Winter travel has it’s advantages and disadvantages for sure. The negatives? It’s very cold and often rainy which can make walking around sometimes seem impossible. Days are shorter (less light, things close early), grey and not everything is open. But the positives are always so worth it – hardly any ‘tourists’, places aren’t as busy and the locals have a lot more patience for you – especially in the Loire Valley, France.
It’s these benefits and the fact that my birthday falls in February that have me returning to Europe every winter. And this year after working in London for a week, I decided to go back to one of my favourite places in France: The Loire Valley. It’s beautiful, historical, easy to get around, quiet and charming. I’m a sucker for a chateau and this area has more than any other. I keep hoping one day, one will be mine…!
My itinerary for this trip? Day one: Chambord, Blois. Day Two: Chenonceau, Amboise. Day Three: Chinon, Saumar. Here’s the breakdown of where I stayed in the Loire and my first day in Chambord.
My homebase in the Loire
I rented a car from Paris and drove all the back roads down Tours, where I did something I’ve never done – made a city my base. Normally this would drive me crazy but I found a beautiful little flat and wanted to stay in it and it happened to be in Tours. Turned out to be a great decision.
In the heart of Tours was a beautiful, completely renovated and updated flat housed in a 16th century cloister. It’s big, beautiful windows overlooked a private enclosed park which gave it a very peaceful setting (in fact, from the park you couldn’t see any signs of the 20th or 21st century!).
The flat was just a 2 minute walk from the daily market Les Halles (and also a more traditional grocery store if a market isn’t your thing) which perfect for buying food for cooking in each night. As someone who has food allergies, France can be especially tough, so I wanted to make sure I could get in a good and easy meal each day. The photos of the kitchen totally sold me on staying here and after using it for a week, I totally want this as my kitchen! Small with no wasted space. It was so good to cook in each night, especially after being out in the cold all day. And having a little espresso after each meal became a little treat.
Tours was a great location for a home base; it was relatively easy to get to the main roads for exploring either up to Chambord (north) or down to Saumur (south), which was the whole purpose of the trip.
Day One – Chambord
I had driven past the Chateau de Chambord so many times but had never been in so this was the year to finally see what was inside this 16th century chateau.
Being the largest chateau in the area, you really need to set aside at least half a day to really absorb the history, the architecture and the space. If the weather isn’t great outside then a visit here is extra perfect as you’ll welcome having so much inside space to wander.
It was hard for me to comprehend this as having been built as summer hunting lodge and that the original owner only spent 72 days here the entire time he owned it. It was also hard to comprehend all the details found in the windows, the floors, the roofs, the walls, the grounds… My favourite? The very elaborate rain spouts.
At the ground’s entrance there are gift shops and a couple of cafes. As it was a very cold, wet winter day, the one with the fireplace was especially charming and my lunch was really good. A welcome retreat after 3 hours of walking the chateau.
This visit was definitely worth the time and I highly recommend it as part of your Loire tour.