chateaux in Frances Loire Valley surrounded by gardens

Love means living your own fairytale. That’s easy in the Loire Valley, situated just two hours by high-speed train from Paris.  A land of castles (you’ll learn to call them chateaux), wineries, nature, and gastronomy, this was the historic summer retreat for French kings of yore. Turns out the French Royals were on to something. Most famous for its sumptuous estates, beaucoup feudal castles, and Renaissance chateaux, the Loire recalls everybody’s favorite tall tales and legends. Add in the potential for getting tipsy at an array of wineries, and the wealth of ways to work off the escargot and chocolate croissant overload — from bike riding to hiking — and the forested, bucolic Loire makes a perfect place to play the role of elegantly indulgent barons and baronesses abroad. Complete with moats, drawbridges, turrets, garden mazes, and stories to tell, this deeply romantic part of France vaunts villages straight from Beauty and the Beast.

Baron’s Bedrooms

The baron who built this lavish (circa 1764) grand house in the tiny village of Grand Luce spared no expense. As a confidante of King Louis XV, he envisioned it as a haunt for the heroes of the Age of Enlightenment. And come, they did — Voltaire, Mozart, among others. Now with 17 sumptuous suites Hotel Chateau du Grand Luce continues the art of coddling with personal valets, 80 acres of gardens and woods, a top-notch restaurant, and a seductive, circular swimming pool that was once a centuries-old fountain. A jewel box of tapestries, gargantuan fireplaces, and ornate furnishings indoors, and statuary orchards and mazes outdoors, the hotel lives to facilitate romantic rendezvous throughout the Loire.

Wine Time

Famed for its various, unique appellations (think 87 under the AOC, VDQS and Vin de Pays systems), the region produces crowd pleasers such as Sancerre, Vouvray, and Pouilly-Fume, at wineries ensconced in storybook, hillside hamlets. We love Bouvet Ladubay, which not only serves up elegant vintages, but also offers visitors the chance to pedal through the underground cellars on vintage bikes. Château de Minière brings new meaning to the Rosé All Day trend. Built in the 17th-century, this female-helmed winery excels in organic rosé and red wines made from Cabernet Franc. Some others to try around the UNESCO-listed Loire? Frédéric Bourillon d’Orléans, Domaine Marc Brédif, Domaine de la Fontainerie, Domaine du Clos Naudin, and Domaine de la Chevalerie.

Image Courtesy of Loire Valley Tourism

Castle Spotting

So little time, so many chateaux. Design and history buffs get their thrills surveying the region’s myriad chateaux. Pack a picnic and road trip through the countryside, stopping at various impressive estates, each with its own story. Choose from more than 20  castles in Centre-Val de Loire (considered the “the great sites of the Loire”), but the region holds hundreds of them. Some of the most famous include garden-rife Château de Chenonceau, which straddles a river, Domaine de Chambord, best visited off season because of its popularity, and Château de Brézé, which uniquely boasts medieval elements — a drawbridge and 12-century, subterranean caves.

Chateau Snoozeau

Jousting? You can do that at Chateau du Rivau in Leméré. But, you can also get lost in each other’s eyes in a bedroom at this storybook castle. One of the Loire’s most beautiful chateau, this one has seven rooms for bed and breakfast accommodations, a restaurant, and various activities around the grounds.

Image Courtesy of Château du Rivau

Cave Chic

Sleep like a spelunker at Les Haute Roches (The High Rocks) in Rochecorbon (near Tours), an unforgettable Relais Chateaux-affiliated, boutique hotel. With the majority of the suites set in historic caves, hewed from an adjacent stone cliff, the hotel also incorporates some sleek contemporary design as a nod to the present. It brandishes a gastronomic restaurant for sustenance. Excellent concierges can help plan chateaux tours and wine forays.

Flying High

See the valley from a bird’s eye view. Begin a romantic day hovering above the Loire’s crenelated castles, sweeping vineyards, and emerald woodlands in a hot air balloon. Expect something bubbly upon landing. Or, take that bucket list adventure further up a notch wearing vintage gear as a passenger in a bonafide WWI bi-plane, captained by  Vol en Biplan. Sacre bleu!

Voyage du Vin

With Loire Vins Aventure, take a private sunset cruise down the Loire River aboard a traditional flat-bottomed boat, tippling local wine as you float. Or, pack a picnic and paddle yourself beside the chateaux, beneath bridges, through hamlets, and beside forests. Canoes are available at many waterside points throughout the valley — such as Château de Chenonceau.

Pedal Power

Image Courtesy of Loire Valley Tourism

Who needs to rent a car? Hop on a bicycle, available to rent throughout the Loire Valley. Follow La Loire à Vélo (Loire Valley By Bike) a sign-posted route that snakes for 500 miles through Saumur, Tours, Nantes, Angers, and beyond. Take it slow, as you hop on and off to sup, sip, and snuggle.

Horsing Around

At Touraine Cheval, a Loire-style ranch situated in La Chapelle Aux Naux, take the opportunity to survey the Loire’s terrain like the nobility of times past. Gallop through apple orchards, forests, and vineyards. Pass by castles, rivers and villages. Eat lunch in a cave. Taste wine. Choose from one-hour to all-day rides.

Burning Skies

Image Courtesy of Loire Valley Tourism

Best place to catch a sunset? You’ll find abundant options for sunset gazing around the Loire Valley. Consider scheduling your visits to icons Chateau d’Amboise and Chateau de Chenonceau for late in the day, so you watch the sky explode from the castle grounds.

Most Instagrammable

Romantic and otherworldly, all the chateaux of the Loire ensure stunning backdrops. You won’t be wearing crowns, but you’ll take regal photos at every single château — especially Château de Chambord, Chenonceau, Azay-le-Rideau, Chateau Royal d’Amboise, and Villandry.

Image Courtesy of Loire Valley Tourism

Tours Treat

In a half-timbered building in Tours that reads like an old inn, Chez Gaster, a  typically French bistro, revels in its local relationships with gardeners, farmers, meat purveyors, and craftspeople. Not for vegans, its rustic fare might include organ meat or calf’s head, but also lighter creations — such as carpaccio of scallops with radish and Japanese vinegar.

Long Lunch

Auberge du Bon Laboureur, for lunch after a visit to the monument. Ivy-covered exteriors lead to elegant interiors, where French recipes receive a modern touch. Lunch is the more affordable option, with three course menus set at 32 euros (as opposed to 58 in the evening). Don’t miss the 72-hour, slow cooked lamb with garlic cream and the lobster salad. Complement your meal with wine sips from one of the Loire’s top wine libraries.

Epicurean Dreams

In Sancerre, Restaurant La Tour, a long beloved temple of French cuisine, fulfills every gourmet fantasy. Ensconced at the foot of a 14-century tower, highlighted by exposed beams and period molding, amid the heart of the famous wine village, La Tour serves a cutting edge, contemporary French menu that might include seasonal vegetables, foie gras, or beef confit. Choose the Trust Menu at night for 118 euros, including wine pairings.