From Madrid, Spain, we flew to Nantes, France on the west end of the Loire River. We planned to stay in Nantes for a few days and then rent a car for the rest of our stay in the Loire Valley as public transportation is limited. The Loire Valley is considered the line that divides north from south France. It is the only ‘free’ flowing river in France in that it has no dams. It also has hundreds of chateaus built along it and it’s tributaries as it flows through the French countryside. Of those, 42 are UNESCO Heritage sites. Many of the chateaus are still private residences, some have been converted to other uses and some are open to the public as tourist attractions and historical sights.
We stayed in very nice AirBnB’s , 3 nights in Nantes, a week each near Chinon and Amboise. Nantes was near the train station and the others were small cottages near quaint villages and easy drives to chateaus. .
The down side to traveling in ‘off’ season is that some things are closed and/or under construction. Much of the area around the Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne and our apartment apartment in Nantes were under construction. One of the main attractions of Nantes, Les Machines de l’ile, was closed.
We still managed a walk through the Chateau in Nantes and , the Passage Pommeraye-a very nice retail shopping center and the Jardin des Plantes garden. The Nantes Cathedral had some of the nicest stain glass we had seen on the whole trip. And the Nantes Garden Park was lovely even though it was a little wet and cool.
We rented a car in Nantes for the next two weeks along the Loire. Our AirBnB was a cottage in a small village near Chinnon. From there we took day trips to visit small villages, chateaus and drive through the French countryside.
Chateau de Villandry. This part of France seldom sees much in the way of snow. They had had 5″ of snow the night before we went to Chateau de Villandry. We were warned to be careful driving as the French ‘drive like monkeys’ by our host. Villandry is known for it’s beautiful garden and is usually filled with tourists any other time of year. When the garden is dormant, not so many tourists. We anticipated a brown, dreary garden. The Chateau itself was closed for the season but the gardens were open. We were the first and only visitors of the day. Kaye and I spent almost 2 hours wandering the wintery grounds trying to capture this rare event.
For more info on Chateau de Vellandry- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Château_de_Villandry
One of the Chateau de Cheverny’s main attraction is it’s hunting dogs. Twice a day the guy responsible for feeding the dogs makes his way into the pound where all the dogs are anticipating being fed. He walks into the pound and makes the dogs all move to an adjacent area while he fills the feeding troughs with food. We had seen a Rick Steves video showing the dogs being fed juicy steaks-not this day. Looked like ground hamburger to me. Didn’t matter to the dogs.
Chateau de Chambord, perhaps one of the most important Chateau’s architecturally and certainly the biggest in the Loire Valley. More info here- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Château_de_Chambord
Of course, going to chateaus was not all that we did in the Loire Valley. We also went to (you guessed it) the Loire Valley ZooParc de Beauval. Actually one of the best zoos we visited with spacious areas , a great variety of animals and the main draw, one of the few panda’s born in captivity outside of China.
Leonardo Da Vinci spent his final years in Amboise, France where he lived at his Chateau du Clos Luce. The chateau has been turned into a museum with excellent displays and models of various examples of Da Vinci’s many talents.
Chateau du Clos Luce in Amboise, France
Chateau Chenanceau is the most visited of all the chateaus in the Loire Valley. It has an interesting history, beautiful gardens and is architecturally unique. The day we were there was also after a light snow so the place had few visitors. As we were leaving, a french visitor said ‘ I can’t believe we’re here with so few, there’s usually a line to get in.’
We drove to Tours, France where we dropped off our car and caught a train to Paris for our final stop on this journey.