One can easily be forgiven for confusing France’s Vallée du Loir with the Loire Valley. After all, the neighbouring regions’ names are remarkably similar—but that’s about where the resemblance ends. While the Loire Valley is a popular spot on the tourist trail best known for its exquisite castles and being home to cities like Orleans and Blois, Vallée du Loir is where those in-the-know go to escape the hustle and bustle.
Located just two hours by train from Paris, the region is a favourite spot of weekenders wanting to get in touch with nature and breathe in the fresh air. With rolling hills, vineyards, trails and charming, historic towns there are plenty of activities to satisfy visitors looking for a relaxing city break. Here are some ideas for fun things to do in Vallée du Loir.
1) Kayak under a castle
In the Loire Valley you can canoe under a castle….in Vallée du Loir you get to kayak under one. The town of La Fléche has a town hall which actually used to be a medieval castle and a dungeon, dating back to the 1400s. Overlooking the Loir river, its reflection casts quite a spell in the water.
Rent a vessel from Canoë/Kayak La Flèche, and start the journey by paddling under the historic Carmes bridge, where you can see the old Poil-de-Reux flour mills and the Luneau port. You’ll continue past the castle and through narrow waterways lined with low-hanging walkways and vines dripping from stone walls, making for an enchanting scene before you eventually circle back to the more wide-open part of the river.
2) Ride an eBike
No trip to France is complete without enjoying a picnic, so pick up some fromage and vin then hop on an eBike. The bicycles are available for rent in places such as the tourist office in La Chartre-sur-le-Loir, and are outfitted with a special motor to make pedalling up hills easier.
There are numerous marked bike pathways throughout Vallée du Loir, including the 16 kilometre La Route de Jasnières (“the route to the wines”) which starts in La Chartre-sur-le-Loir and winds through a handful of adorable villages, then past farmyards and sunflower fields before arriving at a panoramic viewpoint. It’s the perfect place to uncork that bottle of wine, which you can enjoy while gazing out at an idyllic scene of vineyards framed by a bright-blue sky. Bon appetit!
3) Go wine tasting
Speaking of wine, there are plenty of places to please your palate in Vallée du Loir. This is France, after all. There are about two dozen winemakers in the region, with the focus being on the appellation of Jasnières, a dry and fruity white wine along with Coteaux du Loir.
Click here to book a fantastic wine tour through the Loire Valley
Stop in at Domaine des Gauletteries, a family-owned operation where you can tour their underground wine caves (called a “troglodyte” cellar). The winding passageways have been used for centuries, and one could argue it’s where the term ‘man cave’ was coined since men used to hole up there and drink together.
No visit is complete without sipping their signature wine, then picking up a bottle (or three) as a souvenir.
4) Visit Chateau du Lude
Chateau du Lude has quite a claim to fame: it’s been lived in by the same family for more than 250 years. Those lucky enough to explore the richly decorated interior will come across modern family photos—a stark contrast to the traditional oil paintings of past rulers that adorn the walls in most other castles.
Originally a fortress, features such as a drawbridge, dry moat and underground passageways still remain despite Chateau du Lude’s conversion into a residence, and visitors are welcome to explore those spots along with the gardens, mazes and stables. Today, the main attraction is the annual Garden Festival (Fête des Jardiniers) which takes place during the first weekend in June, and includes gardening seminars and the chance to make sweet jam in the chateau’s gorgeous old kitchen.
5) See the troglodyte houses
Both Vallée du Loir and the Loire Valley have troglodyte houses, which are homes that were dug right into the cliffside. Dating back to the 11th century, the troglodyte houses came about not only to escape war, but also because they were low-maintenance. The cave dwellings would look like any other traditional house with their brightly coloured doors, kitchens and front yards, were it not for the fact that the actual walls date back millions of years—and the roof is rock or grass.
There are places throughout the area where you can tour an entire village, and some people still live in the homes to this day. In fact, a couple are even listed for rent on airbnb.
6) Explore the countryside
Since the Vallée du Loir is all about the city escape, most visitors naturally end up in the countryside at some point. Along with activities such as the aforementioned cycling paths, there are also riding trails to tackle on horseback, canoeing or kayaking from Vaas, or walking through the thick forests. A rather unique activity is to head to Carnuta, where the Maison de l’homme et de la Foret museum is based. There, you’ll meet staff from the national forest organization and drive to the nearby Berce forest at dusk to listen for the deer cry, and likely enjoy a breathtaking sunset.
How to get there: Vallée du Loir is easily accessible by road or train from Paris, with the gateway typically being Le Mans. You’ll want to rent a car if you plan on visiting multiple areas throughout the region, as there aren’t public transportation options linking all of the areas.
Where to stay: Base yourself in the picture-perfect town of La Chartre-sur-la-Loire, which is popular with artisans like antique dealers and ceramists. The Le Grand Moulin B&B is exceptional, with an unbeatable location, gorgeous views, and rooms to fit all group sizes. Plus, you’ll get to say you slept in a chateau!
If you’d like to stay closer to La Fléche, stay at the charming La Villegiature. The B&B is owned by a lovely couple, and each room is decorated differently.
Globe Guide explored Vallée du Loir as part of the #FranceNature challenge in collaboration with Atout France and Air France. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.
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