With a second home in France, my family has always had one foot on French soil—and there are few terroirs more magical than the Loire Valley. As a kid, we would go there on trips in our camper, and my brother and I would play hide-and-seek amid the vineyards or imagine ourselves to be swashbuckling knights as we roamed the châteaus of Chenonceau and Chambord.
Later, I rediscovered the Loire Valley while researching for the guidebook, Rough Guide to France, and each time I found myself falling back in love with its fairy-tale landscapes and storybook châteaus. If it’s your first time visiting, Blois is the ideal base camp, and this 3-day itinerary is packed with highlights.
Summer temperatures have hit 104°F (40°C) in recent years, so plan bike rides and outdoor activities for early or late in the day.
If you only have time for one thing, make it the Château de Chenonceau.
A château tour is the quintessential way to kick off any Loire Valley itinerary, and Blois sits pretty amid the big three—Chenonceau, Chambord, and Cheverny. Although shuttle buses run to the châteaus in peak season (July–August), it’s far more convenient—and time-saving—to hire a car or join a tour.
Choose two to explore on day one. It’s about a 45-minute drive to the Château de Chenonceau, where you’ll be rewarded with romantic turrets, arches, and flowery gardens set along the Cher River. From there, it’s about another hour’s drive to reach the Château de Chambord, a masterpiece of French Renaissance architecture.
Rise early on day two for a hot air balloon ride over the Loire Valley. Floating over the valley at sunrise affords an aerial view of the patchwork vineyards, castle spires, and the mighty Loire River that comprise this UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Spend the rest of the day discovering the Loire’s award-winning wineries. It’s standard practice in France to book your wine-tasting visits in advance, so reserve a private tour that can be customized to your tastes. The Cheverny and Cour Cheverny appellations are closest and produce some of the Loire’s classic white, rosé, and sparkling wines.
Start with a visit to the royal Château de Blois, and follow in the footsteps of Louis XII and Catherine de Medici. Then stroll through Old Town to reach the Gothic Cathedral of Saint-Louis. Leave yourself time to wander the cobbled lanes, stopping to visit small artisan shops and boulangeries along the way.
Don’t miss a photo at the Denis Papin Steps—the street art hotspot is one of Blois’ most social media–friendly sights. In the afternoon, hire a bike and cycle part of the famous Loire by Bike route, which hugs the Loire River and meanders past vineyards and châteaus.