Allow me to paint the scenery for you:
It’s late summer, and we’ve just spent a fabulous few days in Paris. We soaked in the culture, toured the classic sights, and stuffed ourselves full with chocolate croissants. Now, it’s time to move on to the next part of our adventure: the Loire Valley.
The Loire is a 300 square mile region known also as the “Garden of France”, and it’s easy to see why. Here, rolling fields give way to an abundance of vineyards, blooming gardens, charming towns and of course, the grand chateaux (castles).
To get there, we rented a car and grabbed a map, and made our escape from Paris. This was where it first became clear that this was going to be quite the adventure. “Regular” Paris streets can be hectic for sure, but within moments of getting in our rental car, we somehow ended up in the Arc de Triomphe roundabout.
To be clear, we ended up in a giant multi-lane roundabout containing seemingly no rules nor common direction, near one of the biggest tourist sights in France. Do a quick YouTube search for “Arc de Triomphe traffic” and you’ll see what I mean.
Despite almost being squashed by a zooming bus or two, we survived, and we were on our way out of Paris and into the French countryside. To say that things went smoothly from here on out would be false, but to say that things weren’t absolutely breathtakingly amazing would be even MORE false. We opted to take the scenic route in lieu of the freeway route. Longer driving time, but with views of small towns and open spaces instead of asphalt and traffic. Easy decision.
What we weren’t counting on, however, was that this drive would take us six hours versus the two hours promised by the freeway route. This was due to a number of factors, including wrong turns, detours, and driving really really slowly because there were just too many beautiful sights to take in. Architecture, history, and nature pulled together on this one to deliver one of the most scenic drives I’ve ever encountered. I kid you not, every mile brought us a new opportunity to look out the window and yell “Ohmygosh look at this town! It’s sooo cute! Look at that castle thing-y! Is that an old church? Can we stop here?!”
Additionally, we weren’t really sure where exactly we were headed to. We had no reservations, and no set itinerary. The solution? Stop in the Loire town that appealed the most to us, and pray that there was a guesthouse vacancy somewhere.
This ended up being Amboise, a charming and pretty town with a large chateau perched above the Loire River. Fortunately, we found an amazing bed and breakfast with a great bedroom window view of the chateau, and an owner that was willing to offer his personal list of must-sees during our stay.
We had an amazing few days in the Loire, but one of the biggest highlights was definitely the Chaumont Garden Festival. We had never heard of it, but our B&B owner highly recommended it, so we decided to check it out. It ended up being completely freaking awesome, with interactive themed gardens like these:
Best. Decision. Ever.
This is what I love about traveling without an itinerary. I think this garden festival is actually fairly well known, but it wasn’t mentioned in our guidebook so we had no idea that it even existed. It’s great to look forward to seeing something specific and then actually getting to see it in person, but there’s definitely also something to be said for discovering something new and unexpected along the way.
Do you enjoy taking road trips while traveling? Have you ever driven through the Loire Valley or other regions of France? What have been some of your favorite road trips so far?