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French Regions

Best Things to Do in Centre-Val de Loire, France

05/09/2020

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The region Centre–Val de Loire is the central region in France. It is a new administrative region (2015) that regroups the historical regions of Berry, Orléanais, and Touraine. The capital of the region is Orléans, and it is divided into 6 departments: Cher, Eure-et-Loir, Indre, Indre-et-Loire, Loir-et-Cher, and Loiret

The region is crossed by the Loire, the longest river in France, (1,013 km). The Loire River is like a natural border in France. Indeed, the relief which takes shape on either side of its bed is made up of plains and plateaus with different geographical characteristics, and landscapes.

Region Centre-Val de Loire, France

Despite everybody has in mind the images of large areas of wheat, the region has a great diversity of landscapes plus it is home to 3 regional natural parks: Brenne, Loire-Anjou-Touraine, and Perche. Also, the region is home to the largest state forest in France, the Orléans Forest, which stretches over 35,000 ha north of the Loire and Orléans. The Orléans Forest is much bigger than Fontainebleau!

The Centre-Val-de-Loire region is world known for its majestic châteaux, grand cathedrals, and wines but of course there’s much more! Let’s explore the best things to do in Centre-Val-de-Loire.

Top Things to See in Centre-Val de Loire, France

Let’s have a look at the best things to see and do in Centre-Val de Loire, France. The list of main attractions includes sightseeing, natural sights, history, and gastronomy.

READ MORE: Weekend Getaways in Central France.

Val de Loire

Orleans France

Since 2000 the 280 km stretch from Sully-sur-Loire to Chalonnes-sur-Loire is listed World Heritage Site as a living cultural landscape. With this inscription, Unesco recognizes its universal value, authenticity, and integrity.

Val de Loire is an exceptional cultural landscape along a river, the witness of the interactions between men and the environment over 2,000 years of history. Val de Loire is remarkable for the quality of its architectural heritage, historic cities and towns, and for its world-known châteaux. This landscape also illustrates the influence of the Rennaissance and Age of Enlightenment ideals on thought and creation in Western Europe.

It is interesting to note that it was man’s activity that shaped Val de Loire’s landscape through 4 cultivations: wine, gardening, stone, and that of the river. These 4 activities are still practiced and they are the region’s cornerstone.

Val de Loire is perfect for a relaxing holiday close to nature and to savor the good things in life. Take your time to enjoy what this area has to offer.

Orléans, the City of Jeanne d’Arc

Orléans is the capital of the region Centre–Val de Loire. A  former royal city, Orléans is a comfortably sized town with all the ingredients of a major city, to charm and surprise you.

Orléans could have become the capital of France, favored by its strategic position by the longest river in the country. However, its wild environment benefited in Paris. The famous seat of the city of 1429 which revealed a certain Jeanne, was decisive for the unity and independence of the country.

Over the last years, Orleans engaged in major conservation projects aimed at once more revealing all its former splendor. From the cathedral to the River Loire, on either side of the Rue de Bourgogne, take a stroll through the pedestrian walkways and admire the many stone-built of half-timbered Renaissance houses with their original colors.

In Orléans it’s all about Jeanne d’Arc who on the 8th of May 1429, played a decisive role in the liberation of the town, at the time occupied by the English. Take the time to learn her history and visit the places related to the Saint Patron of France.

Click here to book your hotel in Orléans

Châteaux de la Loire

Château de Chambord - Loire Valley

The Loire Valley is dotted with majestic castles, an ensemble unlike any other on the planet. Many of the most beautiful castles in France are concentrated in this area.

Home to Kings, Queens, and beautiful people, the Châteaux de la Loire were witness of court life and magnificent festivals but also setting for adultery, murder, intrigue, power-plays, torture, and epic horticulture.

The list of top castles in the Loire includes Chambord, Chenonceau, Villandry, Valencay, Amboise or Blois but of course, there are many more castles, public and private.

When touring the Châteaux de la Loire, we recommend visiting 1-2 castles a day, a maximum of 4-5 a week to avoid overwhelming. Also, try to go off the beaten path in search of lesser-known castles. These are usually as beautiful as the “big ones” and come without crowds.

The Loire Castles is one of the most popular day trips from Paris. This small-group day tour by Blue Fox Travel always has great reviews.

Gardens of Château de Villandry

Villandry Gardens - Val de Loire

Amongst all the beautiful gardens that surround the Loire Castles, we want to give a special mention to the Gardens of Villandry (1503), considered one of the most beautiful gardens in Europe.

This historic garden of several hectares inspired by its generous nature mixes pleasure garden and kitchen garden. In Villandry, the harmony of plant life and stonework is of pure genius in a French way.

Loire by Bike

Loire by bike

La Loire à Vélo is a unique, 800km cycle route along the Loire River, with its sandy banks and islands, vine-covered slopes, historical towns and villages, and the magnificent Châteaux de la Loire. The route is flat, mostly through lanes for non-motorized vehicles, well signposted and with all the facilities a biker can ask for.  

La Loire à Vélo is perfect to do with friends or family, great for combining exercise with sightseeing and gastronomy. Well connected by trains that accept bicycles, it is possible to join and leave the cycle route at any point.

Chartres Cathedral

Chartres Cathedral

The central region of France is also a land of Grandes Cathédrales, important milestones in the evolution of the Gothic style. Amongst them outstands Chartres Cathedral for its religious significance and beautiful architecture.

Chartres is since the Middle Ages an important pilgrimage center. All this religious tourism and the exploitation of the fertile plains of the Beauce river allows the emergence of an affluent class that participates in the financing of the new cathedral in 1194.

The Cathedral is almost unique in all France for its architectural homogeneity, the delicate sculptures of its facades, and the symbolism and quality of its stained glass windows. On the Cathedral’s floor, pilgrims still follow the 261.50 m of the labyrinth meanders praying, meditating, or on their knees. This labyrinth is considered the symbolic path to God and eternity.

Click here to book your hotel in Tours

Tours

Tours - France

Tours is a historic city, capital of a kingdom even if for a short time, and with a rich heritage. It is also a student city, with a lively city center populated by many restaurants and bars that pop up their terraces outside as soon as the beautiful days arrive. 

With such an interesting past and its perfect location in the heart of Loire Valley, Tours is the perfect destination for a weekend getaway from Paris by train.

Wander around its historic quarters with their half-timbered houses. Visit Saint-Gatien Cathedral and the bustling Place Plumereau. Don’t miss the Olivier Debré Contemporary Art Centre.

On sunny days, be sure to include in your Tours wanderings a rest break at the famous Tours-sur-Loire Guinguette, where the beach extends the city limits to the banks of the Loire River.

Picturesque Towns and Villages

Sancerre - France

France has many beautiful small towns and villages and the region of Centre-Val de Loire makes no exception.

Very often the villages of this region have a castle and life is organized around it. Centre-Val de Loire has 7 villages listed “plus beaux villages” (=most beautiful villages):  Montrésor, Crissay-sur-Manse, Gargilesse Dampierre, Yèvre-le-Chatel, Sant-Benoît-du-Sault , Candes-Saint-Martin, and Lavardin.

However, there are many other fairy-tale villages worth a detour, you can ask for recommendations in France Bucket List, our Facebook group.

Medieval Chinon

Casually stretched out on the banks of the Vienne River, at the foot of a high cliff crowned by its imposing fortress, Chinon is a medieval masterpiece with its towers and keeps. The view of the royal fortress of Chinon from the bridge over the Vienne takes the breath away to its visitors.

Outside the recently restored fortress, the charm and the sublime always operate, and it is a wonder to wander aimlessly through the medieval streets of this charming town. 

Chinon is also a foodies paradise, well-known for its wine and local products. Choose your favorite restaurant-terrace and enjoy a glass of Chinon wine, paired for example with Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine goat cheese.

Churches and Abbeys

Basilica Saint-Etienne of Neuvy-Saint-Sepulchre

The region of Centre-Val de Loire also has an interesting religious heritage. Amongst the beautiful abbeys and churches in the region outstands the Abbaye de Fleury and the Basilique de Saint-Étienne.

The first is the result of the fusion of two monastic communities established in the Loire in the 7th century. This abbey hosts since 660 the relics of Saint Benedict, brought from Monte-Cassino in Italy. This event is at the origin of the rapid extension, prosperity, and influence of the abbey which becomes Saint-Benoît de Fleury.

Reformed around 930 by Saint Odon de Cluny, but keeping its independence and its own customs, Fleury became a model house and reform center exercising its influence over Lorraine, the Loire Valley, Brittany, Normandy, and England. The current building is from the 11th century.

The Basilica of Saint-Étienne, at Neuvy-Saint-Sepulchre in the historic region of Berry, is a Romanesque building (11th and 12th centuries) with a rotunda, built on the model of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem. It is listed Unesco Heritage and French Historic Monument and it is part of the pilgrims’ road to Santiago de Compostela.

Loire Valley Wine

Wine of Loire Valley, France

The Loire Valley wines are world-famous, there are great selections of lighter red wines, delicate, fruity white wines, sweet roses, and a large production of sparkling wines.

Popular vineyard areas in this region are Pouilly-Fumé, Sancerre, and Valençay. The sparkling wines of Touraine and Vouvray are also well known.

Looking for a vineyard tour and wine tasting? Then, Sancerre is your best bet for a wine tour. Sancerre is the place where the world-renowned Sancerre AOP is set, making some of the world’s best sauvignon blanc whites and sophisticated pinot noir reds.

Check out this exclusive Loire Valley Wine Tour from Paris

Food in the Loire Valley

The cuisine in Centre-Val de Loire is as noble as its châteaux. With its goat cheeses (crottin de Chavignol, Sainte-Maure, Valençay) paired with the best regional wines, rillettes from Tours, lentils from Berry, Géline from Touraine, and the delicious Tarte Tatin, it is impossible to be hungry in Centre-Val de Loire!

Other regional specialties include Pâté de Chartres, made from venison, pork and veal meat and cooked for hours before being served; Cochelin is a puff pastry in the shape of a man that is often filled with chocolate, raspberry or marzipan; Citrouillat, is a delicious pumpkin pâté; Truffiat, a puff pastry containing potatoes and cottage cheese and fruits tapés are dehydrated fruits prepared in a bread oven.

PRACTICAL INFO & OUR FAVORITES | CENTRE-VAL DE LOIRE

Practical Info Best time to Visit Centre-Val de Loire, France

The best time to visit the region is between April to October. We don’t recommend visiting in winter because everything is grey and gloomy plus some châteaux are closed.

If you are interested in the châteaux and their gardens, you may want to visit the region in spring, when the gardens are in full bloom. Summer (July and August) is the peak season, when the top castles see the crowds. However, it is nothing like the popular sites in Paris. 

Traveling to Centre-Val de Loire

Centre-Val de Loire is served by 7 train lines departing from Paris Montparnasse, Paris Gare de Lyon and Paris Gare d’Austerlitz. The main cities in the region are well connected to the capital while smaller cities or towns are connected through secondary lines.

>> Click here to book your train tickets to Centre-Val de Loire

For extended trips in the region, the best way for getting around is by car, especially if you want to visit small villages and lesser-known castles.

If you don’t have your own car, we recommend booking in advance through platforms like RentalCar or AutoEurope. Both sites take all of the major rental companies, such as Hertz, Avis, etc, and do the comparison of prices for you.

Where to stay in Centre-Val de Loire?

We recommend setting your base camp in the main cities and towns of the region. From there, you can explore the rest of the region by train or car.

What to do in Centre-Val de Loire?

  • City sightseeing, historical sightseeing, castle-hopping
  • Hiking, cycling, kayaking, sailing
  • Sea getaways, spa getaways
  • Romantic, cultural and gastronomy getaways

Useful Links

We hope that you enjoyed the main places to visit in Ile-de-France. If you want to learn about other regions, head to this article on the Regions of France, where we have summarized the highlights of each region for you.

Click here to Explore France by Region

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