The Loire Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage site that lies some 2 hours drive from Paris and that stretches for 280 km along the central section of the Loire river, South West of Paris. Within this 800 square km area lie over 300 chateau so planning your trip in advance will give you the best experience and minimise the time spend driving. For example, it takes 2 hours 30 minutes to drive the 250 km across the region, from Angers to Orleans on fast roads and much more on provincial routes. To do this look for clusters of locations you want to visit and then plan your accommodation. This 70 page guide is designed to simplify this process by providing extensive map based capabilities including generating your own Google Map. Our suggestion is to split the region into two parts, one to the east of Tours and one to the west and plan around these two locations.
The area is famous for its Château which vary considerably from the early constructions which are heavily fortified castles such as the Château de la Guerche or the Château du Plessis-Bourré with its wide moats and multiple gatehouses and drawbridges, through to the Renaissance period with the Château de Cheverny which has almost no fortifications and built to impress rather than protect. Many of the smaller chateau are run as B&Bs which is a great way to have the real chateau experience. Examples include La Ballue and Chateau Vauloge which lie en-route to the region from the UK. Some have been converted into 4 star hotels which provide a different but equally engaging experience, these include Château de Marçay and Chateau de Rochecotte which lie East of Tours.
Most of the chateau are privately owned and operated, some are managed by the Center des Monuments Nationaux, a public institution under the Ministry of Culture and Communication, created in 1914. As a result there is little co-ordination of ticketing such that you can not purchase a ticket that covers multiple properties. Some have grouped to gather to offer discounts for repeat visits within the group after the first purchase. Before visiting always check opening times, some operate a timed tour system which is usually very good but some also do not allow access to the house except on the tour.
Our suggestion is that you plan your time such that you can visit the larger chateau in the mornings leaving the afternoon to explore some of the smaller but often more interesting such as Château de Moulin, Château de Chemery and Château de Fougères-sur-Bièvre. Of the more famous château, Château de Cheverny, Château Chambord, Château de Chaumont-sur-Loire and Château de Chenonceau lie to the East of Tours creating a natural cluster whilst Château de Villandry, Château d’Azay-le-Rideau and Château D’Ussé form a similar cluster to the West.