For our Autumn vacation this year, ( around the same time as the UK October half term) we took a few days out to travel to Tours, the gateway to the Loire Valley, just a three-hour drive from Paris, and boy it was magnificent!
Travelling to Tours
We hired a car, so we could take our highly energetic 10-month-old pup, Mr L, with us. Once again we rented an Airbnb house which gave us and the children plenty of room, and a garden for Mr L to roam around in.
Our house was located just outside the city of Tours, which made it the perfect spot for day trips to neighbouring chateaus which are scattered across the Loire Valley.
The Loire Valley is beautiful, and Autumn was the perfect time to visit, the trees turning, from green to gold to russet, the days started out frosty with clear blue sky, and gave way to bright, sunny afternoons. What more could we possibly want?
Three chateaus in three days
This was we why came. Chateaus are in abundance around Tours we were completely spoilt for choice. But we chose three chateaus that we felt were well worth a visit (and also because dogs were allowed in the grounds):
Chateau Amboise is built on a spur on the river Loire, and is famous for being the burial place of Leonardo Da Vinci. You can see his tomb in the chapel located on the grounds of the chateau.
In 1434 the chateau became a royal residence to Charles VII of France having seized it from its owner, Louis d’Amboise. The chateau has been graced by the presence of Catherine de Medici (brought up her children here) and Mary Queen of Scots.
Much of the Chateau was destroyed during the French Revolution, and as a result, great parts of the chateau had to be demolished.
This chateau even provided an audio guide for children, in English, which kept our two children happy and engaged.
Entry to chateau and gardens with audio guide: Adult €15.20, Child €10.50
Children under 7 years get free entry
Chateau Villandry is the sort of chateau that you have to stop, stare and breathe in its beauty, it is a truly magnificent chateau, the sort of stuff you find in fairy tales.
Chateau Villandry isn’t really a chateau, more of a rather grand house, with the trappings of a chateau. Much of the house is decked out in 18th-century grandeur.It doesn’t have the royal patronage of Chateau Amboise, but it’s gardens are, well what can I say, stunning.
The children weren’t so keen on the house, but they were taken with the garden, especially the woods, (I sent them on a nature trail) and getting lost again, and again in the maze.
Entry to chateau and gardens: Adults €10.50, child €6.50
Entry to garden only: Adult €6.50, child €4.50
Children under 8 years get free entry
If you are only going to see one chateau, this is the one to see: Chateau Chenonceau. The children saw this in the guide book and this is the once they really wanted to go to: “The floating chateau!”
The chateau is a mix of styles, gothic and renaissance.
After parking the car, we walked along a tree-lined avenue, there was mist over the river which partially hid the chateau, and as it lifted, our first glimpse of the Chateau was breathtaking.
The chateau did belong to the mistress of King Henry II, Diane Poitiers, who adored the chateau (if it was mine I would too). She had the idea of building the two-story extension over the river, she was in desperate need of a ballroom. Unfortunately, her lover died, the widow of Henry II, Catherine de Medici, ousted the mistress and took the chateau for herself, completing the extension and no doubt having all those balls. Diane Poitiers did get another chateau, Chateau de Chaumont so it wasn’t all bad.
This chateau is the most visited after Versailles, and if you want to beat the crowds, get here early.
Entry to chateau and gardens: Adults €13.00 child €10.00
Children under 7 years get free entry
A humbling experience in the Troglodyte caves
A visit to Troglodytes des Goupillieres can only be described as an incredibly humbling experience, especially if you have feasted your eyes on the lavishness and ostentatiousness of aristocratic living.
These caves show just how peasants, from the middle ages for 900 years, had to eek out a livin hand to mouth, with one family surviving in one room (with animals).
It was an eye-opening experience for the children, learning that not everyone in the olden days got to live in a beautiful castle.
What the children liked the most was wandering in and out of the living areas, enjoying the petting farm (the goat and feeding the donkey are firm favourites), and burning off excess energy in the kids play area. There’s even an onsite restaurant, for when you are feeling peckish.
Troglodyte caves can be found all around the Loire Valley, many have been converted into wine cellars, where you can come for tastings and buy a case of delicious Chinon, others have been converted into gites, and you can book yourself a stay through Airbnb.
Entry to Troglodytes des Goupillieres: Adults €6.50 child €5.00
Children under 5 years get free entry
And let’s not forget the Loire Valley wine
Oh yes the wine. We left this ’til last, big mistake. It was a bank holiday and many places for tasting were closed. Disaster!
On our way back to the house, we spotted a place that looked like it might be open, the lights were on and there were cars in the car park! Yes Mummy is getting her wine.
The Cave au Vin was superb, we tasted some delicious whites and reds. This particular Cave au Vin even had a little play area to keep the children occupied while we tasted the produce. (Only in France!)
We’ve brought home a mixed case of Chinon, Bourgueil, and Pouilly Fume. (This is one happy mummy!).
Fancy a trip to Tours?
Tours Val de Loire International is the nearest airport with flights all year round from the UK (London Stanstead, Ryan Air).
Tours is only 238 kilometres from Paris, around three hours by car.
By high-speed TGV train Tours is just under an hour from Gare Montparnasse.