After two weeks in Paris, the next stop of our summer adventure was Loire Valley. We drove out from Paris, stopped in Chartres along the way, and settled in Amboise for three days of châteaux, wine, and ice cream.
Looking for a place to stay in Amboise? We stayed at the charming Closerie Saint-Vincent outside of Amboise, where we enjoyed a crazy-delicious homemade breakfast each day. For staying right in town I'd suggest Le Vieux Manoir, or one of the traditional hotels.
If, like us, you're doing some traveling this day, plan to visit the Château du Clos Lucé after you arrive in Amboise - it's a must-see if you're a DaVinci fan, but won't take as much time as a full château. We loved seeing where Leonardo spent his final years, and the working models of his inventions throughout the home and gardens.
After dinner, drive out to meet your group for a sunset hot air balloon. It's a dreamy introduction to the region, and a surprisingly tranquil ride. This was a bucket list item for me, but after such a beautiful flight over Chenonceau and a champagne toast, I might have to find an opportunity for a repeat!
When you're headed to Château de Cheverny, make sure to arrive in plenty of time for the feeding of the castle's 100 hunting dogs at 11:30am each day. Explore the grounds and kitchen gardens before everyone gathers around the kennel for the famous spectacle. Next, walk through the furnished château and out into the peaceful back gardens. We had lunch at the Orangerie restaurant here - sit at an outdoor table for table service, or order inside for a quick snack. The quiche lorraine was delicious! On a weekday morning, Cheverny was nicely quiet and mostly un-busy, a perfect precursor to our next stop.
Make the short drive over to Château de Chambord for the afternoon; it's the most visited château along the Loire, and the largest one we saw. No matter when you go, be prepared for crowds and tour groups. The grounds are expansive but have no gardens, so we spent our time exploring the royal castle itself. Climb all the spiral staircases you can between the many floors, wings and balconies - and make a point to stop and admire the amazing architectural, geometric, and decorative details of the place.
Spend your last morning at Château de Villandry. The interior of this castle is pretty, charming, and well-kept - definitely worth a visit. But the real attraction here is outside: exit out into the expansive, impressively designed gardens and explore for as long as you can. After almost two hours, we were finally decided to move on. On our way out we stopped for a quick formule lunch just outside the gates, where there's a table service restaurant and a little lunch stand. The stand had the most delicious (and photogenic) rose flavored ice cream!
The final château was my favorite one: Château de Chenonceau. The gardens, grounds, castle itself are all fairytale-perfect. They even have donkeys, lemon trees, row boats, and a balcony! Do yourself the favor of lingering long enough for the crowds to thin out while you enjoy a glass of wine or an early dinner at one of the restuarants. Chenonceau is open later than most places in the region, so you'll have plenty of time to wander and take photos before the gates close for the evening.
all original photography - please use with credit.