There are so many attractions and things to see and do in the area that it would be impossible to list them all here, so these are just a few. In July and August alone there are over 450 events going on, including food and drink festivals, soirées, tours, balloon flights, markets, etc, There is an extensive selection (150+) of up-to-date leaflets and brochures in La Vieille Maison giving full details of these, plus other local events. Many of the leaflets have discount vouchers for popular attractions.
Châteaux & gardens
There are over 70 magnificent châteaux along the Loire (sometimes called the Valley of the Kings, or Vallée des Rois), all different. Even if you could visit 3 a day, you would run out of time in a fortnight, and only see just over half of them! The ones at Saumur, Montsoreau, Brézé, Villandry, and Montgeoffroy are superb.
Although not a château, the Abbeye de Fontevraud is an absolute must-see.
For gardens, Terra Botanica near Angers is well worth a visit, as is the Terre de Rose at Doué-la-Fontaine, which also has a competition of rose displays (Journées de la Rose) in July. The formal gardens at the Château de Villandry are fantastic and change with the seasons.
The area has wonderful wines for every occasion, from the driest to the sweetest (and long-lived, expensive) whites, the lightest to the heaviest reds, mouth-watering rosés, as well as fantastic sparkling whites, rosés, and reds. Demi-sec sparkling red is brilliant with strawberries or chocolate (or both!).
Saumur is particularly famous for its sparkling wines, so try Ackerman, Gratien & Meyer, Louis de Grenelle (whose cellars are under the streets of Saumur), and Bouvet Ladubay. All the producers do guided tours around their cellars, where you can taste and buy. Some cellars are HUGE – Gratien & Meyer alone produced over 2 million magnums of sparkling wine to celebrate the Millennium!
For something different, why not try the only Cointreau distillery in the world at Saint Barthélemy, near Angers. They do really interesting guided tours in English and French, with a tasting afterwards. The boutique is excellent and great for souvenirs. Booking is essential.
Bioparc Zoo de Doué-la-Fontaine, about 40 minutes’ drive. The only troglodyte zoo in the world, with over 1000 animals, including giraffes that you can feed. It also boasts the largest aviary in Europe, with 600 birds in free flight. You can walk around inside and get up close and personal with vultures, condors, beautiful macaws and dozens of different parrots, plus lots of others. There are numerous very large carvings around the park, great for photo opportunities. In contrast to many similar attractions, the souvenir shop here is superb, with dozens of excellent carvings and similar items, at sizes and prices to suit everyone. Open every day from the beginning of February to mid-November.
Zoo de La Flèche counts itself amongst the top 5 zoos in France, with white lions, grizzly bears, polar bears, Indian rhinos, and numerous other animals. It is about 35 minutes’ drive, and open every day except Christmas Day and New Years’ day.
We have been to both zoos numerous times and thoroughly recommend a visit. Don’t forget your cameras!
There is an excellent 18-hole golf course + restaurant at Le Golf de Baugé, about 20 minutes away.
There are numerous cycle routes that will take you all over the area.
Kayaking is available near Saumur.
The Lac de Rillé, about 20 minutes’ drive, is really worth a visit. It offers walks, horse riding and cycling tours in a superb natural environment, all for free. There are also over 200 species of birds, making it a unique ornithological reserve. In the summer months, you can take a train ride around the lake.
The area has the largest concentration of Troglodyte sites in France. There are guided tours and visits. You can also have a great meal in the Saut aux Loups restaurant at Montsoreau, which also has a mushroom museum and troglodyte caves where the mushrooms are grown.
You can take river cruises from Saumur. These are a good way of seeing the river, and of finding different local produce. There is also an evening dinner cruise.
The world-famous Cadre Noir, or the French National Riding School, is just down the road at Saumur. They hold numerous public presentations, demonstrations and galas throughout the year. Booking is essential.
Slightly further afield
About 90 minutes’ drive away you can find:
At Poitiers, Futuroscope, a futuristic theme park with something for all ages. The entry price normally includes the evening show.
At Les Epesses, south of Cholet, Puy du Fou, a historical theme park with some of the most spectacular shows you can possibly imagine. It has been voted several times as the world’s best theme park.
At Saint Aignan, just East of Tours, the ZooParc de Beauval, which is one of the top 10 zoos in the world with over 35,000 animals and 800 species, including a pair of giant Pandas (Huan Huan the female and Yuan Xi the male). In 2017, they made history by producing a baby (Yuan Meng). He weighed about 120 grams at birth, but he has a grown a bit since then, and now tips the scales at about 100kg. He is due to be sent to China later this year.
On August 2 2021, they made history again when Huan Huan gave birth to twin cubs. They will be named after 100 days by Peng Liyuan — the wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping,