Loire Valley Holiday Season Travel Guide
They say opposites attract. I spent my childhood in the buzzing Taipei city. My husband, on the other hand, had a fairy tale childhood growing up in the Loire Valley countryside. While my childhood memories include taking glass elevators to the top of tall buildings and weaving through busy night markets, his consist of visiting castles, getting lost in the forest, and falling off bicycles and trees. His childhood sounded like a fantasy to me.
Fast forward a bit, we spend a few years back in the Loire Valley together when we welcomed the arrival of our kids. As I often tell our friends, we were like salmon going back to the source. We revisited many sites of his fond childhood with our little ones, and I got a glimpse of what a childhood in the romantic castle valley would resemble.
Since we've met, we've spent most holiday seasons in the Loire Valley together with his families for some jolly celebrations filled with gifts, food, wine, and music. Although Loire Valley is a popular destination in the summer time, I would also like to recommend visiting during the holiday season. Town centers have festive lights everywhere, castles are fully decked up with Christmas decorations, streets are packed with holiday shoppers, and you can smell the marron chaud, vin chaud, candied pralines, and nutella crepes in the air. Loire Valley is an enchanting fairy tale land during winter time.
Here are some of our favorite places to visit during the holiday season in the Loire Valley.
Tours: Holiday Central of Loire Valley
Tours is the largest city in the Loire Valley and a good base from which to explore the castles. The city has a charming blend of medieval buildings and modern infrastructure. It has a perfectly-sized city center where you can explore everything within walking distance. A pleasant stroll on rue Nationale, the main commercial street, takes around 15 minutes to go from the Loire riverbank to the City Hall (Hôtel de Ville) in town center.
During the month of December, rue Nationale is a great place for shopping and people-watching. The Christmas lights are out, festive music streams from the central speaker system, and there is a lovely carousel and ferris wheel right by the riverbank that will surely please the young ones. Once you pass the City Hall, take a left turn and walk down Boulevard Heurteloup to the Marché de Noël (Christmas Market) and get some nutella crepes, roasted chestnuts, chocolat chaud, and mulled wine to warm you up.
Christmas Magic at the Castles
Loire Valley is most known for its medieval and Renaissance castles, as I've briefly introduced in the Ten Must-See Beautiful Castles in the Loire Valley post. Although some castles are closed in winter (November to April), many well-known castles are still open, and they often have sumptuous Christmas decorations during holiday season.
Note that the only castles that remain open on Christmas day (12/25) and New Year's Day (1/1) are Château de Chenonceau, Château de Villandry, and Château de Cheverny. I've included the opening hours of the major castles here, but for most updated information, please check on their websites.
Château de Chambord: Open daily 9AM-6PM, special Christmas events in second half of December. Closed on December 25th, January 1st
Château de Chenonceau: Open daily 9:30AM-5PM, INCLUDING December 25th and January 1st.
Royal Château of Amboise: Open daily 9AM-12:30PM and 2:00-4:45PM, no closing during lunch hours during the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. Closed on December 25th, January 1st.
Douceur de Vivre in the Loire Valley Countryside
If you're staying more than a few days in the Loire Valley during holiday season, perhaps the best way to get to know the region is to visit the countryside to truly savor that certain douceur de vivre (slow, sweetness of life). Rent a bike, or take a balade digestive (digestive walk) after a grand holiday lunch in a lazy afternoon. Take in the sceneries, relish the details in the peaceful surroundings. After those glasses of Vouvray and Sancerre, it's nice to oxygenate your blood outside.
When in Loire Valley, fairy tale is in the everyday details.