Updated: Oct 21, 2019
Hello everyone, I’m Mary (@__mary.go.round__), and I am a teacher, a traveler, a mediocre speaker of French, and a storyteller.
After graduating from college, I moved to France, and now, as I am coming to the end of my teaching contract (and planning my move to my next home, American Samoa), I want to share my tips for making the most out of your trip to the Loire Valley in France.
There are currently over 102 million posts on Instagram with #Paris. Photos of the couples kissing in front of the Eiffel Tower, the sun setting behind the Louvre, and women in beautiful dresses walking down the Champs Elysees--there is no shortage of Parisian beauty on social media. And for good reason too, the city is a treasure, always leaving me inspired and awed and pensive and energized.
But what if you left Paris behind? What if you hopped on a train? Where would you go?
For the past seven months, the city of Orléans has been my home. I’m not going to lie to you, before I left the U.S., I had never heard of Orléans, and I knew the bare minimum about the Loire Valley. However, after seven months of baguettes and wine and walks by the river, I can honestly say that this city, and the surrounding region, has stolen my heart.
So, without further ado, here are three suggestions for places to visit in the Loire Valley!
First things first: Orléans. This city, about an hour train ride south of Paris, is known for its mild obsession with Joan of Arc. Orléans is small but beautiful, and is a great place for a day trip, as well as the perfect jumping off point for your trip through the valley.
Start your day off right with a croissant and a walk to the Cathédrale Sainte-Croix. Construction for this cathedral began in 1278 and it is the second tallest in France (yes, it is much taller than Notre-Dame de Paris). If you are lucky, you can listen to the choir practice as you take in this gothic church filled with beautiful stained glass and, you guessed it, plenty of space dedicated to Joan of Arc.
Directly across the street from the cathedral is the Musée des Beaux-Arts, where you can see the paintings and sculptures of artists like Rodin, Delacroix, and Picasso to name a few, before you head off in search of lunch. Speaking of food, I know it doesn’t sound very fancy, but I’d suggest getting a cheap sandwich from one of the shops on Rue de la République, sitting in Place du Martroi under the Joan of Arc statue, and people watching.
After lunch, take the tram south to the Parc Floral and spend the afternoon taking as many flowery, Instagram-worthy pictures as you possibly can. For more Instagram shots, and some beautiful French pastries, head to Aux Palets Or (seriously, @auxpaletsor45 ‘s pictures will have you buying a ticket to France ASAP). With a stomach full of sugar and pastries and coffee, take your friends or significant other to buy a bottle of wine and sit by the Loire River to enjoy the sunset.
An hour train ride away from Orléans is Tours. I spent a day here with a friend, and I didn’t Google anything beforehand. I tend to be pretty laissez-faire when it comes to planning my trips, but I normally do some cursory googling. I can honestly say I’m happy I didn’t, and I think there is something to be said for exploring a new place without any preconceived notions of what it will be like.
If history is your thing, check out Cathédrale Saint-Gatien, the Basilica of Saint Martin, or the Musée des Beaux-Arts. Tours is incredibly green in the spring, and with its beautiful trees and botanical gardens and architecture, it is easy to spend the day wandering around, people watching, or getting lost.
When you are ready to sit still for a while, walk to Place Plumereau. This open square used to be the economic center of the city, but now it is home to cafes and restaurants and medieval timber-frame houses. Enjoy a crepe and a coffee--or a glass of wine and a cheese plate--and soak up some sunshine.
Château de Chenonceau
Château de Chenonceau is like something straight out of a fairy tale. The Loire Valley is filled with castles, but this is one of the best. When a good friend of mine visited from the U.S. I brought her here in a (successful) attempt to impress her, and I’ll recommend it to anyone and everyone.
When you get off the train, cross the tracks and walk down the long, tree-lined driveway to the castle. Take your time walking through the castle, imagining you are your favorite Disney princess, before heading to the gardens (the best place to get the #perfect picture of you and the castle).
Walking through the woods, stumbling upon crumbling columns and green mazes and perfectly preserved carriage houses and stables, it is easy to fall in love with the magic of it all.
If you have seen enough of the Chateau and the grounds, but your train hasn’t arrived yet, cross the tracks and take a walk through the village of Chenonceau. I know I always make the mistake of spending too much time in cities on my trips, and Chenonceau is the perfect chance for you to see what French life is like in the villages.
One of the best things about the Loire Valley is that much of it is easily accessible from Paris. So, if you have had your fill of the Eiffel Tower and walks along the Seine, I hope you hop on a train and head south to this beautiful, magical region of France that I call home.
Make sure to check out my Instagram @__mary.go.round__ for more pictures of my adventures throughout France!