Month by Month: A Year in the Loire Valley

Snow in Blois

January/ February

Not surprisingly, the weather is likely to be cold and frosty for long periods, the upside of which is the chance of clear, steely blue skies which really lift the spirits. New Year is a bigger event in France than Christmas, and celebrations continue to be as lively as ever – particularly in cities, where the atmosphere becomes electric as the magic hour approaches. In situations like this you’re unlikely to feel left out. The post-New Year lull brings cheaper accommodation, but you’ll find that many attractions will be closed. This is often the time when owners and staff take off on their own holidays. On the other hand, there are no crowds at major sites which do remain open all year, and which will be particularly pleased to see you, and in the evenings you can enjoy long, cosy fireside suppers.

March / April

Days can often be mild, but don’t be surprised if you get some rain, particularly near the coast, where the Breton climate can make its influence felt. Equally, the variable weather means there’s every chance of surprisingly warm, sunny days. In the countryside, spring flowers inject fresh colour and the landscape softens as trees come into leaf. Low season (basse saison) accommodation prices offer added value, and there’s plenty of capacity as long as you avoid the Easter (Pâques) period. Towns and cities start to blossom with extravagant plantings of flowers which tell you that summer isn’t too far away.

May / June

With spring coming early here, summer can be long. May and particularly June are often characterized by plenty of sun but without excessive heat. It’s therefore the ideal time to explore the countryside, take a woodland walk or make use of the Loire Valley’s large (and still growing) network of cycle paths. The former towpaths are a particularly attractive option. Long, sunny days which are pleasantly warm allow you to pack a lot in, although in May you’ll find that evenings can still be chilly. Visitor-wise, things will be uncrowded except during French May bank holiday periods (jours fériés), and during well-supported events like the annual jazz festivals of Cheverny, Loches, Orléans, etc. The markets will be selling mounds of asparagus, strawberries and other fresh local produce, which you’ll also see on seasonal menus. Finally, rose gardens start their first flowering, and all gardens will be starting to look their very best.

July / August

Temperatures will be at their highest, and weather can be unpredictable in August. Prolonged dry periods can be followed by summer thunderstorms, which are often spectacular but soon pass, leaving things noticeably cooler and fresher. However, you should still be able to enjoy long, relaxing evenings sitting outside, and take in one of the state-of-the-art son et lumière events at major sites like the chateaux of Azay-le-Rideau, Chambord and Chenonceau. In addition, you’ll find lots of extra events which are staged specifically for the peak French holiday season, such as Montrichard’s evening historical re-enactment shows. But bear in mind also that major tourist sites will be at their most crowded, and gardens will be past their best. Accommodation is also more expensive and vacancies harder to find; the same story applies in popular restaurants, which will also be extra busy. If you’ve set your heart on experiencing one in particular during your stay, you’re advised to book a table in advance to avoid being disappointed.

September/ October

Days can still be warm even though evenings are drawing in noticeably and dinners en terrasse are no longer a certainty – although perfectly possible in more sheltered settings. The countryside becomes more colourful, with ever-richer foliage colours, including the famous vines. October usually brings the perfect grape picking time, the vendange producing an infectious flurry of activity in and around wine-producing villages. If that’s simply too late, you can get a taste of the local wines throughout the year by visiting producers, or Saumur’s annual wine market, which unfolds during the first week in September. There are also more festivals for harvests, food and wines, and you can visit historic and other important sites not normally open to the public during the annual Journées du Patrimoine weekend, normally around the 18-19 September. 

November/ December 

Days are now short, and can also be cold and damp. Winter, though, brings people together in France, so you’ll come across various seasonal events including the famous traditional
Christmas markets, which usually begin in late November. There’s a great atmosphere in cities like Angers, Nantes, Orléans and Tours, whose street illuminations add a welcome sparkle to winter evenings. Some chateaux, like Brissac and La Ferté-St-Aubin, host special Christmas events including shows, markets and even candlelit tours during December. When it finally arrives Christmas is a one-day affair – but manages to pack a lot in. 

This except is taken straight from our beautiful Loire Valley colour guide by Roger Moss which is available on our online shop. 
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