Loire Valley attractions are almost as diverse as the country of France itself, from its magnificent chateaux to breathtaking gardens of fragrant flowers and fruit tree orchards heavy with ripe fruit. A new cycle route offers a pleasant way to explore the Loire Valley along the river while festivals are another popular way to experience the best of the Loire Valley. Of course, no visit to the Loire Valley would be complete without sampling some of its biggest attractions - its glorious fresh local produce and renowned locally produced wines.
Beginning with chateaux, Ainy-le-Vieil is one of the most famous of the Loire Valley and although it's architecture and interiors should not be missed, it's the exterior that is the main attraction with its series of garden 'rooms'. In the same family since 1467, Ainy-le-Vieil Chateau offers some amazing gardens, each with a different character and theme complete with a poet's garden, fruit trees, a rose garden, English herbaceous borders and an intoxicating array of colours and heady scents. Other popular chateaux include Chaumont-sur-Loire Chateau renowned for its international garden festival, Chenonceau Château a favourite among visitors to the Loire Valley and Son-et-Lumiè at Blois Château dominating the pretty riverside city overlooking the Loire Valley.
Set in rolling countryside, Notre-Dame d'Orsan is surrounded by landscaped gardens inspired by tapestries of the Middle Ages and is like stepping into a real life masterpiece. Available for a visit or to stay the night, this complex features warm stone buildings and is truly a sight to behold. Another famous landmark in the Loire Valley, the 12th century Bourges Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of France's greatest gothic cathedrals. Home to some of the most amazing stained glass, this Cathedrale St-Etienne will leave you in complete awe. For more drama, head to the Apocalypse Tapestry in Angers and see this vast work of art displayed in an expansive, darkened gallery in an atmospheric castle.
Another great way to explore the attractions of the Loire Valley is via the 800km Loire à velo cycle route along the river. Passing through a number of small villages and cities along the Atlantic coast, it is a great way to really get a feel for the landscape, however don't attempt to tackle the whole route unless you are very fit. If you prefer a more relaxed pace, you can't get much better than sampling the local wines and produce. The Loire Valley is renowned for producing some of France's best fruit and vegetables and there are a number of cuisines and iconic dishes you should try including tarte tatin, filet de sandre with beurre blanc sauce, local eels cooked in red wine, pork, blood sausage, charcuterie, pates, terrines, rillettes, game such as pheasant, pigeon, duck, quails, venison and wild boar. You also can't visit the Loire Valley without imbibing in wine from the local vineyards including Sancerre and Pouilly-sur-Loire in the east and Touraine in the west.