Aptly nicknamed France's Garden, the Loire Valley is a Treasure Land of famous French castles, tasty vineyards, and small towns nestled on hilltops and in valleys where the goat cheese is as fresh as the morning dew and the cobblestone as old as Rome. It's as if you've supernaturally been placed into an Impressionist painting.
Go-Today (tel. 425/487-9632; www.go-today.com) has several trips to take you through the Loire Valley. "Biking France: Chateaux of Loire" is a land-only bike tour of the Loire Valley is an two-day and seven-night bike trip labeled as "Easy" cycling with distances covered of only 20 to 30 miles per day. The trip takes you through such medieval castles and towns as Chenonceaux, Chinon, Amboise and Chateau of Azay-le-Rideau. Costing $1,189 with double occupancy, this trip includes all accommodations in two or three-star country inns, five dinners and seven breakfasts. The self-guided tour (meaning you get maps and notes and a bikes) starts at the guest quarters where Leonardo Da Vinci enjoyed his stay as honored guest of King Francis I in Amboise.
An air-land inclusive trip that doesn't include any biking at all, Go-Today's French Chateau's Getaway is a three-night four-day trip that includes lodging at a number of different full-scale French castles. In Montbazon, an ancient town with stone-buildings and windy streets lit by torch-shaped lights that climb up into the hills, stay at the enchanting Chateau D'Artigny. A 50-acre perfectly manicured park surrounds the Chateau, an 18th-century landmark built by a perfume maker. You'll sleep like a king in the old world-furnished large rooms that have as few amenities as they had when the castle was built. Of course, electricity and plumbing were added, but don't an alarm clock or plasma television screen. They do allow pets (ah the French) and there is a swimming pool. The hotel's dining room serves excellent French cuisine. D'Artigny is a good base from which to explore the Loire and you don't need more than three days to see the area's major sites, all of which are within an hour's drive. Total cost for this air/land deal start at $1,299 per person with double occupancy if traveling from April 1, 2005 to May 29, 2005. A $20 service charge is added if you book this over the telephone and not online.
Latitudes Travel and Tours (tel. 800/955-8553; www.latitudes-travel.com) offers a trip called Corners of France: Loire Valley 101 which includes a three or six-day Eurorail Pass to get you from Paris to your regional point of departure, a three day rental car with automatic transmission and accommodations at a Relais de Silence lodging which range from castles to small windmill inns to country Bed & Breakfasts. The three-night package costs $495 per person. The six-night trip starts from $689. This is a great way to explore the Loire on your own and visit the different towns, all very close to each other, at your own whim. A Michelin traveling map and sightseeing guide with all restaurant information is included in the tour price. A car-free trip is also available with a base in Tours, the capital of the Loire, where your hotel can arrange all day trips to nearby sites and castles.
If you jump on one of the land-only trips and decide to fly into Paris, round-trip airfare can be had for reasonable rates from now until Spring. Check Air France (tel. 800/AF-PARIS; www.airfrance.com) whose latest round of $300 round-trip New York-Paris specials just ended on February 22, 2005, for their new Spring fares early next week. Also, Iberia Airlines (tel. 800/772-4642; www.iberia.com) has round-trip fares from New York to Paris and back for just $315 plus all security and air taxes.