.g. 5.39 p.m., into Paris Gare Montparnasse at 6.45 p.m.); or 40 minutes to Tours centre.
This tour could be adapted to start/finish at a Paris hotel if the tour involves a minibus/coach - though it is further away from Paris than the first tour: approximately 3 hour drive to/from our first & last sites.
Azay le Rideau
Brenne Regional Park
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Last updated October 2017
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