We talk about our tour in Mousesteps Weekly YouTube Show #104!
We spent nearly two weeks in France over September/October (2016), and I had reached out in advance to Viator to possibly partner with them. I have personally taken numerous tours with Viator over the years, including twice to Stonehenge (one an inner circle tour among the stones), once to Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany as well as a trip to the Scottish Highlands including the Loch Ness. We also booked through Viator (on our own this trip) personal transport to CDG airport. I’ve never had anything but excellent experiences through Viator, and I was very happy when – while we were already in France – we found out we were going to take the Skip the Line: Chateaux de Chambord, Chenonceau and Loire Valley Wine-Tasting Day Trip from Paris tour. This was my sixth trip to France since 2002, and the Loire Valley is one place I’ve wanted to go but just kept saying “next trip”.
Booking through Viator is very easy. And there are reviews from real guests, which helps give an idea of what to expect on the tour. One thing that I love about taking tours is that often there is a special stop that would be unusual for me to visit. In this case, we not only went to Château de Chambord and Château de Chenonceau, but also to a smaller family-run château called Château de Nitray for wine tasting and lunch. That stop was truly one of the highlights of the tour, as I’ll share below.
Tours often start early in the morning. We needed to be in central Paris at 7:15 a.m., at an easy-to-find location that was about an hour via RER/Metro from where we were staying in Marne La Vallee (near Disneyland Paris). I recommend staying in central Paris, or at least within a quick walk to an RER or metro if not that close. Our taxi never showed up and we ended up walking a mile or more at 5:30 a.m. to get to the RER station.
Once on the bus, it was over a two hour trip to Château de Chambord – that included a rest stop (there was no restroom to use on the bus). The rest stop also allowed everyone to stretch their legs and purchase coffee and breakfast items. The trip was a relaxing one. As we got closer to Château de Chambord, our two tour guides gave us a lot of information about the Loire Valley and those who inhabited the châteaux.
I hadn’t remembered that Château de Chambord was an inspiration for the Disney film Beauty and the Beast – in particular, Beast’s Castle – until watching the Disney Movies Anywhere feature from the newest disc (it is a classic feature carried over from the last version). It is really interesting to see the Loire Valley from the point of view of the animators from the film.
Château de Chambord began construction in 1519 by order of King Francois I. This is the largest château in the Loire Valley, and Francois I only spent a few weeks of his life here. Unlike Château de Chenonceau, Chambord is state owned. It wasn’t always, but is now. In contrast, Chenonceau was state owned but hasn’t been for about 100 years.
Just to mention also, as the title states, this tour skips the lines at each château. We went during what was a slower time, I expect during summer and other times that this is a very valuable perk.
The crest of Francois I is the salamander seen in this photo (more than once).
References to Francois I can be found in many places, even though he was here rarely.
The architecture here is French Renaissance.
I’m not sure who this is riding the horse.
There are many tapestries and beautiful art pieces inside Chambord.
This double helix staircase allows for someone to go up the staircase and someone to go down without ever meeting. It was possibly designed by Leonardo da Vinci, though he died before it was built.
Here is a look going down the stairs.
This is a bust of Jean-Baptiste Poquelin (Molière).
This is a sumptious gaming room. From what I understand, not every room is furnished – but all we saw are. Chambord has 440 rooms and 282 fireplaces!
84 staircases are part of Chambord as well.
In this ceiling, F for Francois and his salamander crest can be seen many times.
Here is a closer look at the crest.
And F for Francois. I can only imagine how much work went into creating all of these.
On the tour we took through Viator, the tour guides split us into two groups and took us around some of the rooms to see highlights.
The park here is 13,000 acres – it is said to be larger than central Paris. One thing I didn’t realize about the Loire Valley before visiting is how large it is. I still don’t grasp the size yet, but this is one of 1000 châteaux in the region. Granted it is the largest one, but we already have covered the size of central Paris with just this one.
Jeff looks very small next to the château.
Gargoyle sculptures can be found in the architecture.
There is so much detail everywhere.
A horse and carriage crosses the grounds.
The white dots on our shirts are what signified which tour group we were in when we left the bus.
This view is incredible, even with refurbishment and work going on.
Here is a look at the refurbishment, which didn’t effect anything we were looking at inside.
While Château de Chambord didn’t remind me of Beauty and the Beast right away, I can see the architecture style being similar.
From Chambord, we were on our way to a smaller château – Château de Nitray for lunch and wine tasting. Our time at Chambord was a little over an hour.
The views looking out of the bus were stunning.
I took a few photos to show the architecture along the way.
I believe we were told that this is where Leonardo de Vinci is buried.
This is a look at our Volvo bus. It was extremely comfortable for the hours we were on it.
Château de Nitray was next. The description of the tour mentioned a gourmet lunch and wine tasting.
We were welcomed by the family that owns Château de Nitray, and from looking at the website – this is Earl Hubert de l’Espinay, and he’s owned and run Château de Nitray for almost 30 years (and Earl would not be a first name, but a title).
Visitors can come here and pay 5 Euros to experience the chapel and some other public areas. The château itself is not public, it is a private residence. They also offer large group meals like we had, but this is not a restaurant.
I wasn’t sure what to expect for a gourmet meal – it was a house made meal, but probably the second best meal I had during our nearly two weeks in France.
There was plenty of wine on the table for anyone who wanted it.
We were shown how to smell and taste wine.
We were seated at a long table, but it was easy to move around as needed. You can see the bottles of wine that were left at each table section, as well as water.
There was a generous cheese board left at each section of table, and baguettes as well.
Food was dished out here.
This was my meal. I rarely (pretty much never) eat dark meat chicken, but I did this time – the meat was tender with so much flavor. There was salad, potatoes, and stewed type tomatoes. Everything was excellent.
And dessert was pie. I don’t think anyone was hungry by this point!
And if wine with our meal wasn’t enough, there was another tasting of wine outside.
We took a brief tour of the public areas. From what we were told, the weather was not kind to the grapes this year so I don’t know what that will mean for the château as far as tours in the coming year. But it was a special experience, they receive about 8000 visitors per year and it was nice to be in that number.
Wine made here is also sold in the shop – it was under $10.00 each from what I remember. Very reasonable, I would have purchased some if I’d not already had enough for the room.
So it was time to get back on the bus, and to drive to Château de Chenonceau. We had spent a little over an hour and a half at Château de Nitray including the relaxing lunch.
This is my ticket for Chenonceau. Ths particular château had always intrigued me, ever since first seeing it in Impressions de France (I’ve visited a few places because of the film, including Mont St. Michel twice).
This is actually called The Donkey Park.
There are signs with the names of donkeys here.
The donkeys seem pretty happy living here.
There is a short walk from the bus parking to the château.
The gardens here are gorgeous. If I had to choose one château to spend a full day at from where we visited, this is the one for me.
Château de Chenonceau is the most visited château in the Loire Valley, and it is easy to see why. Being there is a very peaceful experience, I really love gardens and the ones here are so pretty.
Château de Chenonceau in located on the Cher River.
We walked to the front of the château.
I hadn’t timed our château visits, but the information on the photos makes it easy. For Château de Chenonceau, our visit was over an hour and a half. And while we were on the bus before arriving here, we were told there was an optional wine experience (no extra charge). It is in a wine cellar, and I’ll show that later. Each guest on the bus chose whether they wanted to take part in the wine tasting, and nobody turned it down.
I am not sure what the E stands for.
This is the bedroom of Diane de Poitiers, she was mistress of King Henry the II and was gifted this château (though his wife Catherine de’ Medici forced her out after his death). There is a lot of interesting history here.
Check out all the detail in this fireplace, including the “H” for Henry with the crown on it.
In the floor, I believe this logo is Henry II and Queen Catherine’s initials, with it creating a D for Diane.
Here is the logo again.
And another look at the fireplace.
This is called the Bridge Hallway or Gallery and spans over the bridge. Diane was reponsible for the bridge, Queen Catherine for this area. There is also some interesting WWII history that happened here.
This is Louise of Lorraine’s bedroom. It was very hard to photograph, she was called The White Queen because of the death of her husband Henry III (the traditional mourning color was white for French queens), but her bedroom here is unlike any other I’ve seen. It is dark, mostly black colors and sad patterns. There is a lot more to the story of their relationship as well.
Looking from the château to some of the garden.
We walked outside.
This view is everything! I could sit here all day.
The day was gorgeous, blue sky over the château.
Château de Chenonceau is stunning from every angle.
The flowers in the garden make for a wonderful foreground as well.
When asked about the wine tasting, we could have spent more time in the château and gardens instead. But I wanted to see what this experience was like, and it was very worth it. I’d estimate we spent 15-20 minutes in the wine cellar, but we could have left earlier after tasting to go back outside.
This is the wine cellar, which also reminded me of the Impressions de France film.
We tasted several samples of wine. I didn’t expect to taste as many wines as I did on this tour.
Jeff and I enjoyed this experience very much, we almost opted to stay in the château (I’m glad we took the time for this).
Here are a few more photos of the gardens with Château de Chenonceau in the background.
This fountain makes for lovely reflections.
I mentioned that Viator sent us on the tour, we didn’t pay for it. So as far as value, I will compare it with other tours I have paid for through the company. The tour currently costs about $182.00 currently per person. Is it worth it? I would say absolutely. This 12-13 hour experience includes the bus trip to and from the Loire Valley from Paris; entries into all the châteaux and skipping any line; a very nice lunch and generous amounts of wine, as well as two terrific tour guides. We did tip each of them. It’d have been nice to spend even more time at the châteaus, but that would be for a multi-day tour (or if we rented a car on our own, which we didn’t want to do this trip). I’ve always enjoyed taking day tours from the cities I visit, and Viator has many wonderful day tours from Paris – to the Champagne region, to Bruges (Belgium), several to the Loire Valley, Mont St. Michel and more. The great thing about these tours is that you can see much more of a country than you might otherwise. I just can’t say enough about this day tour, it exceeded our expectations in every way.