When planning my trip to the Loire Valley, I had the benefit of in-depth regional knowledge. I had already conducted a tourism assessment of the area, including a SWOT analysis, as part of my wine business studies.
I learned that the Loire has the whole package: location, architectural and historical heritage, gastronomy, culture, geographic diversity, a UNESCO designation, and, of course, wine. In fact, it has all of this in abundance.
What I didn’t understand, then, is why it has a relatively low number of international visitors. Even within France, most visitors are from Paris and most go on the weekends. It didn’t make sense.
You might argue that there are no truly iconic wines—like those at the level of Bordeaux’s first growths or Burgundy’s Romanée-Conti. You might argue that there’s no one must-see tourist attraction, a lack of shopping opportunities, or maybe even limited activities for the younger generation. You might argue all those things, and yet, they don’t really add up.
It’s one thing to study a place, and it’s another thing to experience it firsthand. Now that I’ve visited, I think I’ve figured out why the Loire doesn’t receive the number of visitors it deserves—it’s a combination of the abundance and the means to see it. Believe it or not, the Loire might have too much of a good thing.
If you look at a map of the Loire Valley wine region, you see Nantes toward the west and Pouilly-sur-Loire on the east…and a minimum four-hour highway drive between the two. That’s bypassing Angers, Saumur, Chinon, Villandry, Tours, Vouvray, Chenonceau, Amboise, Chambord, Blois, Orléans, and Sancerre—which isn’t even a full list of cities and towns with things to see and do. During my trip, I explored cities, toured the countryside, tasted wine, visited châteaux, ate in a cave, and soared in a hot air balloon. A rental car made it all possible. While there are some tour and other transport options, the best way to see the Loire is by car. My guess is that not a lot of visitors—particularly international tourists—want to deal with a rental car.
But, let me tell you, it’s worth it.
I may have known a lot about Loire tourism beforehand, but that didn’t prepare me for the level of abundance and how enchanting it would be. I was wowed by the cities, countryside, wine, châteaux, food, and flight. Highlights included being charmed by the wines of Vouvray. Delighted by the lively spirit of Tours. Captivated by the gardens of Villandry. Inspired by the hidden sight of where Joan of Arc entered Orléans. Carried away by EURO 2016 soccer fever in Blois. I even enjoyed being diverted by the Tour de France while en route to wine tasting in Saumur.
My days were packed, and yet I barely scratched the surface of what the Loire has to offer.
That’s the “problem” of the Loire—so much abundance, so little time. If you want to visit a place that pleases all of your senses; a place where you can visit top tourist attractions during high season and still have lots of breathing room; a place that enchants, delights, and even surprises—visit the Loire Valley. You’ll need to establish priorities and rent a car, but there’s no doubt that your efforts will be amply awarded. Abundance awaits.