Not everyone can choose to come to France during the warmer months. Australians in particular often come at Christmas time during their summer holidays, willing to trade over-30-degree temperatures for under ten degrees. Many hope to find snow.
Snow falls in the Loire Valley are highly variable. They rarely arrive for Christmas but there are exceptions such as in 2015. The most likely month for snow is February.
While spring, summer and autumn may be more pleasant seasons to travel in, they do have the major drawback of being full of tourists and accommodation is usually more expensive and harder to come by.
The main Loire Valley Châteaux are all open in the winter, but with shorter opening hours (usually 10 am to about 5 pm rather than 9 am to 6 pm). The wonderful thing is that you can visit without the crowds! The “four C’s” – Chenonceau, Chambord, Chaumont and Cheverny – as well as the royal castles of Blois and Amboise usually have Christmas decorations which adds to their magic. All are open on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day with the notable exception of Chambord and Chaumont.
Although you’ll need to dress warmly, you can still walk around the gardens which are designed to be attractive all year round. Villandry is closed from mid-November to mid-February with the exception of the two-week period surrounding Christmas and New Year which corresponds to the school holidays in France.
They may not have the proportions of the markets in Alsace, but the Christmas markets throughout December in Blois and Orléans (which includes a carrousel, big wheel and skating rink), those on weekdays in Tours in December and in Amboise on the 3 days leading up to Christmas are full of hand-made objects and seasonal food and drink.
Other traditional visits in the area include its many vineyards, a chocolate factory in Bracieux which also has workshops and troglodyte mushroom caves in Bourré.
Although temperatures can go below zero, especially at night, they are typically between 4 or 5 and 9 or 10° C during the day. December and January are the darkest months, which means the sun rises between 8.30 and 9 and sets between 4.30 and 5 pm. Shops and restaurants are always heated and some of the châteaux have wood fires. All are sufficiently heated for comfortable visiting.
My advice is to find warm cosy accommodation that is close to shops and restaurants and plan a visit in the morning, followed by lunch indoors next to a fire if possible, then a second visit in the afternoon. You can then warm up and relax before venturing out again for dinner.
The Loire is an easy 2 or 3-day visit from Paris. It is simplest by car (about 2 ½ hours) with convenient parking at all the main venues. However, Blois, Amboise, Tours and Orleans can be accessed by direct train and there are either trains or buses to Chambord, Chenonceau and Chaumont although the service is more restricted in winter.
See my post on visiting the Loire without a car based in Blois http://www.aussieinfrance.com/2015/10/visit-the-loire-without-a-car-based-in-blois/ and Ten Top Châteaux in the Loire Valley http://www.aussieinfrance.com/2013/04/top-ten-chateaux-in-the-loire-valley/ for further information.
And stay at Châtel Rose, my extremely comfortable self-catering studio in the oldest part of Blois, close to everything you could possibly need! http://www.loirevalleyholidayrental.com/puits-chatel-apartment/
10 thoughts on “FRENCH CHÂTEAU COUNTRY IN THE WINTER – THE LOIRE VALLEY”
I can only imagine how beautiful the Loire Valley must be in winter, especially if it snows. However, the short days would be a deterrent. You have to spend a lot of time indoors. I didn’t realize the sun rises so late in the winter months. Beautiful picture of the Château de Chambord in the snow!
Hi Anda, it wouldn’t have been that different when you were here in November! The day I took the photo of Chambord it had snowed here and all I could think of was taking photos of Chambord!
What a great winter destination idea, Rosemary ~ with fewer visitors and never so much snow that you cannot get around easily. Although now that I’ve seen your photo of Chambord, I wouldn’t mind being snowed upon to take one of my own. And is that a brown lamb I see, straining on a leash in front of the hot choco stand? What? He doesn’t like hot chocolate?
Hi Melodie – in fact, it’s a goat!!!
Rosemary, thank you for the wonderful article. I love visiting places off-season, traveling there by train and bus. Now the Loire chateaux and Christmas markets are on my list!
Thank you for you positive input Marion! I hope to see you here some time and show you around!
So very tempting. Such a shame that we now have one son working in Austria and the other living with his young family on Prince Edward Island. New destinations overseas will be limited somewhat.
So very tempting. Such a shame that we now have one son working in Austria and the other living with his young family on Prince Edward Island. New destinations overseas will be limited somewhat.[Helen]
Yes we have to follow our kids these days especially if there are grandchildren to enjoy!