When our good friends suggested a trip to the Loire Valley with kids, I have to admit that I was not without reservations. Lots of castles and lots of wine — that’s all I really remembered from our last trip to this region 10 years ago. Sure, the former is kid-friendly in small doses. The latter? Not so much.
As it turns out, we loved exploring the Loire Valley with our children! We planned our days with care and always combined sightseeing with pool time before dinner (weather permitting).
Chenonceau perched over the Cher River
This 16th century castle built over the River Cher was the hands-down favorite attraction of the trip for me. The castle is not as awe-inspiring on the outside as others in this area like Chambord, but the interior is to die for. The inside of Chenonceau is meticulously restored, immaculate, decadent, yet authentic. Minus the people inside with modern-day attire and electronics, visitors truly step back in time.
We were so impressed by the elaborate fresh flowers everywhere — it made the castle feel lived in! The kids enjoyed this too as it was easy for them to visualize royal life here (vs. some attractions that are more museum-like). The castle is small enough that you can tour all the rooms in 45 minutes.
Chenonceau maze is a crowd-pleaser
You can also rent boats and take a trip down the River Cher which we opted not to do. The kids loved the maze in the gorgeous gardens; the path to the center is just challenging enough to create some giggles.
Tip: We decided not to use an audio guide here and regretted it. They have a version for children. Even if the content on these guides is not fabulous, they successfully engage kids more in the experience and information.
In addition, it’s worth noting that the adjacent town of Chenonceau is adorable and a good place for a lunch stop or to buy supplies for a area picnic.
Looking back at Château de Villandry from the garden
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Château de Villandry is best known for it’s magnificent gardens which have been admired for over 500 years.
We’ve visited gardens all over Europe and these gardens are indeed something very special. Elaborate and perfectly maintained, the sheer scale and complexity of the design is extraordinary.
Garden of Love
The gardens are vast but divided into distinct, symmetrical sections so they are easy to explore. The best view of them is from the higher vantage points inside and outside the castle where you can look down and appreciate the complete designs and their meaning.
There is a small children’s play area integrated into the gardens and also a maze (although the one at Chenonceau is more interesting).
Tip: We used the audio guide here. This is an example of one where the content was just fair with no version just for kids (they have a French kids version), but using it kept them engaged.
The inside of Château de Villandry is interesting but not memorable. If you are short for time or attention, I’d skip the castle interior and just visit the gardens (ensuring you go high in the gardens for a view from above).
Leonardo da Vinci’s last residence
Château du Clos Lucé was Leonardo da Vinci’s last home. Located in the picturesque town of Amboise in the heart of the Loire Valley, this is a not-to-be-missed attraction for school-age and up kids visiting the area.
Inventions galore in the basement of Château du Clos Lucé
You start the visit with a tour of the castle interior and see where and how he lived. The fun, however, begins in the basement where models of many of his inventions are on display. His far-reaching visions include an early airplane, bicycle, tank — it seems there is little he didn’t think about.
Life-size models for exploring
When you enter the garden after the castle tour, an array of da Vinci’s models are full-size and “working.” Kids can step inside the tank he designed and turn it in circles, walk across his drawbridge, and “shoot” a cannon. In short, they can spin, touch, and explore many of his fascinating inventions. There’s a playground and picnic grounds too. Kid heaven!
You can visit castles in the Loire Valley all day every day and never run out of places to see. Other area activities include visiting Troglodyte caves where people used to live and work. Canoeing, biking, and hiking are all plentiful for active families. As are an innumerable amount of interesting, historic villages.
If You Go
We stayed at Le Fleuray near Amboise. This hotel is in an absolutely ideal central location for exploring the Loire Valley. The owners go out of their way to create a family-friendly atmosphere. Rooms are spacious, comfortable, and spotless and there is plenty of room for kids to run and play. Pricing for rooms and meals is quite reasonable for the quality.
Photo credit Amie O’Shaughnessy
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