When planning to visit France, I knew I wanted to visit the Loire Valley. The only problem was where should I stay?
After striking places off of the list, mostly due to bad train connections, I had narrowed the choice down to two locations: the popular Tours, which seemed to be the hub of the Loire Valley, or the town of Blois.
I settled on Blois mainly because of price, and ended up feeling like I’d made the right decision.
Blois is close to Chambord and Chenonceau
Since my main purpose in visiting the Loire Valley was to see the chateaux of Chambord and Chenonceau, I needed to compare transport options and whether it was easier to get to them from Tours or from Blois.
Blois is much closer to Chambord than Tours. I found it difficult to work out how to get from Tours to Chambord without going on a coach tour, while there is a bus service that leaves from Blois train station and takes you to straight to the gates of Chateau de Chambord (see the office of tourism for a bus timetable as it varies throughout the year). A return trip only cost two Euros.
Catching the train from Blois to the town of Chenonceaux meant changing trains in Tours (and a brief panic attack when I realised that I had gotten off one stop too early at the Tours train station instead of St Pierre des Corps. Luckily, the train to Chenonceaux ended up coming back through both, so I ended up on the right train anyway!). The journey from Blois to Tours and back again added an extra hour to the travelling time, but that ended up being more than cancelled out by the time I saved catching the bus to Chambord.
I bought the bus ticket to Chambord from the bus driver, and the train ticket to Chenonceaux from the helpful staff at the train station, which was far less crowded than the Tours train station (where I queued for help when I was worried I had missed my connection to Chenonceaux).
Blois has its own castle
While Tours does have the Château Tours, which houses an art gallery, it does not have the history of the Château Royal de Blois.
One of the main residences of the Valois royal family during their time spent in the Loire Valley, the Château de Blois has seen seven kings and ten queens live within its walls. It is open during the day, or you can catch the stunning Sound at Light show at night.
Blois has a small town feel to it
When I did visit Tours, it felt more like a small city, full of cars, double-lane roads, hotels and people. The old town of Blois, however, felt quainter and quieter.
While my days were spent away from the town, exploring Chambord and Chenonceau, there was still plenty to do when I returned to Blois. There were walking trails throughout the old town, where you followed brass circles laid in to the ground on a treasure hunt to learn more about the history of Blois.
There were a lot of restaurants (the two that I ate at were very good!). Most people were friendly and patient when I tried out my broken French on them, and I felt safe walking back to the hotel after a late night at The Sound at Light Show.
but you’d better watch out for the dragons…
The courtyard at the front of the Château de Blois is normally a peaceful square, bordered by the château, the gardens, the office of tourism, a cluster of restaurants, and Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin’s House of Magic (Maison de la Magie).
Unless you’re there when the dragons come out.
I was sitting in the gardens killing time while waiting for my bus to Chambord, when I heard a low growl mixed with a beeping sound. Whirling around, I found that the pretty Maison de Magie now had five dragon heads sticking out from it! Later I would learn that this was a homage to Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin and combined his love of magic, timepieces and animatronics.
Ultimately I was happy with my decision to stay in Blois and would definitely recommend it as an option as a base for visiting the Loire Valley.
Where would you stay when visiting the Loire Valley?