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Published 22 January 2021 by Leyla Alyanak
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If you've only got 24 hours to spare, can you still take a full day trip to Loire Valley from Paris? Will you be able to experience any of the wonderful castles of the Loire you've heard so much about?
Absolutely! And it will be one of the best day trips from Paris you'll experience.
There are several ways to visit the Loire Valley in a day from Paris and each has advantages and disadvantages. Let me show you exactly how to organize your one-day visit to the Loire for a visit that will be memorable – and will make you want to return!
Why visit the Loire Valley, France?
The best chateaux to visit
These castles of the Loire are among the cultural and historical bastions of France: important kings and queens lived here, crucial battles were fought here, Joan of Arc came through here, and the region just happens to be stunning to see, with its meandering rivers and more than 1000 sumptuous castles where people actually lived.
But that's only the beginning, because many of the chateaux have picturesque villages attached to them, not to mention vineyards with their excellent wines and meandering country roads that will show you some of France's best countryside.
Don't just take my word for it: the Loire Valley is so special it is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In fact, it made little sense to protect a single chateau or wine or cultural icon when the region in its entirety is so sublime.
But still... much as you would love to explore every nook, with only a day available, you'll have to make some difficult choices. Let me help you.
Of all the beautiful chateaux in the Loire Valley, we must try to be realistic about what we can see. Depending on how you plan to visit, these are the most accessible from Paris. Let's take a quick look!
The advantage of Blois (home of many kings and queens) is that it is right in the center of town, within walking distance of the train station. It is a fascinating chateau built in four different time periods, each in its own style.
This is also the chateau in which the Archbishop of Reims gave his blessing to Joan of Arc as she went off to fight the English and drive them out of Orléans. (Here's more of the backstory of Blois chateau, if you're interested.)
It took several reigns to complete but this jewel of the Renaissance is staggering in every way – 426 rooms, 77 staircases, 282 chimneys and Europe's largest fenced-in forest. Much of the building was undertaken by François I and he meant it as a hunting lodge. In fact, he hardly ever stayed there (no wonder: it's huge, hard to heat and there's not much else around). Still, Chambord is astonishing in its design and you can get lost in its features and symbolism and not notice the time go by. (Click here for a deeper look into Chambord.)
If you choose to visit independently by train or car, don't forget to buy a skip-the-line ticket.
To get the inside story of Chenonceau and why it's called the Ladies' Castle, click here. But first, look at its beauty. It is undoubtedly one of the most exquisite of the many exquisite Loire chateaux, but there's something special about the way it shimmers over the Cher River (no, that's not actually the Loire but one of its tributaries). There are some interesting stories behind this castle too...
Not many people realize Leonardo da Vinci lived his last years at the Clos Lucé. He did so at the request of François I, who lived down the road at Amboise, another royal chateau along the banks of the Loire River. Amboise stands over the city, looking positively urban, yet go behind and a completely different castle unfurls. Explore more of its history here. As for the Clos Lucé, it is a delightful manor house a ten-minute walk from Amboise.
If you visit independently, you can buy a skip-the-line ticket to Clos Lucé.
More Classical than Renaissance, Cheverny is a lovely chateau and one that is still very much lived in, not to mention lovingly cared for. Apart from the perfectly decorated rooms inside, this castle is a bit unusual. It has a herd of 150 hunting dogs (arrive at feeding time for some crazy moments) as well as a Tintin museum, if you're a fan. Legend has it that Cheverny inspired the creation of Tintin's chateau de Moulinsart (Marlinspike).
Getting organized for your one-day Loire Valley trip is simple: there are three main ways to do it, and each one has advantages and disadvantages, depending on the kind of traveler you are or just how much you want to see.
1) Take a guided tour from Paris
3) Rent a car
If you only have one day, taking a Loire Valley castles tour may be your best and easiest option. There are plenty of excellent tours of the Loire Valley from Paris, so you'll have to choose based on which chateaux you want to visit, how much time you want to spend, and what else you want to do once you get there (Lunch? Wine-tasting? Time to explore on your own?)
If you're a person for whom a short one-day tour is just the right length, here are some of the benefits of jumping aboard:
These Loire Valley chateaux tours are among the most popular when it comes to value for money and what you actually get to see:
NOTE: Not all castle tours in France offer guided commentary inside the castle: some may leave you to explore on your own, so be sure to check as you may prefer one over the other.
Please note: Schedules change with the seasons so be sure to check the actual schedules rather than take my word for it! You'll find train schedules and rates here.
If you truly dislike tours but don't want the hassle of driving, the train may be just the answer, although you will have to spend time figuring things out and getting organized. (There are a few buses but they are limited and operate only in summer so we won't cover them here.)
There are definite advantages to visiting the Loire Valley by train:
Sadly, not all Loire castles can be reached by train, so you'll have to limit your choices. But difficult does not mean impossible! There's plenty you can see by train.
Here are a few day trips to the Loire chateaux you can organize yourself by train:
Visiting the Loire Valley is definitely one of the more fun and rewarding Paris day trips by train, and as you can see, it can be done in one day.
➽ Want to go beyond the Loire? Here are 22 Fabulous Day Trips from Paris by Train.
No question, there are definite advantages to having your own transportation in the Loire Valley:
However, it's not all roses, because if you don't know the region, you have to factor in the hassle of finding your way around and occasionally getting lost, not to mention getting used to gas pumps and toll payment booths. But if you've driven in France before, none of this will be an issue.
IF YOU DO NEED TO RENT A CAR IN FRANCE
Don't wait until the last minute, especially if you want one of the scarcer automatics.
🚗 Check availability at Discover Cars (it's what I use to compare prices).
If you're driving, you'll have total freedom and can simply map where you want to go... and go.
Here is a suggested itinerary for a one-day Paris-Loire Valley driving trip, just to give you an idea of what can be accomplished. (You can choose to structure yours through Amboise, or any other chateau, but this will give you an idea of what you could do in a day.)
The three 'Cs' form a sort of triangle south of Blois, so what makes most sense is to start with either Chambord or Chenonceau, with Cheverny in the middle. If you think you have time, you can add Blois to the mix.
Which is best of the 3Cs? I prefer Chenonceau in the afternoon because the light is better, but it's also the furthest from Paris so if you're the kind of person who prefers to drive as far as needed and then work your way back, you'll want to start with Chenonceau, then Cheverny, and end with Chambord before you go home.
The map below should give you a better idea of the respective location of these three chateaux.
The following itinerary is extremely rough – and optimistic. It depends on each chateau's opening hours, which change by the season and day of the week.
Ideally, you want to arrive at your first chateau at opening time, and leave your last one when it closes.
As I mentioned above, you can choose to start or end at any castle of your choice but in true French fashion, lunch is NOT a moveable feast and if you want to eat sitting down, you'll only have between noon and 2pm. Don't expect food outside those hours unless you opt for a sandwich stand or snack bar.
➽ Do you want to stay longer than a day? Here are the top 10 Loire Valley tours
What is the fastest way to get from Paris to chateaux of the Loire Valley?
Believe it or not, the fastest way is to take a Loire Valley castles tour from Paris. While the tour will keep you gone most of the day and will show you many sights, the fact that it is already organized means you will see more in the allotted time than you could any other way.
What is the cheapest way to get from Paris to chateaux of the Loire Valley?
The cheapest way to visit the Loire Valley chateaux from Paris would be by train, even if you factor in the cost of buying entrance tickets. You will see less than if you took a tour or drove yourself, but if you buy your train tickets well ahead of time (see above), the cost will be quite low.
What is the easiest way to get from Paris to chateaux of the Loire Valley?
The answer is a tour. A tour is easy because everything is taken care of for you. I would probably opt for a tour (see above) if you'd rather leave the hassles to someone else and simply enjoy the sights.
How far is it from Paris to chateaux of the Loire Valley?
The distance from Paris to Blois, your first suggested jumping off point, is 185 km/115 mi. By car, the trip should take around two hours
Can I catch a bus from Paris to visit the chateaux of the Loire Valley?
Yes you can, but only in summer. You can take the FlixBus to either Cheverny or Chambord (website in French).