A quintessential French valley in the heat of summer, The Loire Valley took us by surprise and made us fall in love with its wine culture, small villages, and flower-lined streets. Leonardo Da Vinci even chose to call the valley home for his final days. We hope you enjoy our 3-day itinerary and guide to Angers, France and exploring the breathtaking valley of Loire.
It feels like just yesterday we spent a week traveling one of France's most stunning regions— a place where rolling vineyards dominate the landscape, historical châteaux rise majestically above the Loire River, and the wine is as commonplace as a glass of water.
Welcome to the Loire Valley, the Garden of France, a UNESCO World Heritage site that's equal parts breathtaking and culturally immersive.
Situated in the heart of France, the Loire Valley, known as 'Val de Loire' by locals, offers a glimpse into France's timeless charm. By adding the Loire Valley to your France itinerary, you'll find yourself stepping back in time, immersing yourself in the lavish world of French kings and queens, learning the ins and outs of esteemed wineries, and indulging in the rich flavors of local foods.
Whether you're a seasoned globetrotter, a history buff, a wine connoisseur, or someone seeking inspiration for your next trip, this is an underrated (or dare we say secret?) area of France that should be on everyone's itineraries. When building a France itinerary, a lot of people choose to head to southern France for the famous French Riveria but with that comes a much higher price tag and a lot more tourists. That's why we chose to venture over to the Pays de la Loire region of Western France and we are glad we did. We hope you enjoy our 3-day guide to Angers, France and the Loire Valley.
So, grab a cup of café au lait and a croissant (still dreaming about those), sit back, and let us inspire your future journey through the Loire Valley.
How did This Region End up on our Itinerary?
We admittedly knew nothing about the Loire Valley and did very little research leading up to our road trip through the area. Despite our lack of knowledge about the region, it was actually the entire root of why we ended up in Europe for the summer -- and ultimately why we chose France to be our first destination.
We know, it sounds crazy. Let's rewind to catch you up for just a moment.
It was September 2017, one year after we got married, and we were jetsetting off to India -- our first country of a soon-to-be 1.5 year journey abroad.
After a 20-hour travel day, we landed in New Delhi at 2AM to the musty smells of pollution and chaotic streets. Our host picked us up at the airport and ushered us to his homestay. We were in a daze. Our minds twisted from a long travel day, we were struggling to wrap our heads around our initial impressions of the chaos of India, majorly sleep-deprived, and in shock that we had actually made it after many months of preparation.
We checked into our homestay, fell into our bed, and instantly fell asleep. About eight hours later, we awoke to a very boisterous “BONJOURRRRRR” echoing through our two-bedroom homestay. In a daze, we stumbled into the living room to find a French man, wearing only his underwear, looking just as confused to see us as we were to see him.
That's the short story of how we met two of our lifelong friends, Thomas and Mathilde. After that awkward first impression, we quickly grew to love them both and traveled together, off and on, over the next few months and stayed in touch. We promised them someday we would come to visit their home in France. We stuck to that promise and now -- back to the story about our time in their hometown in the Loire Valley.
What we didn't know was that it would end up being one of our favorite regions we visited in Western France. Of course spending time with our friends, eating dinner late into the night in their backyard, bike riding to lakeside picnics, and watching our babies play together helped sweeten our memories, but the valley itself captured our hearts as well.
A Captivating History
The Loire Valley, often referred to as "the cradle of the French," reached its height of prominence during the Renaissance period when it became a favorite residence of French Kings and the aristocracy. They built extravagant châteaux such as Château de Chambord, Château de Chenonceau, and Château d'Amboise, transforming the area into a symbol of power and opulence. The royal court's presence ignited a cultural and architectural movement, known as the "Loire Renaissance," drawing artists like Leonardo da Vinci -- who spent the last years of his life in Amboise.
The French Revolution later brought significant change to the Loire Valley. Many châteaux were damaged or abandoned as the region was swept up in the turbulence of the times. However, during the 19th century, there was a resurgence of interest in the Loire Valley's cultural heritage, and restoration projects began to bring the châteaux back to their former glory.
In 2000, UNESCO recognized the Loire Valley as a World Heritage site for its cultural landscape -- dotted with historic towns and architectural masterpieces. Today, the area thrives as a center for tourism (mostly local), agriculture, and wine production.
Tips for Exploring the Loire Valley
From the minute we stepped off the train in Angers, France, we felt instantly relaxed and ready to see more of the French countryside. We had spent the last five days in the sprawling metro of Paris, walking miles upon miles each day. We saw the Eiffel Tower, admired the Louvre Museum, ate our weight in crepes, wandering the charming streets of Montmarte, but we were ready to move on.
To explore the Loire Valley, we based ourselves out of our friends' house in a small village near Angers. Angers is a medium-sized city with a population of around 150,000 people. We were surprised at how beautiful the city center was. It has charming streets lined with restaurants and shops, it's very clean and well-kept, and it has a youthful vibe due to a popular university located there.
As for the Loire Valley as a whole, where do we even start? There is so much to discover about this region. If you are a wine lover, it's the third-largest wine region and the area we found the most organic wines in all of France. We found a lot of diversity in the types of wines that are available in this region. If you came to France to daydream about more regal and royal times in history, you will be fulfilled seeing all of the Loire Valley castles. Or if nature and exercise are your thing, biking between charming little French towns will leave your heart full. If you have enough time you might even consider a journey up to the breathtaking Mont Saint-Michel commune just north of Angers but still in the Pays de la Loire region.
From Angers, you will need a rental car to road trip around the rest of the Loire Valley. Or, if you're feeling adventurous, rent a bike and hop from village to village, wine glass to wine glass, and Loire Valley castle to castle. This activity is very popular among the French and it's definitely on our bucket list for the next time we visit.
Explore the City of Angers, France by Foot
We found wandering the city to be extremely easy to navigate and fell in love with winding cobblestone paths, beautiful green spaces, and of course, the most famous site, the Chateau D'Angers -- built in the 9th century. The city of Angers sets the scene for this stunning region of France and is not short on delicious restaurants, boutique shops, museums, and places to grab a refreshing drink on picturesque cobblestone streets. You could easily spend a couple of days in Angers alone, but the majority of the sites could be covered in a single day.
If you have a little extra time or are looking for a very kid-friendly adventure while in Angers consider visiting the Terra Botanica which is a mix between beautiful lush botanic gardens and a theme park.
Tour the Chateau D'Angers
Cost: 9.5 euros, 10.5 euros if you also want to visit the tapestry exhibit at the Musée des Beaux-Arts (see below)
Hours: May-August, 9:30AM to 6:30PM daily and September-April, 10AM to 5:30PM daily
What to Expect: For a visit inside of the chateau, the main attraction is the Tapestries of the Apocalypse or Apocalypse Tapestry which is known as having one of the largest medieval tapestries in the world. You will also learn about the history of all the famous monarchies that lived here and see their royal apartments. The architecture throughout is quintessential French Gothic. From a distance, the chateau is stunning and stands out among the landscape, but as you approach the walls, you will notice beautifully trimmed and manicured gardens that surround the castle. You should plan to tour the interior if you have extra time or if you're interested in tapestries. Otherwise, we'd say you could skip it.
Marvel at the Cathédrale Saint-Maurice d'Angers
Hours: 8AM to 7PM
What to Expect: Built between the 11th and 16th centuries, this cathedral showcases a unique fusion of Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles. Its distinguishing features include its twin 75-meter-high spires and beautiful stained glass windows. The cathedral, serving as the seat of the Bishop of Angers, has been an important historical monument and a French national heritage site since 1862. Its rich artistic and spiritual heritage makes it a must-visit landmark in the region.
Explore the Musée des Beaux-Arts
Cost: Free from 5PM-6PM or if you're under 26 years old. Each exhibit has a different price, but they range from 4-6 euros per exhibit. You can tour the tapestry exhibit or the Angers City exhibit and the Chateau d'Angers for a combo price of 10.5 euros or 15.5 euros.
Hours: Most exhibits are open from 10AM to 6PM and closed on Mondays
What to Expect: Even if you don't go inside, it's still worth walking around the museum to admire the beautiful architecture. There are a lot of different exhibits here at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, so depending on what you are looking for, it's best to look at their website for the current options. In general, they have exhibits of tapestry, fine arts, David d'Angers (famous sculptor), the Natural Science Museum, and several rotating exhibits.
Eat at a Michelin Restaurant: Autour d'un Cep or L'Ardoise
What to Expect: Both of these restaurants are classy, elegant establishments for the sophisticated palate. If testing out a world-renowned restaurant is on your France to-do list, look no further. Both restaurants serve French cuisine, so the options for vegetarians are naturally a bit limited. These small restaurants both require reservations due to their popularity.
Autour d'un Cep: 50 euros/dish on average (definitely a splurge!)
L'Ardoise: 20 euros/dish on average
Tour the Cointreau Distillery
Touring the Carré Cointreau Distillery in an informative, fun way to spend an afternoon soaking up the air-conditioning if you're visiting Angers in the middle of the summer. You'll be led on a guided tour (in French or English) that runs through the history and the process of distilling -- with several free tastings along the way, of course. At the end of the tour, you'll join an interactive cocktail mixing course at the bar.
Cost: 15 euros per person
Hours: Tuesday to Saturday 10AM to 6PM by reservation only
Happy Hour on the River
To end your busy day in Angers, head to happy hour at Le Port de L'lle. The outdoor bar, located on the banks of the Mayenne, is not only affordable, but it's very likely that you'll be the only tourists there! The best part is that the parking lot is on the other side of the river, so you'll take a ferry across the river to access the bar. Order a local wine or beer and enjoy some farm fresh foods. If you have additional time, we recommend renting some bicycles and riding around the island of Saint-Aubin.
A Road Trip to Saumur
After a full day of exploring Angers the previous day, we loaded up our friends' car and headed out on a day trip. This itinerary was hand-drawn, on a scrap piece of paper, by our friends who have lived in the Loire Valley their entire lives. Therefore, we're letting you know that we're giving you the best of the best. We followed their instructions word-for-word and had the most fulfilling day exploring.
Stop One: La Daguenière
From Angers, head east towards Saumur. Once you're out of the city, you'll begin driving along the river, which you'll stay close to the rest of the day. If you're coffee addicts like we are, stop briefly in the town of La Daguenière for a coffee and a stroll around town. These smaller towns are a bit sleepy and slow to wake up, so sniff around for fresh bread and they'll likely serve coffee too!
Stop Two: Saint-Rémy-la-Varenne
From La Daguenière, get back in your car and continue on to Saint-Mathurin-sur-Loire. Cross the river to land in Saint-Rémy-la-Varenne. We recommend parking your car, once again, and walking around. Saint-Rémy-la-Varenne is centered around a rural estate, similar to an abbey, called a priory. Tours of the priory are available, where you'll learn about 1000+ years of history! We opted not to do the tour itself, but we enjoyed wandering around the grounds, which were overflowing with flowers.
Depending on what time of day you're visiting, enjoying a glass of wine across from the monastery, Prieuré de Saint-Rémy, is a must! Sit outside and enjoy the sound of the church bells and watching the bicyclists ride on by. The bar also serves pizza and is called Le bistrot de Yann & Lau.
Stop Three: Le Thoureil
It's this stop that stands out the most in our memories of our Loire Valley road trip. Just a few minutes further down the road is Le Thoureil. This tiny village is filled with flower-lined streets and has an overall calming, quaint vibe. It's one of those villages where you could spend all day doing nothing but wandering around, drinking wine, and enjoying the birds and the bees. Our friends told us that there are plenty of incredible restaurants here, overlooking the river, but it seemed like nothing was open when we passed through.
Stop Four: The Sunflower Fields
From here, continue on your journey towards Saumur. As you're driving, you'll start noticing never-ending fields of sunflowers on the right side of the road. The most accessible sunflower field is located next to a campground.
Stop Five: Saumur
Finally, you've reached the end destination of your day trip. Saumur is located at the confluence of the Loire and Thouet rivers in an area of ancient settlement. It was originally inhabited by people who lived in caves dug along the sides of surrounding mountain ranges.
Saumur is, without a doubt, most famous for its chateau that dominates the city skyline, Chateau de Saumur. The chateau can been seen from miles away and is one of the last unspoiled remnants of architecture from the Valois dynasty in the Middle Ages. The town itself is lively with lots of shopping, picturesque streets of white stone buildings, and several squares filled with cafes and restaurants. If you head uphill, you'll stumble upon a series of half-timber buildings that look reminiscent of German architecture. Join a walking tour or wander the streets without an agenda in mind.
Tour a Wine Cave
Within Saumur and surrounding regions, twenty-eight different wine labels coexist! Two grape varieties dominate the wine lists -- Chenin blanc and Cabarnet Franc. The region is also a major producer of sparkling wine due to the ideal geographic location. The town is situated on top of a porous rock called tuffeau. Miles upon miles of underground cellars and tunnels have been chiseled underground, providing a temperature-moderated, cool environment that's perfect for storing wines. There are dozens of wineries to visit in Saumur, so you may want to stay a few days if you're planning to indulge!
We chose to take an underground tour of Louis de Grenelle. The tour was fascinating and a cool break from the heat -- plus, we happened to be the only ones on the tour! After the tour, we tasted their most famous wines and purchased a couple of bottles to take back to Angers to enjoy with friends.
If you're looking to purchase additional bottles of wine, our friends recommended Maison Ackerman (cave wine shop). Ackerman is the oldest sparkling wine house in the Loire Valley. You can also join a cellar visit/tour here.
To finish the day trip, head back to Angers the same way you came. The drive should take roughly an hour. If you have time, we enjoyed stopping in Saint-Rémy-la-Varenne for a sunset glass of wine across from the monastery.
Fall in Love with the Charming Village of Béhuard
If we lived anywhere near the town of Béhuard, we probably wouldn't be so keen on telling you about this magical village. But, because we value other travelers' inside information and "hidden gems", we're going to proceed. Béhuard, both a world UNESCO heritage site and a French Ville Fleurie (flower city), is the only town located on an island in the entire Loire Valley. It gained fame in the Middle Ages when pilgrims would walk to the Virgin Mary, its small church of Notre-Dame, and its surrounding sanctuary.
A 25 minute drive away from Angers is a world that looks straight out of a movie set with beautiful architecture, flawless landscaping, and flowers everywhere you glance. The village itself is tiny and quiet, but picturesque in every direction. Only 100 year-round residents call this village home.
From the center of town, there are a couple of 2.5 mile paths that can either be walked or cycled. Both of the paths are relatively flat and peaceful. Just ask a local for directions and they'll easily guide you to the starting point. We spent a few hours in Béhuard taking an unreasonable amount of photos, wandering around, and popping into the small artisan shops.
We hope that our 3-day itinerary and guide to Angers, France has inspired your next trip to the Loire Valley! If you've been and have suggestions other than those we mentioned, we'd love to hear them. And, if you're interested in biking through the valley with two mediocre bikers and a chatty toddler, tell us a time and a place and we'll be there!
For love and adventure
XO Bre & Daniel