5 Unique things to do in the Loire Valley
Leah Walker September 16, 2016

In July, I visited France’s Loire Valley in my role as a French wine ambassador for Atout France. I traversed across France’s Garden in search of some of the country’s best wine. From Nantes to Saumur to Tours to Sancerre, I discovered the diversity of wines from this region. Although there was a lot of tasting involved {see my itinerary}, my trip wasn’t just about drinking the vin. Here are five unique things to do in the Loire Valley.

Ride a Vintage Bike at Bouvet-Ladubay

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In the town on Saumur, you’ll find Bouvet-Ladubay and its sparkling wines. Beyond the bubbles, the cellar tour is unlike any other I’ve taken. Before going subterranean, tour the domaine’s archives designed by Gustav Eiffel. The floor-to-ceiling wooden drawers are filled with old personalized labels. The brand used to provide customized labels to its clients, which were affixed by women using crêpe batter. Hand-written order ledgers can be flipped through, and the founder’s office remains as it was decades ago.

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After, choose a vintage bicycle, put on a headlamp, and take a ride though the five-kilometers of ancient tunnels. The cellars are located above the St. Florent Abbey ruins, which date to the 11th century. The 19th-century excavation of tuffeau limestone beneath the abbey, which was used to build many of France’s buildings and monuments, created the tunnels. Some say that this limestone was also used in the foundation of the Westminster Royal Abbey in London. While riding through the tunnels, learn about the various stages of wine making and see more than 1,000 oak barrels, as well as ancient sculptures.

Take a Traditional Loire Boat

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In the beautiful town of Saumur, take a lunchtime cruise on the Loire River with Denis Retiveau, the owner of a wine domaine and boat captain. For about two hours, cruise with Loire Vins Adventure along the shallow waters in Denis’ traditional Loire boat. Saumur and its captivating castle drift by at a leisurely pace, while you indulge on locally produced food specialties and drink the full range of Denis’ wine. Whenever possible, I always try to see a destination from the water, because it offers a different perspective.

Fly above the Loire’s Châteaux in a Bi-Plane

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Flying over the Loire Valley’s Châteaux in a hot air balloon is quite common, but what about doing it in a bi-plane instead? Channel your inner Red Baron by donning a jumpsuit, vintage leather cap, and climbing into a World War I bi-plane with Patrick Plançon, the owner of Vol en Biplan. Soar high above the verdant landscape of the Loire, taking in the awe-inspiring views of the river, fields, and châteaux. As the wooden propeller turns and the motor hums, the scenery envelops you. Choose your flight path and just try to remove the grin from your face once you land.

Sleep in a Troglodyte

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The Loire Valley is filled with caves known as troglodytes, which were created from quarrying tuffeau limestone in the 11th century. Many people created homes in these caves and lived in them until the early 20th century. Although some are still lived in, many were turned into wine caves, since they keep an even temperature. As a visitor to the Loire, you’re not just relegated to discovering the troglodytes with wine tours.

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At La Bagatelle Guest House in Vouvray, you can sleep in a troglodyte. Louis XV’s royal tax collector built the main house near the Touraine Vineyards and Loire River in 1755. The front of the house is surrounded by a beautiful garden. The rear of the house backs up to a limestone hill, where there are two troglodytes. Originally used as homes for the domestic help, they’ve been transformed into two junior suites. It’s a very cool and unique experience, but beware of the humidity {my MacBook Pro’s keyboard didn’t like it much}. Enjoy a gorgeous breakfast in the main house prepared by the lovely owners, Anne and Bertrand.

Walk through a Cave Illuminated with Art

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During the French Renaissance, the building of Loire’s famous châteaux was at its height. The castles were primarily built from the tuffeau limestone plentiful in the area. It is because of this extraction that the Monmousseau Enlightened Cellars exist. Not just a place to store the wines of Monmousseau, the massive 15-kilometer underground maze is also a gallery of light and fantasy.

Artists, NaDa {Nathalie Dahon} and ReNo Menat created vignettes mimicking stained glass onto transparencies, which are projected onto the walls of the stone galleries. Many of the rooms are inspired by the surrounding châteaux, which include symbolism, rather than direct representations of the castles. The tapestries of color illuminating the caves also include music and video elements. It’s a fantastic, magical underworld, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

 

I was a guest of Atout France, but in no way was my opinion swayed by the bottomless bubbles, the high-flying bi-plane, or the queen-like treatment I was given while in the Loire. As always, opinions are mine. For more information, check out Atout France, Loire Valley Wines, Wines of Centre-Loire, Loire Valley Tourism, and Pays de la Loire Tourism.

Leah Walker

Leah's a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, USA Today 10 Best, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel and wine ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's lived in Paris for three years, and was recently awarded another four with a Passeport Talent visa renewal. Though, her talent for speaking French is abysmal.

28 Comments

  1. This sounds absolutely enchanting! I actually don’t drink alcohol (basically it makes me sick right away which is a shame because when I was little I always wanted to be a wine drinker! :/), so it’s so nice to know there are plenty of other activities to do in Loire Valley! I need to bookmark this because all of the things to do sound so enchanting. I’m a sucker for anything that can give me a bird’s eye view of a location, so that bi-plane sounds like fun!

    1. I, too, love a bird’s eye view, despite my fear of heights. Like other wine growing regions of France, there’s so much more than drinking to do. Though, it’s one of my favorite things about France…the wine. 🙂

  2. This looks AWESOME. Too many people only think of Paris when it comes to visiting France, but this shows how fabulous other regions are! The Loire Valley has been high on my list, and I didn’t even know about the troglodytes! In fact, I didn’t even know that was a word! I’m sold.

    1. Indeed, you are right about Paris. It’s a must for every foreign tourist going to France but it’s not the only tourist destination worth visiting there. Normandy, Brittany, Centre-Val de Loire, Pays de la Loire, Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur, Occitanie and Grand Est are great regions that I’ve visited and that have a lot to offer.

  3. OK, I thought it was awesome at “…in my role as French wine ambassador for Atout France…” but then I read about the exploring ancient tunnels by bike, flying above the Loire region in a Bi-Plane, and sleeping in a cave! I’m swooning and I haven’t had any wine…yet! I’ve been all over France, but somehow the Loire Valley has alluded me. Pas plus! It’s next up on my France list for sure.

    1. Oh, yes, it’s not a bad gig. The Loire is a large region that needed more than the week I had to explore. I’ll return, and that’s my highest praise for a place. You should give it a go.

  4. Such a great part of the world! I did a bike trip from Nantes to Fontevraud, passing by Saumur and the cave houses. Your post made me want to go back. Oh, and if I go, back I’ll definitely fly on a bi-plane – sounds really cool!

    1. I wanted to spend more time in Saumur, not only to visit the castle, but most of the wine producers in the area have their headquarters there. I’d imagine a lot of great wines in this city.

    1. I was super excited about both of those things when I saw the itinerary. I do wish I had more than one night in the troglodyte. This wasn’t long after the flooding in France, so the caves were even more humid than before. If you do go, just be careful of your electronics, especially if you have a Mac.

  5. Never thought I would want to sleep in a cave but recently this type of quirky accommodation is getting more and more popular. Looks really cool! And I would also love to see this beautiful place from above, even though I am a nervous flyer 🙂

  6. I would absolutely love to go to this area of France. Unfortunately only had a week in the country last time I was there but have been talking about going back to explore more for a month or so. Love French wines too!

  7. Hi Leah, I just want to say that your Loire Valley itinerary is awesome. I do love the view from above but Cave illuminated with art really looks magical. I hope I could visit Loire Valley anytime soon.

  8. Thank you for sharing this. I adore unique travel adventures. The Loire River boat sounds dreamy , but I would probably get lost in the Monmousseau cellars. How much of the 15km of tunnels are open for exploration? And did you have to use a guide or can you go without one? Thanks!

  9. What about to stay in a ” french chateau” in Saumur. Do you know the “chateau de Verrières, small authentic place (only 10 rooms) and very warm welcome.

  10. Fun things to do indeed! Just a little point or two. A troglodyte is the person who lived in a cave, not the cave itself. The cave is called a troglodyte dwelling. And the correct name for the rock in Engl8sh is tufa.

    1. Hi Gillian. I understand that in English that a troglodyte is a person who lives in the cave. However, in French, they call the caves troglodytes. Thus, if you’re heading to France, you’ll want to search for a troglodyte. Also, the limestone soil in the Loire Valley is called tuffeau in French.

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