Ledge near Chinon - Hiking the Loire Valley GR3

Hiking the Loire Valley GR3 trail is the focus of this article, but let’s start by placing the tour in its wider geographical and cultural context. The Loire is France’s longest river at 1,012 kilometres or 629 miles.

Our hiking tour takes place along a section of the Loire that is referred to as The Loire Valley: the middle stretch in central France that spans 280 kilometres or 170 miles in length.

Hiking the Loire Valley GR3 trail takes you along a section of this Loire Valley, considered affectionately as the ‘Cradle of the French language’. The ‘best’ French is considered to be spoken here. So if you are looking for a ‘sejour linguistique’ to brush up your fluency, you might like to consider Tours as a study location.

Hiking the Loire Valley GR3 trail

Garden of France

The Loire Valley is also recognised as the ‘Garden of France’ due to the abundance of vineyards, fruit orchards and asparagus fields that line its banks – not to mention the ornate gardens of each of its Renaissance chateaux.

Noted for its bijou historic towns, impressive architecture and fine wines, the Valley was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites in 2000. It is said to offer “an exceptional cultural landscape of great beauty.”

The climate of The Loire Valley is favourable most of the year, the river acting as a moderating influence on the climate of the region. The temperatures can be cool in spring, while summers are hot, but moderated by Atlantic breezes.

River Vienne from Chinon castle: Hiking the Loire Valley GR3 trail
River Vienne from Chinon castle

Loire Valley wine

Wine buffs will find plenty to get their taste buds into when reading our appreciation of the Loire’s wines in the tour dossier. Suffice it to say here that the Loire Valley wine region is one of the world’s most famous, boasting names such as Muscadet, Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. Loire wines are characteristically light, exhibiting a fruitiness with fresh, crisp flavours.

The architectural heritage in the form of chateaux, ornate gardens and troglodyte dwellings is also covered at length in our trip dossier. You get to visit the best of them, eight castles in total, during our ten-night/nine-day hiking extravaganza. The Château de Montsoreau is the only château to have been built in the Loire riverbed and the only one to be entirely dedicated to contemporary art.

Hiking the Loire Valley GR3 trail
Loire river and vineyards near Saumur

On-foot is best

Hiking the Loire Valley’s GR3 is without doubt the best way to enjoy the architectural and cultural heritage of the Loire Valley as above-described. It is a matchless opportunity to leave the car at home, along with your bicycle puncture kit, and enjoy some light walking that links together the different facets of this unique experience.

You are walking in and around the confines of a relatively-wide river valley. There is one deviation (on the Loire Chateau Walks tour only) in order to be able to enjoy the fruits of Chenonceau. This majestic castle and gardens lie on the banks of the river Cher. You also get to stride out across countryside to enjoy villages located around the Loire’s hinterland and its tributaries of La Vienne and Indre.

GR3 Ledge section before Chinon: Hiking the Loire Valley GR3 trail
Ledge section before Chinon

Chateau to chateau via fine villages

The elevation gains and losses experienced during each day’s walking are modest. One might describe the walking itself is light and largely functional: it gets you from the day’s starting to its finishing point; from chateau to chateau via fine villages; and generally by the shortest route and off-road most of the time.

You walk a mix of trails: river-bank and balcony; alongside vineyards, through woods and copses; and across rolling, agricultural countryside. Yo also get to hike some of the famous Loire Valley ‘allées’ that locals on foot have enjoyed for centuries.

The views are pleasant, sometimes fascinating, but rarely as spectacular as the ones you associate with walking at altitude in remote France. For that you need to raise the physical challenge a notch or two, with the attendant and considerable elevation gains and losses.

Villandry castle and XVI century gardens
Villandry castle and XVI century gardens

Left bank is better

A worthwhile note regarding your first two days walking from Blois to Amboise. Historically, and with few exceptions, the GR3 trail has been largely associated with the left (or southern) bank of La Loire.

With a view to more equally distributing the touristic ‘spoils’ of the Trail on both sides of the River, the tourism authorities have recently decided to redirect some sections over to the right (northern) bank. This is the case between Blois and Amboise.

Having walked both options, we prefer to stick with the traditional route – which also enables you to visit the impressive Chateau de Chaumont, which the ‘new’ version misses out as it runs along the opposite side of the river.

Hiking the Loire Valley GR3 - Vineyards at Saumur
Vineyards of the Loire Valley
The trail you follow continues to be waymarked in red and white flecks, although you may see it indicated intermittently as the GR655. This demarcates the Via Turonensis (or the Tours / Paris route), one of the four northern pilgrimage routes to Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle in France. The most serene and oldest route, it was historically the most frequented.

Hiking the Loire Valley GR3 trail or ‘normal service’ is then resumed from Amboise onwards, with you walking the ‘current version’ of the GR3 trail thereafter. All is explained in our industry-leading walking notes. Bonne route et bonne balade !

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Further Reading:

To hike the Loire Valley GR3 trail, please see:

Click to visit The French Hiker’s Guide to Holidaying in the Hexagon and France self-guided walks, trails, trips, places & themes.