If it sounds somehow ridiculous that one river valley can house around one thousand châteaux you need to remember that the Loire River is very long; this is the longest river in France extending for 630 miles (1010 km), running from Cevennes is the south of the country, north to Orleans and then west to the Bay of Biscay. The land in the valley is green, flat, rich and sometimes known as the Garden of France. It’s no wonder that so many kings and their friends wanted to build magnificent houses beside this river. These days it’s one of France’s prime tourist magnets.
The Loire Valley castles are beautiful. The largest, Château de Chambord has a double-helix staircase by Leonardo da Vinci who lived nearby (and is buried in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert at Château Amboise), Cheverny was used by Herge as model for Captain Haddock’s ancestral home in Tintin, Chenonceau has the requisite moat, turrets and towers to look like the perfect fairytale castle and Villandry has gardens that anyone would envy.
But finding some of the smaller châteaux is also much of the joy of exploring the Loire and one of the best ways to do this is by bicycle. The land is mainly flat so it’s perfect for cycling and there are organizations set up to help you along the way. La Loire a Velo maintains 500 miles (800 km) of bicycle paths and have an excellent website suggesting routes and things to see. One way to do it is to join a tour or use one of the organizations that will rent you bikes, organize accommodation and perhaps even shuttle your luggage from place to place. Then you can take the clothes you’ll need to dress up and go out for an appropriately French dinner and wine tasting fit for a king.
If you’d rather not bike, there are some great Loire Valley Tours from Paris.