Castles of Loire Valley

Kimberly Palsson and her family of four continue their journey exploring Europe and bonding as a family. This week, they explore the south of France.

After bustling Paris, we spend a week in the countryside just a few hours south of Paris. We stay in a stone home over 300 years old in a tiny town in Loire Valley.

There’s very little here, but we do stumble upon a baguette vending machine! So funny. I really recommend Airbnb for unique accommodations. You’re in the French countryside; it should feel like it!

The Loire Valley is known for its incredible castles and vineyards. While they are happy in the picture above, we quickly learn that kids aren’t as interested in castles once they discover that they aren’t actually pink and sparkly. This is a real disappointment. No joke. Prepare yourself. But I like the opportunity to meld what they are reading in storybooks, or on Homer, with the reality and often origin of those stories. Here’s our take on each place we stopped:

Chenonceau. This chateau is regularly ranked the best of Loire Valley, so we made it our first stop. The walk up to the chateau is stunning, with tall trees lining the walkway. Unbelievable gardens surround the chateau. The chateau is very interesting, probably more so for history buffs. But it’s definitely not for all kids. Olaf prefers to run around outside while Stefan and I take shifts inside with Lillian. I think we would enjoy this more if we were major history buffs.

There’s a cute duck pond and a wine cellar where they pour estate wines. A picnic area by the parking lot is a little disappointing, given how grand everything else is.

Amboise. A lovely little town with pedestrianized cobblestoned streets. We don’t visit the castle here, but instead spend time walking around. We highly recommend a creperie here, Les 4 Saisons. Also The Clos Luce, where Leonardo da Vinci lived his last years and died, is worth a visit. The chateau there remains decorated as it was when he lived there. And the grounds make for a nice walk. There are many re-creations of his inventions, which we all find really interesting. We also discover a nice playground, which we enjoy for a long time.

There are a few food options available, one of which is a restaurant serving 15th century food using recipes from the time! We want to try it, but a school is visiting this day and commandeers the entire place for the day. Too bad. Instead we enjoy the Creperie, situated on top of a cliff overlooking the town. It is very picturesque and the kids run around the rose garden and fountain area while we wait for our food.

Saumur. Simple small town. The walk up to the castle is very nice, meandering through the old town and up some steps. We don’t stay long, as it begins to drizzle.

The Maison de Vins in Saumur is a good place to learn a bit about the region’s wines, and you can taste 5 for free! Lillian gets a taste of grape juice and feels very grownup about it. They sell wines, but they can also provide a map and recommendations on wineries in the area. There are several “Maison de Vins” in the region. I recommend it as a good introduction for your first time in the area.

Chateau Villandry. This is a favorite! There’s a sweet bridge over a stream filed with koi, and a vegetable garden rivaling the beauty of any rose garden I’ve seen. Along the path, there are many sweet spots to stop and relax. Lillian insists on taking a photo of me and Stefan in a spot she thinks looks romantic. She’s so cute! And it turns out to be a good shot!  After passing through numerous gardens, we reach a maze, which makes me feel like a kid too. Beyond the maze is an expansive yard with really nice playground equipment. Naturally the kids go nuts. I reommend Villandry for its beauty, calm ambiance and of course the playground and maze for hte kids. We love it.

Chateau D’Usse. The supposed inspiration for Walk Disney’s magic kingdom castle. We cheap out and don’t pay the fees to go up to the castle. Instead we admire it from a parking lot below. It looks the most like what I expected a castle to look like. Perhaps thanks to Disney.

Warning: Almost everything is closed on Sundays and Mondays. Schedule your time wisely or you could end up suffering to find food those days.

Because of the nature of staying in the countryside, we eat at home almost every evening. Often we are in the backyard garden with a bottle of wine purchased from a local vineyard. It’s calm and easy. And on that note, we are surprised we haven’t gotten sick of each other yet. Almost all day, every day, is spent just the 4 of us. That can be a lot, but we are genuinely enjoying this special time together. And I think we are getting into a bit of a groove. Maybe that has helped us settle in a bit here. I think we’ll miss it when we move on.

If you’ve spent any time in the Loire Valley with your kids, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Share your experiences this summer with us. Even going to a new place in your hometown is an adventure to share. #TravelWithHomer.