Nov 16, 2021
It all starts with that first taste
General / May 11
Long the playground of French royalty, the Loire Valley is synonymous with aristocratic chateaux, Romanesque churches and formal gardens. But the vast river valley has more to offer than Old World charm. In recent decades, a new generation of sustainable winemakers, hoteliers, and restaurateurs has hit the scene, injecting youthful energy into the place and transforming the destination into a model of responsible tourism. From biodynamic vineyards and treetop hotels to sea-to-table restaurants, here are our favorite spots in the Loire Valley.
Four diverse wine-growing regions and 87 appellations comprise the Loire Valley, which traces the 600-mile stretch of the Loire River. The Central Loire vineyards are among the most recognizable, home to Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé and producing some of the world’s finest Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Rosé. For a deep dive into the Sauvignon Blancs of the Loire Valley, save your spot in our Two Faces of Sauvignon Blanc Experience.
In Pouilly-Fumé, VIVANT winemaker Antoine Gouffier at Domaine du Bouchot embraces biodynamic methods and experiments with a variety of vessels, including old oak casks from Burgundy, to make aromatic white wines with a twist—check out this orange Sauvignon Blanc to see what we mean. Meanwhile in Sancerre, brothers Florent and Clément Pinard have taken the reins of their family’s historic estate, using organic farming to achieve the ultimate expression of the terroir.
The Middle Loire, which surrounds the towns of Angers and Tours, also produces a wide range of varieties, most notably Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. At Domaine La Grange Tiphaine, husband and wife duo Damien and Coralie Delecheneau are breathing new life into the 19th-century family estate by adopting biodynamic farming. Their Chenin Blancs are elegant and mouthwatering, with spice and toasted notes. Learn more about Chenin Blancs by saving your spot in our The Chameleon of the Loire Experience.
On the westernmost point of the region, where the Loire River empties out into the Atlantic, the climate is cold and damp and the soils are sandy-stony—which lends a lively freshness to the varieties grown there. VIVANT winemaker Jo Landron is a pioneer and one of the most renowned winemakers in the region. His efforts in sustainability have catapulted Muscadet wines onto the world stage. To learn about the dry light-bodied white wine, check out our Muscadet Wave Experience.
The Upper Loire is on the other side of the region, encompassing the appellations of Côtes d’Auvergne and Saint-Pourçain, among others. This under-the-radar area is characterized by its continental climate and extinct volcanoes—a unique terroir that can be tasted in its Gamays and rosés. Of all the regions in the Loire, this one is the least trodden, so we recommend doing your research before setting off.
There are some 300 castles scattered throughout the Loire Valley—and no, you don’t need to see them all. The largest and arguably most majestic of the lot is Château de Chambord, a 16th-century landmark widely considered to be one of the finest examples of French Renaissance and Medieval Revival architecture. The UNESCO World Heritage Site has 426 rooms, more than 4,500 objets d’art, and a park that’s as big as Paris’s historic center. The pièce de résistance is the double-helix staircase that spans the castle’s main floors and is accredited to Leonardo da Vinci.
Meanwhile, green-thumbed travelers won’t want to miss Villandry, the last of the major chateaux to be built during the Renaissance. Spread over 14 acres in Indre-et-Loire, the sprawling property boasts six French formal gardens, divided into a series of terraces. Stroll the pebbled pathways in the Herb Garden, stopping to sniff bunches of mint, eucalyptus, and lemon balm, or get lost amid the geometric boxwood hedges in the Ornamental Garden. Since 2009, the chateaux's gardens have been cultivated organically, without the use of pesticides, fungicides, and chemical fertilizer.
For the perfect shot, swing by Château de Chenonceau, a 16th-century castle that stretches across the River Cher and is one of the most photographed spots in the region. After, swing by the Domaine La Grange Tiphaine, just 10 minutes away, to say hi to our friends, VIVANT winemakers Coralie and Damien Delecheneau.
The Loire Valley may be celebrated for its rolling hillsides and green pastures, but its vibrant towns are worth exploring, too. The pocket-sized Tours exudes fairytale charm, with cobbled streets, timber-clad townhouses, and the magnificent Musée du Compagnonnage, which houses one-of-a-kind works by carpenters, locksmiths and other craftspeople. To truly feel like you’ve gone back in time, journey to the picturesque town of Chinon, which has an atmospheric old town with views of the Vienne River and a hilltop fortress.
Nicknamed the “Garden of France,” the Loire Valley has an abundance of farms, vineyards and orchards that supply fresh, seasonal ingredients to the region’s many acclaimed restaurants. For fine dining, take a seat at the oceanfront restaurant Maison Anne de Bretagne from two Michelin-starred chef and native son Mathieu Guibert. A gastronomic tribute to the flavors of Pays de la Loire, the restaurant serves sea-to-table dishes like local monkfish cooked in fennel butter and bathed in briny sea urchin broth. Another stellar waterfront option is L’auberge des Isles, set inside a 15th-century house on the River Thouet. Sit on the large shady terrace and peruse the restaurant’s excellent selection of biodynamic wines and organic dishes. For a quick bite, stop by Maison Gaspard, in Saumur. The convivial restaurant is the perfect place to refuel on healthy options like salad, soup, and charcuterie boards.
Want to sleep in a castle? Consider this your golden opportunity. At Hotel Château du Grand Lucé—which opened to the public for the first-time last summer—travelers can overnight in the former country home of Baron Jacques Pineau, who entertained famous friends including Voltaire, Mozart, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau back in the mid-18th century. Rooms feature damask wall coverings, Louis XV antiques, and gilded armchairs. If that’s too rich for your taste, consider Relais de Chambord’s new floating suite on the Cosson River. The quirky accommodation occupies a toue cabanée (a traditional flat-bottomed boat) complete with a spacious deck perfect for sunbathing while taking in views of Château de Chambord.
For a creative take on glamping, book a room at Loire Valley Lodges, a new boutique hotel from first-time hotelier Anne Caroline Frey. The property features a collection of suspended treehouses, each designed by a different artist like Argentine-Swedish sculptor Eka Acosta and French painter Gilles Ballini.
Subscribe to our weekly editorial digest and get a curated mix of stories straight to your inbox.