Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
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Article written by Elisa - Travel Writer & Local in France
The region Centre–Val de Loire is the central region in France. This is a new administrative region (2015) that regroups the historical regions of Berry, Orléanais, and Touraine.
The capital of the Centre-Val de Loire region is Orléans, and it is divided into six departments: Cher, Eure-et-Loir, Indre, Indre-et-Loire, Loir-et-Cher, and Loiret.
The region is bisected by the Loire River, the longest river in France (1,013 km). The Loire River is like a natural border in France. Indeed, the relief that takes shape on either side of its bed consists of plains and plateaus with different geographical characteristics and landscapes.
Although everybody has in mind the images of large areas of wheat, the central region of France has a great diversity of landscapes, plus it is home to three regional natural parks: Brenne, Loire-Anjou-Touraine, and Perche. Also, Centre-Val de Loire 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.
Centre-Val de Loire Travel
BY TRAIN: Traveling in France by train is straightforward. 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 and other main cities in France, while smaller cities or towns are connected through regional trains (Centre-Val de Loire TER trains).
DAY TRIPS FROM PARIS: many travel agencies in Paris offer day trips to the Loire Valley to visit the most beautiful châteaux. This is a great opportunity for those who don’t have much time but still want to get a glimpse of the magnificent Châteaux of the Loire Valley. Our favorite Loire Valley day tour – consistently rated 5/5 – is this small-group tour by minibus and with English speaking guide that covers Château de Chenonceau, Château d’Amboise, and Château de Chambord with a wine tasting in Amboise.
MULTI-DAY TOURS: with more time available, opt for a Loire Valley multi-day tour. TourRadar offers delightful Loire Valley tours to take in the memorable sites, prestigious vineyards and historic cities, and fairytale chateaux.
Centre-Val de Loire by Car
For extended trips in the region, the best way to get around is by car. Central France is a great place for memorable French road trips. With a car, some good tunes, and the best company, you are set for one of the best adventures in your life. Driving in France is very easy, and with the car, you can go off the beaten path to visit small villages and lesser-known castles.
Recommended road trips in Centre-Val de Loire:
If you don’t have your own car, we recommend booking in advance through platforms like RentalCar. This site takes all major rental companies, such as Hertz, Avis, etc., and compares prices for you. Check out our best tips for renting a car in France.
Top Centre-Val de Loire Tourist Attractions
Let’s have a look at the best things to do in Centre-Val de Loire, France. This list with the best Centre-Val de Loire tourist attractions includes sightseeing, natural sights, history, and gastronomy.
Val de Loire
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, witnessing 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 & towns, and its world-known châteaux. This landscape also illustrates the influence of the Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment ideals on thought and creation in Western Europe.
It is interesting to note that man’s activity shaped Val de Loire’s landscape through four cultivations: wine, gardening, stone, and that of the river. These four activities are still practiced, and they are the region’s cornerstone.
Val de Loire is the perfect area for a relaxing holiday close to nature and to savor the good things in life. Check out our Loire Valley trip planner to plan the perfect Loire Valley itinerary, and take your time to enjoy what this area has to offer.
1. Orléans, the City of Jeanne d’Arc
Orléans is the capital of the Centre–Val de Loire region. A former royal city, Orléans is a comfortably sized city with all the ingredients 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 Paris. The famous seat of the city of 1429, which revealed a certain Jeanne, was decisive for the unity and independence of the country.
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.
When you visit Orléans, we recommend staying at least one night on-site. Click here for the best hotels in Orléans.
Over the last years, Orléans 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.
2. The Loire Valley Castles
Home to Kings, Queens, and beautiful people, the Châteaux de la Loire were witnesses of court life and magnificent festivals but also the setting for adultery, murder, intrigue, power-plays, torture, and epic horticulture.
The list of the best Loire Valley Castles includes Château de Chenonceau, Château de Chambord, Château de 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.
If your time in the Loire Valley is limited, don’t waste your time waiting in line to buy the castle tickets. Below we list the Loire Castles you will need advance tickets for and have added links to our favorite trusty providers for your convenience.
3. Gardens of Château de Villandry
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.
4. 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 for enjoying 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.
5. Chartres Cathedral
The central region of France is also the land of Grandes Cathédrales, important milestones in the evolution of the Gothic style. Amongst them outstands the Chartres Cathedral for its religious significance and beautiful architecture.
Since the Middle Ages, Chartres was an important pilgrimage center. All this religious tourism and the exploitation of the fertile plains of the Beauce river allowed the emergence of an affluent class that participated in the financing of the new cathedral in 1194.
The Chartres 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 meters of the labyrinth meanders praying, meditating, or on their knees. The Chartres labyrinth is considered the symbolic path to God and eternity.
TIP: don’t miss the light show Chartres in Light, from mid-April to the end of the year. In the heart of Chartres, the cathedral and 22 other sites are beautifully illuminated from dusk to 1 am! Click here to book your hotel in Chartres.
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 the Loire Valley, Tours is a great destination for a weekend getaway from Paris by train – click here to book your hotel in Tours.
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 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.
7. Picturesque Towns and Villages
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 seven 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 in France centre worth a detour. You can ask for recommendations in our Facebook group France Bucket List,
8. Magnificent Château Hotels
The region is dotted with stunning château-hotels offering accommodation with discerning five-star service that will treat you like a royal, if only just for the night.
Explore the best castles of the Loire Valley during the day, and choose your particular château to rest your head at night. From medieval times to the 19th century, each of the château-hotels in the Loire Valley offers something a little unique for those who want to sleep like a king or queen.
9. 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!.
Outside the recently restored fortress, the medieval streets of this charming town, are ideal to wander aimlessly.
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.
10. Beautiful Churches and Abbeys
The Centre-Val de Loire history is completed with an interesting religious heritage. Amongst the beautiful abbeys and churches in the region outstand 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. Since 660, the abbey hosts the relics of Saint Benedict, brought from Monte-Cassino in Italy. This event is at the origin of the abbey’s rapid extension, prosperity, and influence, 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 historical 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 part of the pilgrims’ road to Santiago de Compostela and listed Unesco Heritage and French Historic Monument.
11. The Loire Valley Wine
The Loire Valley wines are world-famous French wines. 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.
The town of Sancerre is another must for wine lovers, 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.
Looking for a vineyard tour and wine tasting? Check out this exclusive Loire Valley Wine Tour from Paris.
TIP: If you plan to bring a few bottles home (who could resist?!), make sure you pack your wine properly, so it arrives safely home!
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.
We hope that you enjoyed the main places to visit in Centre-Val de Loire. 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.