Design our visit to the Loire
October 17, 2018 3:47 AM   Subscribe

My husband and I are going on a long-awaited trip to Paris, with a couple of nights in the Loire at the end. Our Paris planning is on track, but in the Loire, we're stymied by the chicken-and-egg of where to stay, how to get around, and where to go. We'd like to visit the Château de Chenonceau, and we'd like to take an easy, ~1-3 hour paddle in kayaks or a canoe. We'd rather not rent a car if we can avoid it. Can you help us figure this out?

We'll arrive from Paris on a Friday in May, and leave for CDG airport on Sunday, both presumably by train unless there's a better option. Is there any nice area to stay that would let us avoid renting a car, while being reasonably convenient to get to/from those trains (at whatever stations make sense), plus the Château de Chenonceau, plus somewhere we can rent canoes or kayaks?
- We're interested in shared shuttles/vans, if any have multiple return times so we can go at our own pace and choose when we feel ready to leave. We don't want to be tied to a pre-determined guided/group excursion schedule (except for maybe a 1-2 hour tour as part of our Chenonceau visit).
- I read that busses are infrequent and trains are indirect/long. Maybe we could still make them work at least one-way here and there?
- We're not up for biking any real distance.
- Short taxi rides would be fine. If the costs of getting around add up to much more than a car rental would be, that would sway us back towards biting the bullet and renting.
- So far, the likeliest hub if we don't rent a car seems to be Tours station, but it sounds like it may not be a nice area to stay in?
- I found the Canoe Company, which offers paddling TO the Château de Chenonceau. But unfortunately, it's not possible to dock and visit the chateau that way.

This is a big-deal, long-awaited trip for us -- we live near Boston, and we don't take many big trips. We're willing to spend more than the bare minimum where it will make our experience better, but we'd rather make frugal choices where they're nearly as good. (E.g., for a place to stay if we do have a car, this hotel looks awesome at $115 EUR/night, and we'd compare it against less expensive options before deciding.) We find renting a car stressful enough that it's not a simple choice for us, but if we're sure that there's just not any other good option, we'll do it.

So: Where to stay; how to get there, around, and back; where to paddle; and any other tips... Can you help?
posted by daisyace to Travel & Transportation around Loire Valley, France (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
About ten years ago, I stayed in the Loire region for a few days on a trip with an Interrail train ticket, so I used nothing but trains to get around.

I think you are right that Tours is the best hub to start from. A TGV to Paris took only about an hour, even though the distance between the two cities is considerable. Amboise is a very nice little town in the direct vicinity of Tours, with an excellent train connection to Tours central station and the nearby TGV station (Saint-Pierre-des-Corps). I stayed at a campground right by the Loire river there, and even did a day trip to Paris without much hassle. I also visited Angers and Blois, and it happens to be very close to Chenonceaux as well (which I, however, did not visit). Amboise is interesting in itself, with a castle - surprise, surprise - and a museum dedicated to Leonardo Da Vinci, who spent time there near the end of his life and is even buried in the town castle, if I'm not mistaken.
posted by Desertshore at 4:27 AM on October 17, 2018 [3 favorites]

I've visited the Loire a few times. I've always rented a car. Public transport really isn't a good option for being a tourist. You might find a tour bus / package that does what you want with transport. Local taxis do exist but are not very practical.

Really, renting a car is the easiest way. You can book and pre-pay for it in the US, then bring a voucher; that simplifies the process somewhat.

In the past we've taken a train to Saint-Pierre-des-Corps, the TGV station near Tours, and picked up a car there. This works fine but the car rental requires a bit of planning. Car rental places close for lunch, also it took us forever to figure out where to drive to return the car on the way back. But that's all normal travel nuisance stuff, you can do it.

Saumur is another town / option for renting a car + taking a fast train from Paris. It's the wrong area for Chenonceau though. But it's a lovely town in itself and is a nice home base. I think Amboise is a good suggestion, but I haven't been there myself.

I can absolutely recommend staying in an old chateau property converted to a hotel, doubly so if it has a nice restaurant. I can't vouch for the Chateau de Nezelles specifically, but honestly half of why we visit the Loire is to stay in nice hotel/chateaux. There are a bunch at all sorts of price points. Near Chenonceau I enjoyed staying at the Chateau de Noizay but it's double the price you're looking at.

Bonus Chenonceaux: this 1926 poster by Duval. It really does look like that.
posted by Nelson at 8:24 AM on October 17, 2018

If you really do not like renting cars in general, then it might make sense to try to get a tour, but if you are just worried about the difficulty of renting in France, I'd suggest getting a car. Driving in that area is very pleasant - way better than Boston, for example - and it's very easy to get around with GPS. (On Google maps, you can download the map before you go so won't even need a cell connection.) If it's the actual renting you're worried about, do it in Paris. If it's driving, definitely avoid Paris - just take the train to the area and get a car there. If you reserve through a big international company and you'll be fine. For example, there are three Hertz locations in Tours.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:38 AM on October 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

I did a bike tour in that area, if you cycle, it's a great way to get around, but the distances are a bit too far for a casual trip (or you won't be able to walk the next day).

There appears to be a bus from Tours to Chenouceux, and then it's a quick walk to the castle, but it only runs a few times a day, and you can only come back after 5pm, which could be inconvenient. I quite like Tours, but we'd been staying in teeny towns, and it was nice to be back in a larger urban centre. We stayed here, a bit back from the main drag, but lovely high ceilinged rooms.

Chamount near Amboise is also worth a visit, in my opinion, and you can catch a bus there from Tours too.
posted by kjs4 at 6:07 PM on October 17, 2018

If you are interested in a cycling trip, this company was good for us. I've linked to a tour that is three days and includes Chenonceau.
posted by kjs4 at 6:14 PM on October 17, 2018

Thanks, all, for the reassurance about renting and the tips for alternatives. Still not sure which way we'll go, but it's good input. Thanks again!
posted by daisyace at 8:35 AM on October 18, 2018

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