Lay of the Land
About 100 miles south of Paris, the Loire River Valley UNESCO World Heritage site begins with the Chambord and Cheverny castles. This eastern area of the region is fairly flat farmland and sparsely populated. The Loire Valley stretches west, with rolling landscapes along the river to the sweet town of Amboise and the transportation hub Tours (where the area’s castle-studded River Cher tributary joins the Loire). South of Tours, there is a rural forest and rustic countryside surrounding the fortified town of Loches, but few sites and attractions compared to the other areas of the Loire Valley.
The most charming countryside is located west of Tours en route toward Villandry, Chinon and the Fontevraud Abbey (www.fontevraud.fr). This is where small, family-owned castles perch along the rivers among a hilly patchwork of country hamlets, vine-swathed limestone bluffs and forest (much of which is part of the Loire-Anjou-Tourraine Regional Natural Park).
When to Go
The Loire Valley boasts beautiful weather year-round, though cold winter months (January and February) and French public holidays should be avoided.
Visitors may drive from Paris or take the TGV Train to Tours and rent a car. (Note: Tours has two train stations, and the suburban Saint Pierre des Corps station is more convenient for car rental.)
Rent a car in Tours (the country roads are good) or bike the extensive network of trails that cover the Loire Valley and link the main castles.