Loire Chateau. Courtesy of La Masion de la France/Atout France/R-Cast
Great Drives Loire Valley Deep in the valley - All châteaux and charme Rent a car with Avis and indulge the sights and the tastes of the lovely Loire. Jump in your rental car and follow the Loire River as it threads its path through fields of sunflowers, gleaming white châteaux and ancient vineyards. A landscape to savour that also produces some of the finest wine that France has to offer… Test drive this two-day tour for the best of the Loire. Collect your rental vehicle from Avis Tours Val de Loire airport and drive east on the D751 road, following the river to nearby Amboise to visit Leonardo da Vinci’s former home at the Château de Clos Lucé. Explore the winding, steep pathways of Blois before driving on south-west to the formidable grey towers of the Château d’Angers. As you cross south over the River Maine and head back to Tours, park for a while at the troglodyte villages at Saumur for mushroom-tasting and in Chinon for piping hot fouée bread. Drop off your hire car back at Tours or if you are planning to travel from other airports, check our car hire locations in France.
High Points en route Château de Clos Lucé– See how Leonardo lived At Amboise, you’ll find the Château de Clos Lucé, where Leonardo da Vinci lived out his final years. The house and its gardens are now packed with models of da Vinci’s inventions and Leonardo is buried in the neighbouring chateau. Take a stroll to Amboise town to buy savoury pastries and fabulous chocolates in Madame Bigot’s timeless bakery. Château de Blois – Living history You could spend days wandering the winding medieval streets of Blois, but if time is short you must see the Château de Blois, which several French kings, including Louis XIII, have called home. It’s also where Joan of Arc was blessed by the Archbishop of Reims in 1429, before going off to fight the English at Orleans. Caves Plouzeau, Chinon – Beneath the chateau Accessed by the underground passage at 94 rue haute Saint Maurice, the cellars of the Château de la Bonnelière lie beneath the sprawling grey walls and turrets of the Château Chinon. Visitors are welcome from Tuesday to Saturday between April and September.
Château d’Angers – Step back in time As you wander the medieval streets, it’s easy to imagine life as it used to be in Angers – especially as you pass by the Maison d’Adam, with its white walls criss-crossed by wooden beams. Before all of that, though, you’ve guessed it, there’s yet another château to see: the massive Château d’Angers. Musée du Champignon – Going underground Back in the 12th century, peasants dug villages into the hillsides between Saumur and Montsoreau, and you can still visit many of them today. Continuing the troglodyte theme, check out Saumur’s Musée du Champignon, where mushrooms mature in underground caves. Take a cave tour, try some fresh-from-the-museum mushrooms soaked in garlic butter.
High Points en route - Free time on your hands? Take your pick from the following gems: 1/ Henri Bourgeois’ vineyard – Wine and dine The Bourgeois family have been producing wine near the tiny village of Chavignol for ten generations and also own nearby restaurant, La Côte des Monts Damnés. Enjoy a tour and then sit down to dishes like mullet and chest of pig in black Pinot. Don’t forget to purchase a bottle of Henri Bourgeois Pouilly Fumé 2002 in order to sample the family produced wine when you get home. Make sure you don’t drink and drive. 2/ Saint Étienne Cathedral – Gothic city A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Cathedral of Saint Étienne in Bourges is a huge, sprawling tribute to Gothic design. You could spend a day just sitting outside admiring the needle-sharp spires and stonework.
4/ Château de Chambord – Architectural showpiece The numbers alone will tell you something about the size of the Château de Chambord: 440 rooms, 365 fireplaces and 84 staircases. One of the latter was reputedly designed by Leonardo da Vinci; a double spiral that allows two people to go up or down without ever crossing paths. 5/ Le Mans – Feeling racy One of the birthplaces of motor racing, Le Mans is the site of an annual petrol-heads’ pilgrimage every June. You can visit the Musée de L’Automobile any time, where the huge range of exotic machinery includes the famous Porsche 917 that Steve McQueen drove in the film Le Mans.
3/ Apremont-sur-Allier – Model village As soon as you park here, you’ll see why this is considered one of France’s most beautiful villages. Wander through the lilac-covered cottages, pause at one of many tempting cafés or picnic in the 19th-century park in the shadow of the towers of the local fort.
Avis Great Drives Route Map: Loire Valley
Need to know Round circuit 230 miles (370km); approx. 4-5 hours driving time. If you want to take a rest from the road, follow the Loire by bicycle along the new cycling routes. Ask at tourist offices for information on La Loire a Vélo.
Best time to come May-June for the best of the weather without the crowds.
Soundtrack In Between Dreams, by Jack Johnson
Essential item Smythson notepad – for writing down your favourite places.
With offices in 4,000 locations in 114 countries, Avis can help with your car rental needs wherever you are in the world – and help turn a drive into an experience. For car hire tips or to see other road trips in the Avis Great Drives series visit our blog www.wetryharder.co.uk
To book visit www.avis.co.uk or call 08445 818181 Last updated August 2010.