After visiting Paris, we visited the Loire River Valley with our Dog
The Loire River valley is about 2.5 hours from Paris by car and built along the longest river in France. Turns out, a lot of the attractions in the Loire welcome dogs with open arms. Our dog loved exploring the castle grounds, swimming in the river, and trotting through the countryside during our visit. The beautiful Châteaus (Castles) bring tourists to the Loire from around the world. Beyond the castles, the Loire is home to wineries, small towns, and the beautiful French countryside. The region is filled with historical significance in the towns of Amboise, Angers, Blois, Orleans, Chinon and Tours (to name a few). Check out the Loire tourism website to see the full list of towns and castles.
Where to stay in the Loire with your dog
We decided to stay in a dog friendly AirBnb near Amboise as a central point between all the castles we wanted to visit. Amboise ended up being our favorite town so we were pleased with our decision – AirBnbs in the Loire River Valley are affordable and spacious. We stayed in a converted watch tower for less than 100€ per night.
Tips for making the most of your trip: organize by location
The Loire River Valley covers 310 square miles so it is important to plan beforehand. Here are some tips for optimizing your visit with the dog:
- Group your activities by location – Research the towns of the Loire in advance to understand the location of dog friendly castles, towns, and walks. The map below shows how we clustered our visit. The Loire is known for its castles so we built our activities around the castles we wanted to see each day. Our routine generally included a castle visit, a nearby walk, and a romp through town before moving onto the next castle on the list.
- Set a path – To make the most of your time, you’ll want to stay on a set path to avoid driving back and forth. Backtracking your steps can add hours in the car. We started with the castle closest to Paris and continued away from Paris until it was time to come back. We took a different route back to Paris to visit different castles on the way home.
- Prioritize & Plan – The Loire is too big to see in a single trip. You’ll have to decide what you want to see most and put together a detailed itinerary. Unlike Paris, where wandering aimlessly is a wonderful way to enjoy the city, it is best to go into the Loire with a detailed plan. This page includes a great itinerary through the Loire with your dog but we encourage you to tailor your visit to your preferences.
- Stay in a countryside AirBnB- AirBnbs in the Loire are cheap and many are pet friendly. Staying in a someone’s home rather than a hotel adds to the cultural experience of the Loire. We stayed 20 minutes from Amboise in a family’s converted watchtower on top of a hill.
- Bring an Umbrella & rain coat – France is unpredictable with rain. We got stuck in a few storms without an umbrella.
- Restaurants in France have different schedules than in the United States – we were surprised to find it difficult to get a bite to eat in the towns after 1pm. Most restaurants close from 1pm-6pm. Restaurants wouldn’t even serve us a coffee if we arrived after they had stopped serving food. We moved our schedule around to visit castles during the hours that the food shops were closed.
Map of dog friendly activities in the Loire
Follow our sample itinerary or the Loire
Day 1: Leave Paris, Château de Chenonceau, explore and grab dinner in Amboise, check into airbnb
Day 2: Château Villandry, country walk at Candes-Saint-Martin, Château du Rivau, country walk Bréhémont, Dinner in Tours
Day 3: Château d’Azay-le-Rideau, Château de l’Islette, explore Chinon, Château de Chaumont, Visit Wine Bar, country walk Saint Ouen les Vignes, dinner in Amboise
Day 4: Country walk Azay-sur-Cher, Château de Chambord, dinner & cathedral in Cartres, return to Paris
Dogs are not allowed inside the castles but there are plenty of pet friendly castle grounds to visit. In most cases, the outdoor gardens are even more breathtaking than the castle.
Château de Chenonceau – 2nd most visited castle in France
Chenonceau was our first stop after leaving Paris – this castle is an example of the gardens being even more beautiful than the castle itself. The castle is built into the river bed of the river Cher so the grounds are surrounded with flowing water. Turns out, Château de Chenonceau is the second most visited castle in France (after Versailles) – not bad for a castle that Henry II gifted to his mistress.
The visit starts with a corridor of trees leading to the main castle. The side paths along the road each lead to different gardens on the grounds. The largest garden will be to your right once you get to the castle – the garden is covered in geometric topiaires and purple flowers. Climb up to the top level of the garden to get a better look at the patterns made by the paths.
After touring the main garden, it is worth wandering the grounds to explore the secret gardens sprinkled throughout – we loved the vegetable garden and the rose garden.
Château de Villandry – The most beautiful gardens
Château de Villandry had our favorite gardens, but unfortunately we were got caught in a downpour so it was difficult to fully enjoy.
Grab a map to follow the walking path through the gardens. Each section is perfectly curated with themed flowers, geometric shrubs, and fountains. Once you visit the main gardens, there is an optional trail for visitors to see the castle from above.
Château du Rivau – Fairytale themed gardens
This was our least favorite castle of the trip – the castle grounds are decorated with different figurines and gnome statues which seemed out of place in the presence of such a historical structure. The castle grounds are meant to be fairytale themed but a lot of the decor appears anachronistic. This is the castle we would have skipped if running low on time.
Château d’Azay-le-Rideau – Cinderella castle in a cute town
Château d’Azay-le-Rideau is a fairytale like castle that appears to be right out of a Disney movie. Unlike the other castles we visited, the gates are located in a bustling town. After exploring the castle grounds, we walked through town to grab a bite to eat. The town is a wonderful place to grab a coffee and explore the cute shops. We arrived early in the morning before the crowds – this is a popular castle for the tourists. Get a map and be sure to check out the secret garden!
Château de l’Islette – Less crowded. Peace & Quiet
We made our way to Château de l’Islette and were surprised to find that not a single soul was at the castle – we didn’t see any people on our entire visit (albeit it was drizzling). We found the quiet puzzling since the castle was magnificent – there are so many castles in the Loire River Valley that not all of them can get the love they deserve. Additionally, Château de l’Islette is currently occupied by a family and therefore the inside is known to have a more homey rather than historical feel.
The castle grounds are great for a picnic and there are deck chairs along the river to enjoy some refreshments. This castle is tucked away from the hustle and bustle of the Loire tourists and turned out to be a peaceful hidden gem.
Château de Chaumont – Castle built onto a cliff during the 10th century
Chaumont had such impressive grounds that we barely noticed the castle (which was equally impressive). The castle is built on a cliff overlooking the hills. The Loire flows to one side of the grounds and the other side offers multiple walking paths to various gardens.
The castle grounds are so large that you could easily spend hours wandering. Some parts are purposefully less manicured – an interesting juxtaposition compared to the main gardens.
We visited during the international garden festival which features themed installations from artists all around the world – each mini garden is judged on various metrics at the end of the festival. We found that Chaumont featured more modern art installations throughout the grounds than the others that we visited, this seemed a bit odd next to the 10th century castle but did not take away from our enjoyment.
Château de Chambord – The most magnificent castle
Chambord was the last castle we visited before flying back to California. Château de Chambord was the most magnificent castle we saw but unfortunately, dogs were not allowed in the main gardens. We found the dog rules at Chateau de Chambord stricter than any of the other castles. On the plus side, visiting this castle with a dog is free since dogs are only allowed around the perimeter and not through the gates to the gardens. Despite the dog restrictions, Chambord is worth a visit just to enjoy its extravagant structure. There are an expansive set of paths around the castle perimeter that are worth checking out with your dog.
There isn’t much food in the area but picnics are welcome on the grass. Additionally, there are multiple stalls just beyond the parking lot. Prices are higher than usual, but nothing prohibitive.
Favorite Country Walks in the Loire
The Loire River Valley has a dedicated tourism website featuring hidden gems throughout the region. Most tourists come for the castles but there is so much more to see – the Loire Valley is home to world class wineries & picturesque country walks. See the 25 hikes with maps here. The country walks are great to check out if you are looking for less crowded destinations in between castle visits. We rarely ran into any other people on our country walks and Calvin had a blast running through the fields. Many of the trails are unmarked so be sure to reach the directions and download the maps from the Loire Tourism Website here. Some of the trails can be obscure to find so make sure to download all the maps beforehand.
Walking Trail: Saint-Ouen-les-Vignes
The Saint-Ouen-les-Vignes trail map covers 8 km and starts at Place de l’Eglise. The walk starts in town, then winds through vineyards, fields of grazing animals, and offers a panoramic view of the Ramberge Valley.
Walking Trail: Azay-sur-Cher
The 10km trail in Azay-Sur-Cher takes you along both the right and left banks of the river Cher. Park your car at Place Besnard and follow the directions on the Loire Tourism Website for trail markers. The trail follows the banks of the river so as long as you are near the river you are heading in the right direction. About halfway through, you will switch to the opposite side of the river and make your way back to the starting point. This peaceful walk is accompanied by the sound of a flowing river on one side and lush greenery on the other.
Walking Trail: Bréhémont
The Bréhémont Country walk starts in town and passes through the rural countryside – the walk mostly brings hikers through open fields and small clusters of country homes. The entire trail is 12km long but can be any length you’d like. See the Bréhémont trail map for details. We passed local residents hanging around their homes but no other people on the actual trail. One thing to note is that because this trail passes through residences, you will almost definitely run into dogs. Because the town is so rural, most homes have designated guard dogs. The guard dogs are kept behind gates but their snarling and barking made us nervous worrying what they would do if they escaped. We didn’t have any issues and met a lot of friendly local dogs as well.
Stop at a Winery for some Wine
The Loire Valley is dotted with wineries nestled into the cliffs along the river. We stopped at the Volupia wine bar and enjoyed our wine at the patio seating overlooking the water. We enjoyed our wine tasting while Calvin swam in the Loire. Volupia was the most unique wine bar we came across – The wine cave opens out onto a waterfront patio where guests can enjoy world class wine with a gorgeous view. We enjoyed our wine while Calvin swam in the Loire River.
Our Favorite Cities of the Loire
In between castle visits, we walked through the different towns of the Loire. Each town has its own unique charm and quaint streets to explore. Keep in mind, that many restaurants in France will stop offering food service around noon and reopen for dinner We found this to be especially true in the Loire and got stranded a few times when our town visits weren’t properly timed.
Tours: Medieval architecture and bustling nightlife
Place Plumereau in Tours is worth a visit for dinner. This main square is part of the old town and resembles a charming medieval village. Tours is home to the Cathédrale Saint-Gatien but we skipped the Cathedrals and only visited for dinner on the main plaza of Place Plumereau. The medieval architecture in the square has been perfectly preserved and is surrounded by a picturesque streets worth strolling through. The square was wonderful for people watching while surrounded by breathtaking architecture. The pubs at Place Plumereau are also the place to be for nightlife in the Loire as Tours is a college town.
Amboise: Leonardo Da Vinci’s home and resting place
Amboise was our favorite town in the Loire River Valley. One of the castles, Château du Clos Lucé , is known as Leonardo Da Vinci’s home and resting place. The castle is still in good shape but is now used as a museum showcasing the work of Da Vinci. The castles in Amboise are not dog friendly but the town and restaurants are very welcoming. Our Airbnb was near Amboise so we ate at multiple places during our stay. We ate at Chez Bruno one night and loved the filet paired with local wine. The town center gets crowded with tourists but we discovered a hidden gem across the river. Le ShakerLe Shaker is right on the banks of the Loire and has the best view in town. The restaurant offers delicious bar food and drinks with a direct view of the river and the Amboise castle. We ordered the charcuterie plate and the goat cheese tartines (delicious!).
Chartres: world class cathedral 55 miles from Paris
We made a quick stop in Chartres on our last night in France – Chartres is best known for its Gothic Cathedral built in 1220. The cathedral has remained preserved since the 13th century and survived World War 2 even when the rest of the city was largely destroyed. By the time we arrived, most of the shops had closed for the night but we found an open restaurant overlooking the cathedral. During business hours, the shops around the cathedral are bustling with life.
Chinon: a fortress built into a rocky outcrop
We visited Chino in the early afternoon right as the brasseries were closing for the afternoon. The main attraction is a hike from the main square (La Fontaine) to the Royal Fortress of Chinon. Due to the topography of the city, the castle is located at the top of a rocky outcrop with the town built to surround it from below. As you ascend towards the fortress, the views become magnificent.
The Loire River Valley is a wonderful dog friendly (and kid friendly) destination near Paris – we spent a few days visiting the castles but the visit could be done as a day trip if you are only interested in visiting a few castles.
King of the Castle,
-Your Pal Cal