When I was a kid, I love puzzles that I even glued the puzzles and hung on my wall as poster. I remembered one of the puzzle was a very beautiful castle situated on a river. I never know where or if this castle even existed in this world…..until I was planning my trip to France. I heard people recommended Loire Valley to see famous Château (castles) so I google it and the picture of the castle in my puzzle came up! The castle is Château de Chenonceau! I re-planned my trip so we could visit the Loire Valley just to see this castle!
I booked the train ticket from Paris Montparnasse to Tours Centre in two months ahead and it was 70 euros round-trip for 2 people. I booked from TGV-Europe: http://en.voyages-sncf.com/en/
When selecting “ticket collection country” do not put USA or else it will redirect you to Rail Europe which will cost you more. Select a euro country like Germany, prices will display in Euros and I have a zero percent foreign transaction fee credit card so it will not cost me more paying in euros (if you don’t then the fee will be 3% from your credit card company). Once you booked, you’ll be able to print out the ticket or send to your email so no need to worry about the ticket collection country.
Discounted tickets are on sale 3 months prior to departure date. Those sell out fast so I suggest you to check everyday and as soon as you see your travel date ticket shows up, book right away! If your credit card got rejected, call your credit card company let them know you are making a purchase on this French website, and retry. I have heard people were not able to book even though they called the credit card company…….I was able to on my first try. Do you have a credit card with a smart chip? That’ll increase your chance I guess. If you don’t, you may want to consider one like a Bank of America travel reward card, no annual free, no foreign exchange, and with smart chip. You’ll need a credit card with smart chip to purchase tickets on machine in Europe.
We weren’t comfortable on driving ourselves so we decided to take a tour from Tours. We booked a full day tour of 4 castles with Touraine Evasion for 52 euros per person online. We headed out early at 6 am and got to Gare Montparnasse around 6:30 am. We had one hour till our train so we bought a sandwich for breakfast. We were in front of the flipping schedule board to see where our train platform going to be, it was fun looking at the old-fashioned flipping board!
We arrived Tours at 8:49 am and walked straight toward the Tours tourist office (less than 5 min walk) to meet our tour guide. We were greeted by a guy from the company and waited for our tour van to come. Our tour guide arrived with her van and there were 5 other tourists going to the castles with us. The van was comfortable and clean and our tour guide spoke sufficient English.
First, we arrived at Château d’Azay-le-Rideau, a cute little castle known for its reflection on its pond. Our tour guide purchased our tickets (reduced group admission) and distributed to us. She explained some history about the castle and we had 1 hour free time to tour around the castle and its grounds. We went into the castle, walked up to the 3rd floor and toured some rooms. This castle felt more like home (a mansion at least for its size!). We walked through the interior of the castle in around 20 minutes and came out to take photos of its reflection from its pond. We walked around the pond and take photos of its reflection, it looked like a picture from postcards!
After the awesome views, we walked back to the parking lot to meet again. All the people in our group was on time so off we go to the next castle! The 2nd castle we visited was Château de Villandry – famous for its garden! Once again, we had 1 hour in this castle so we decided to spend our precious 1 hour on the castle’s garden instead so we didn’t went inside the castle. Our tour guide said the view from the top of the terrace is the best to see the garden so we entered the castle and walked upstairs and exited out to the terrace. I couldn’t believe how huge the garden is! You have to be there to see it yourself to believe it! Words could not describe the beauty of its garden so here are some pictures:
One hour went fast in this castle! Next, we went back to Tours Centre for a quick 20 mins lunch break. We decided to grab something to eat at McDonald’s since that was close by. We didn’t mind the quick lunch in order to see my dream castle! The 3rd castle was Château de Chambord – the largest of the Loire Valley!
From Tours, the ride to Château de Chambord was like 1-1.5 hours. On the ride to Chambord, our tour guide pointed out other famous castles as we passed by. We passed by Amboise, it looked like a very nice little town! As we passed by the area, I wish we could spend few days in Loire Valley to explore the area with our own car! Loire Valley is like a little girl’s dreamland!
We finally arrived Château de Chambord…well parking lot. We walked for around 3 minutes and we saw the castle! It was unbelievable, it was huge, truly incredible!
This castle was the king’s hunting summer home so most of the time the castle was left empty (what a waste!) We walked to the back to enter the castle, we had 1.5 hours exploring on our own. We quickly went in and took the famous Leonardo da Vinci’s double-helix staircase to go upstairs to see some rooms.
We went up to the roof area and took some pictures of the castle’s structure. The architecture was amazing, how could people hundreds of years ago built this?
We had enough time to browse through the interior of the castle since mostly are empty spaces. We came back out and walked across the little bridge to get to the other side of the river so we could have some pictures of the whole castle. The view of the castle from across the river was excellent!
Next stop, the castle I am here for – Château de Chenonceau. Our tour guide called Château de Chenonceau the “lady’s castle” whereas Chambord the “guy’s castle”, totally agreed with her! We arrived at the parking lot and the way to the castle was a good 5 minute walk. We walked on this dirt road with tall trees on both side – very refreshing!
We had 1.5 hours in this castle! As we enter the castle, the castle smelled very good; it was full of flowers (no wonder it’s the lady’s castle!).
We saw many different rooms and even the kitchen:
This was my favorite room:
Afterwards, we came out and went to see the side of the castle. It looked exactly like the picture in my puzzle that I have been seeing for years in my childhood:
I just couldn’t believe that I am actually here! It was one of the few moments in my life that I felt like a dream came true right in front of my eyes! It was beautiful! We walked around its garden and took more photos from different angles:
We finally saw all 4 castles and it was a long day! Our train back to Paris was at 7:11 pm and we made it back to Tours as promised at 6:45 pm. We had plenty of time to walk back to the train station and waited for our train. On the ride back to Paris, we couldn’t stop looking at the photos we took, it was well worth the time and money! I was chatting with the girl who was in our tour and she said she paid 80 euros for her train ticket to Tours (we paid 70 euros for both of us! wow so book ahead!).
We got back to Paris at 8:24 pm and went straight for dinner. I made reservation at www.thefork.com for La Vache au Comptoir (20% off), this restaurant was close by Gare Montparnasse. The food was beyond my expectation! It might not looked like a fancy restaurant but the food quality and price were pretty good! After dinner, it was already 10 pm so we went back to our hotel and fell asleep right away!
2 thoughts on “Loire Valley, France”
We are keen to do the castle tours around Paris including particularly Chambord.
Would you be able to share your feedback on the castles such as Versailles and Fontaineblue? We probably can only afford a day for castles around Paris.
Also, isnt 1 hour tour of the castles e.g. Chambord too rush as per the Touraine Evasion package?
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I really would love to go there. I love the list of countries you visited. There is so much for me to see yet. Can I interview you for my blog? I'm fascinated by people who travel a lot and the stories they have to tell.