Canoeing & boat trips
Canoeing or kayaking is another popular way of exploring the Loire Valley and its beautiful landscapes, whether you’re experienced or a novice, alone or with family. Skim silently along the Loire, Vienne, Erdre and Cher rivers, staying the closest you can be to the water, getting up close to the valley’s wildlife (including beavers and birds) and pausing to explore the rivers’ deserted islands. Many visitors enjoy camping along the banks or stopping for picnics under the shade of a weeping willow, and passing beneath the arches of Chenonceau on the Cher is a thrilling experience. The Parc naturel régional de Loire-Anjou-Touraine offers nine themed itineraries ranging from 10-22km in length, punctuated by picturesque towns and villages such as Tours, Montsoreau, Candes-Saint-Martin, Saumur, Chinon and Île-Bouchard Canoes and kayaks can be hired from numerous activity centres or from major towns including Saumur and Chinon.
For an even more relaxing waterborne journey, hop aboard one of the Loire’s traditional flat-bottomed boats. The largest is the gabarre, a white or red sailing boat weighing 22 tonnes that was formerly used for transporting goods. You’ll find examples in Montjean-sur-Loire, La Ménitré or Orléans. The smaller toue is the Loire’s typical fisherman’s boat, sometimes cabanée (with a cabin). This type of boat is still used for fishing today and you can also board one for a trip. The smallest Loire boat is the fûtreau, used simply for crossing from one bank to the other. All the boats can be admired in the Observatoire de Loire in Blois, at Port de la Creusille where they are built and renovated, or at the Musée de la Marine de Loire in Châteauneuf-sur-Loire.
Bikes are an ideal form of transport for exploring the Loire Valley and in perfect harmony with its varied landscapes, châteaux and vineyards thanks to the numerous cycling routes criss-crossing the area.The best-known of them, La Loire à Vélo, runs along the river from Cuffy near Nevers all the way to the estuary in Saint-Brevin-les-Pins on the Atlantic coast. It covers a total distance of 800km, clearly marked, secure and fully adapted to the needs of cyclists (with bike hire places and accommodation en-route), as well as being child-friendly. Whether you bike for fun, competitively, with your loved one or with family, the route can be completed in any way you want. There are many others routes too, so simply choose one and enjoy exploring the Loire Valley at your own pace, taking in all the sights along the way.
The abundant oak and waterways and access to the port city of Nantes made the Loire Valley an ideal area for the establishment of tanneries. As tanning was such a noxious trade, it was historically carried out on the outskirts of towns or villages. It could take 24-30 months to transform raw hide into leather; skins would arrive at a tannery to be soaked in water before being pounded, scoured, stripped of hair and softened. The only institution of its kind in France, the Musée du Cuir et de la Tannerie (Leather and Tannery Museum) in Château-Renault is set in an old tanner's workshop founded in the 16th century.Guided tours are available on request.
Unusual sensory trips with children
Want to try something out of the ordinary? Whether it’s aboard a mining railway or a little tourist train, on the back of a mechanical elephant or in a submarine, children are guaranteed to learn plenty of fascinating facts while having fun! Travel 126 metres underground into the Mine Bleue, so named after the extraction of slate here from the Gâtelière site in the 1930s. Once underground (after taking the lift or the cable car), a little miners’ train will take you and your family along the paths of miners from long ago. Another little train you can catch is the Loire Valley tourist train, which dates from the 1950s. Departing from Thoré-La-Rochette, it will take you on a journey to discover the little village of Trôo and its troglodyte dwellings.
In Saint-Nazaire, it’s the Espadon submarine that will delight younger visitors. Although it’s not actually submerged – just afloat in the port’s fortified lock – children’s vivid imaginations and the sound effects used will quickly transport them under the ocean. On the Île de Nantes, there is a mechanical elephant so big that it can carry no less than 50 people on its back… climb aboard, 12 metres from the ground! The ride will take you to discover many of the old shipyard’s other amazing attractions like the Carrousel des Mondes Marins and the Galerie des Machines.
The Maison de la Magie in Blois is another special place children will love – here they can witness some of the greatest tricks and illusions in magic through exhibitions and shows. The mysteries continue at the Château des Enigmes in Fréteval. At the Château of Rocheux, become a crafty detective in a giant treasure hunt (suitable for age 4+). Your mission? To find the treasure of King Philippe Auguste, one of the first kings of France.