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French Weekends in Central France
Looking for Paris weekend breaks not far from the French capital? Explore Central France, located within a stone’s throw from Paris. The world-famous Loire River has transformed the heart of France into a rich area of great beauty, peppered with lush valleys and dense forests. Central France is also an area full of picturesque medieval towns, impressive Gothic cathedrals, and beautiful Renaissance châteaux, proposing visitors hundreds of ideas for short weekend getaways in France.
If you are wondering where to go in France for a weekend keep reading. To get you started, here are five of our favorite French weekend breaks in Central France. Five tried-and-tested French weekends with some good addresses and our best tips to get the most out of your time during your 2 – 3 days in the heart of France.
Best of Central France
This article on French weekend breaks in Central France only considers the French region of Centre – Val de Loire. Click here to read more about this region of Central France and all the French Regions.
People go to Chartres to visit its impressive cathedral but Chartres is also one of the most interesting Central France cities, with little streets flanked by old buildings, its charming stairs linking the Old and New Town and romantic walks along the Eure River.
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.
Chartres Cathedral is definitely one of the main Central France attractions. 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.
How to spend a weekend in Chartres?
- Try to arrive on Friday, when the cathedral’s staff removes all the chairs, to walk through the labyrinth.
- Get lost in the streets of the Upper Town, near the cathedral. This part of the city has beautiful half-timbered houses. Don’t miss the oh-so-pretty Rue des Écuyers.
- If there’s an attraction that truly belongs in Chartres it’s the International Stained Glass Center. Learn about the stain glass technique and visit the workshop to see the craftsmen and women at their benches.
- Walk along the banks of the Eure River, in the Lower Town to get a feel for medieval Chartres.
- Visit the beautiful Château de Maintenon, located 20 km north-east of Chartres. During summer, guided visits are organized at night to explore the château’s impressive gardens, designed by the famous landscape designer Le Nôtre.
- Be captivated by Chartres’ Light Show in its historic center. From April to October, after dark, 20 of the city’s monuments, including bridges, the cathedral, and Episcopal Palace become the canvas for spellbinding projections accompanied by music.
The Berry (from Bourges to Sancerre)
Bourges has managed to conserve a rich architectural heritage, today classified, including the famous Jacques-Coeur Palace, its majestic Cathedral of Saint Étienne, pretty winding streets sheltering many medieval houses, as well as interesting museums.
Visit also the huge marsh at the gates of the city, a wonderful green lung of 135 Ha which is listed as Natural Heritage by Unesco and makes part of Bourges’ history and identity. From the marsh, there’s one of the most beautiful views of Bourges’ cathedral and surrounding medieval houses.
To offer a good balance with this cultural stop that is Bourges, head to Sancerre for a gustative stop. Set at 312 m on a rocky outcrop and with an architecture perfectly preserved, Sancerre is also well known for its vineyards. Sancerre vineyards are the oldest in France (I century AD), producing the AOC Sancerre wines which are mostly white but not only. A great place to know about these wines is the Maison des Sancerre, considered THE shop window of Sancerre wines.
How to spend a weekend at the Berry?
- Visit the Jacques-Coeur Palace, one of the most beautiful examples of civil Gothic architecture.
- Get lost in Bourges’ Old Town, with beautiful medieval houses and squares and the Cathedral of Saint-Étienne, one of Monet’s sources of inspiration.
- Explore Bourges’ beautiful marsh by bike.
- Do some shopping at Aux Arômes du Vieux Bourges. A wonderful and very reputed shop classed historical monument that sells traditional chocolates, and sweet treats typical of Bourges.
- Visit Sancerre, with terrific views over the Loire Valley.
- Visit the Maison des Sancerre before heading to explore the village’s vineyards.
If you are looking for fabulous short breaks to France, Tours is always a good idea. 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, Saint-Gatien Cathedral and the bustling Place Plumereau, as well as 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.
How to spend a weekend in Tours?
- Visit the Musée du Compagnonnage (mentoring network), born during the big medieval construction sites
- Wander aimlessly around the Marché des Halles, then head to Plum’ Square for a “petit noir” (little black coffee)
- Relax at the Guinguette at the banks of the Loire River
- Rent a bike and head to Château de Villandry, to see its magnificent gardens.
North of the Loire River (Orléans to Sully-sur-Loire)
For those looking for more dynamic French weekends, we propose this little road trip to the North of the Loire from Orléans to Sully-sur-Loire. The area is dotted with beautiful châteaux and other interesting stone monuments, without forgetting some little museums which are worth a detour.
Orléans is one of the most interesting places to visit in Central France. It is a very dynamic city that, over recent years, has engaged in major conservation projects aimed at revealing all its former splendor. Orléans is the perfect base for you to set off and discover the north of Loire Valley and its famous châteaux: Chambord, Blois, Sully-sur-Loire (just to name a few!) are less than an hour from the city.
Orléans is also the city of Joan of Arc, the lady who, on the 8th of May 1429, played a decisive role in the liberation of the town, at the time occupied by the English. The famous seat of the city was decisive for the unity and independence of the country.
Take advantage of your stay in Orléans to visit two rather atypical museums and a castle, before taking up the edge of the wild river.
How to spend a weekend in Orléans?
- Visit the Cathedral of Sainte-Croix, following the steps of Jeanne d’Arc.
- Relax on the banks of the Loire River with your favorite drink.
- Visit the Musée Campanaire Bollée in Saint-Jean-de-Braye. Bollée was the last French craftsman to make bells with his own hands. Each bell is a unique musical instrument (the mold is destroyed after its manufacture) and the sound produced is obtained by a very precise composition of the tin and copper alloy used.
- Also surprising is the Museum of the Fairground Theater in Artenay. Medieval jokers, harlequins, puppeteers… a complex universe shared between the world of theater and that of travelers.
- Visit the Château de Sully. This is a château-fort, a true castle, built to control one of the few sites where the Loire can be forded.
If you are looking for picturesque France weekend breaks, Chinon is the place to go. Located west of Tours, the small town of Chinon is one of the most beautiful Central France towns and the perfect gourmet and cultural combination for a great weekend getaway in Central France.
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. Rue Voltaire, the main medieval street in Chinon, is superbly enhanced. This is a paved street, with houses dating from the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth, each more beautiful than the other.
Surrounded by the vineyards of the Loire Valley and well-known for its wine and local produce, Chinon is also a foodies paradise. Choose your favorite restaurant-terrace and enjoy a glass of Chinon wine paired with Sainte-Maure-de-Touraine goat cheese; or perhaps you want to taste the fouaces and fouées that Rabelais (the famous writer and humanist born in Chinon) loved so much, the Richelais truffles or rillettes made from fish from the Loire.
How to spend a weekend in Chinon?
- Visit the royal fortress of Chinon
- Visit one of the surrounding châteaux. We recommend the fairy-tale Château du Rivau.
- Walk along the banks of the Vienne River and stop for a glass of Chinon and rillettes at one of the guinguettes facing the river.
- Wine tasting (and perhaps some wine shopping) in one of Chinon’s cellars.