Last Updated on 15/06/2022 by Alfred
Do you know the Loire department? Discover the 21 unusual things to do in the Loire!
Located in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region, visiting the Loire allows you to discover its natural and historical treasures. Enclosed between the mountains of Lyonnais and the mountains of Forez, crossed from North to South by the Loire, it offers landscapes between mountain and plain, between forests and rivers.
Whether you’re a hiking enthusiast, a cycling fan, or a horse riding lover, or you just enjoy watching the time pass by with a great view of the surrounding valleys, you won’t be disappointed with the trip!
Is Loire Worth Visiting?
Undoubtedly Loire is worth visiting. The Loire Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is known as the Garden of France. Visitors are enchanted by its exquisite gardens, fairy-tale castles, and charming towns, not to mention its delicious wine. There’s no wonder it’s one of the best places to visit in France.
The Loire is also a rich architectural heritage, where religious buildings and medieval castles rub shoulders with beautiful Renaissance-style houses, in the heart of small villages of character. Finally, the Loire is a good place to live, such as Saint-Etienne or Roanne, modern cities that have not denied their past.
Want to visit the Loire? Here are the 21 best things to do in Loire Valley, France!
Is Loire Worth Visiting? The 21 Unusual Things To Do in the Loire
Saint-Etienne is not the city that we spontaneously think of for tourism. However, it is very pleasant to spend a few days there. Stroll through the picturesque streets of the historic center, go shopping in the Saint-Jacques Chavanelle district, go through the Place Neuve, visit the Saint-Charles-Borromée Cathedral, before having lunch on the Place Jean Jaurès.
Learn more about Saint-Etienne’s know-how through the ages by visiting the Museum of Art and Industry, before discovering the secrets of the city’s mining past at the Puits Couriot. Contemporary art lovers will turn to the Cité du Design and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. Are you more of a sport? Head to the Musée des Verts, the famous Saint-Etienne football team.
For young and old alike, visiting the Loire and Saint-Etienne also means attending a magic show at the Métamorphosis theatre or traveling in space at the planetarium!
2. The Priory Church of Ambierle
Photo credit: Wikipedia – Matthieu.constant
Visiting the Loire and its historical heritage will lead you to many medieval religious buildings. Located in the northwest of the department, this former abbey founded by the Benedictines was destroyed and rebuilt in the fifteenth century, on the remains of a parish church. You can admire the altarpieces of the Passion of Christ, as well as a statue of the Virgin.
3. Orienteering courses
What to do in the Loire? Run! You may not have known it, but the Loire department is a must when it comes to orienteering! No less than 300 maps cover more than 330 km² of playground for the most experienced runners as well as the great novices.
These routes can even be done on skis or bikes! The varied reliefs of the department offer an ideal setting to indulge in this activity that you do not necessarily think about when you go on vacation. Let yourself be tempted!
4. The Benedictine Abbey of Charlieu and the Cordeliers Convent
Charlieu is an adorable village of character, located on the way to Santiago de Compostela. If Charlieu is in itself a site steeped in history, between half-timbered houses and medieval alleys, it also houses an exceptional heritage. You cannot visit the Loire without discovering the Benedictine abbey, an admirable romanesque building.
5. Nature raids
What to do in the Loire when you are addicted to sport? Try the Nature 42 Raid! All you have to do is assemble a team of three people and embark on the adventure!
A real sporting challenge, the nature raid makes you discover the Loire landscapes through several sports disciplines: mountain biking, fencing, climbing, run and bike, trail running, climbing, archery, basketball, FTT, Cimgo, Joëlette or laser shooting. There are four levels of difficulty and, therefore, four courses.
Only one is untimed and without classification. This is the family raid, which has four disciplines for a course of fifteen kilometers. It is open to children over ten years old.
The sports raid, the discovery raid, and the disabled sport raid are timed and offer respectively courses of forty-five to seventy kilometers, twenty-five kilometers, and fifteen kilometers.
6. The culinary specialties of the Loire
Visiting the Loire also means taking the time to satisfy your taste buds! What if the culinary specialties were as tasty as their name is amazing? Enjoy a delicious lamb from Adret, before being tempted by cheeses such as fourme de Montbrison, rigotte de Condrieu, or Charolais.
You will end your meal with a bugne, that is to say, a succulent donut. For another meal, start with Charlieu andouille, before discovering the dumplings, herbal puddings, or Barboton, accompanied by cardoons.
For dessert, why not melt for a matefaim or a billion with cherries? A Côte Roannaise, a Côte du Forez or a wine from the Pays d’Urfé can accompany your dishes. Enjoy your meal!
7. The tourist train of the lookouts
Visiting the Loire can also be done on the rails, taking your time. For the pleasure of the youngest – and the not so young! – the little train of the Belvedere allows you to discover two points of view in a fun way. This walk of three and a half kilometers starts from the belvedere of Commelle, along the lake of Villerest, before joining the belvedere of Magneux.
You will learn about the history of the dam, the lake, and the surrounding landscapes. The little train runs every day in summer and every weekend from May to September. Allow about an hour and a half of walking. If the tour has whetted your appetite, have lunch on the Commelle lookout at the inn of the same name! It is an unusual thing to do in the Loire.
Photo credit: Wikipedia – Havang(nl)
The two points of interest in this village, located fifty kilometers northwest of Saint-Etienne, are the fortified priory and the peak on which it rests. The building dominates the country of Forez, from its basaltic peak. Founded in the eleventh century by Augustinians, it became a Benedictine monastery two centuries later.
You can visit the site freely or as part of a guided tour. The site also organizes exhibitions and concerts. It is finally possible to stay at the priory, as did many pilgrims in the direction of Santiago de Compostela.
9. The Pilat massif
Photo credit: Wikipedia – Olivier-pilat
Visiting the Loire is a great opportunity to satisfy your hiking soul. Located a few kilometers from the city center of Saint-Etienne, the Pilat Regional Natural Park offers you a thousand and one trail winding through beautiful landscapes and gives you access to magnificent viewpoints, such as the Gouffre d’Enfer dam, the Col de la Croix de Chaubouret or the Pas-du-Riot.
If you have time, do not miss the visit to the Charterhouse of Saint-Croix-en-Jarez. The Topo-Guides de la Loire can help you identify the hike that suits you, depending on the distance, elevation, altitude, and location.
10. The village of Pommiers and its priory
Photo credit: Wikipedia – Velvet
Located at the foot of a hill called Buisante hill, the village of Pommiers is interesting for the richness of its architectural heritage. Walk the streets of Pommiers, looking for beautiful mansions or calvary.
The local jewel is of course the church of St. Bartholomew, dating from the twelfth century. From the village, you can also reach the chapel of Buisante, from where you will have a superb panorama of the region.
11. Chalmazel Station
Chalmazel is a medium-mountain resort, located at about 1,300 m above sea level, which allows you to practice many sports activities, in summer and winter. Between skiing, snowboarding, tobogganing or snowshoeing in snowy weather or mountain biking, tree climbing, and freestyle in summer, visiting the Loire is an experience rich in emotions!
12. The castle of Couzan
Sewn with castles perched on rocky promontories, the Loire department is undoubtedly a territory steeped in history, which has nevertheless been able to integrate the landscape into these architectural designs. The castle of Couzan is a building of the eleventh century built by the Burgundians.
Superb testimony of the military past of the region, this fortress is also a great opportunity to admire the country of Forez from the foot of the fortified enclosures of the monument.
13. The Veloire
Hiking territory, the Loire is also an ideal department for cyclists. With 150 kilometers of cycle routes or greenways, you should find the right route for your gambettes! For example, you can embark on the twenty-five kilometers of the Véloire, from the marina of Roanne, and explore the Roannais.
Pedal along the “quiet canal”, admire the Castle of Cornillon, discover the Gravière aux Oiseaux, continue to the port of Briennon and visit the barge museum. Then take an old railway line, pass over a metal bridge, and then head towards Saint-Nizier-sous-Charlieu or Charlieu.
Visiting the Loire at a different pace and from another angle is what Véloire offers you!
Convent of the Ursulines of Saint-Bonnet-le-Château – Photo credit: Wikipedia – Myrof
Come and stroll through the medieval streets of Saint-Bonnet-le-Château. Then leave the Middle Ages to admire the facades of renaissance houses. It is under the protective and benevolent eye of the Gothic collegiate church that the village dominates the plain of Forez. Petanque lovers will travel a few more kilometers to visit the International Museum of Petanque and Boule d’Usson!
15. The Rhone Valley from Crêt de l’Oeillon
One of the most beautiful points of view of the department is probably that of the Crêt de L’Oeillon. From its 1,367 meters above sea level, you will dominate the Rhone Valley and can see the Mont Blanc range in good weather. Le Crêt is accessible by a hike of medium difficulty from the village of Saint-Sabin.
Count a little more than four hours of walking, over a distance of ten kilometers round trip. The elevation gain is 387 meters.
16. The Château de la Bâtie d’Urfé
Photo credit: Wikipedia – La Batie D’Urfée
The Château de la Bâtie d’Urfé is a superb architectural testimony of the Renaissance, but also a setting that conceals some treasures within it. Discover in particular an astonishing and singular cave of rockeries, a surprising sphinx, or a chapel of the sixteenth century and its Italian paintings.
17. The circuit of villages of character
The Loire is a department where each village hides an architectural jewel and where a specific identity has been able to impose itself.
Discover the treasures of the region by making the circuit of the villages of character. From Sainte-Croix-en-Jarez to Crozet, via Saint-Haon-le-Châtel and Champdieu to Malleval, you will be able to get a more precise idea of the heritage beauties of the Loire region:
- The thirteenth-century Charterhouse of Sainte-Croix-en-Jarez;
- The view of the Roanne coast from the Crozet keep;
- The Benedictine abbey of Ambierle;
- The Renaissance mansions of Saint-Haon-le-Chatel;
- The alleys of Saint-Jean-Saint-Maurice;
- The priory of Champdieu;
- The rivers of Marols
A brochure produced by the department is available online and will guide you to visit the Loire and its villages without missing a crumb.
18. The body of water of Noiretable
Visiting the Loire also means relaxing. You will surely enjoy refreshing yourself if you discover the department in summer. Between a visit to the castle and a sporty afternoon, come and swim in Noiretable, a pleasant body of water located about thirty kilometers southwest of Roanne.
The site is designed to offer you all the necessary comfort to allow you to settle on the sandy beach before tasting the temperature of the water.
19. The Gorges de la Loire in microlight
Do you want to visit the Loire by taking the height? Many clubs and various sites welcome you to make you discover several flying sports, including the ULM. You can fly over the gorges of the Loire all year round, provided, of course, that the weather is mild.
Dare the baptism of the air and treat yourself to an unforgettable memory! If you like thrills and become addicted to living in the air, you can also take a parachute jump or discover the surroundings by glider.
Located an hour’s drive north of Saint-Etienne, Roanne is a city of water and history. Crossed by the Loire, the Renaison, the Oudan, and the Rhines, Roanne is also the starting point of the canal that leads to Chavane. Architecturally, take the time to discover the twelfth-century keep, the travelers’ inn or the Bourbonnaise House and its half-timbered façade.
Roanne is also a city of crafts and gastronomy. Artisan shops like markets are countless! You can also read our article on the best markets in France.
21. The castle of Essalois
Photo credit: Wikipedia – Laurent Fraquet Kiceceluila
If the gorges of the Loire are an ideal playground for many water or air sports, they also retain traces of the region’s past. Between nature and history, the castle of Essalois is a vestige of medieval times, which guards the place peacefully. Visiting the castle of Essalois is one of the best things to do in Loire.
How to get to the Loire?
By train, you can get from Paris to Saint-Etienne at about 3h30. It is often necessary to change in Lyon, to then take a TER. However, there are direct routes that connect the capital to the departmental metropolis in less than 3 hours. All you have to do is rent a car when you leave the station.
By car, it takes about 5h20 to reach the South of the Loire from Paris. 3 motorways are available to you: the A71, the A6, or the A77. Roanne is the nearest town and you will gain 40 minutes of travel if you decide to stop there.
The department is quite narrow and all in length, you must take this aspect into account in your internal travels. It is indeed necessary to plan an hour’s drive between Saint-Etienne, which is located in the South, and Roanne, in the North.
Finally, for the plane, the best solution is to land at Lyon-St Exupéry airport. Finish the journey by bus, train, or car rental. It will take at least 1h30 to reach Saint-Etienne.
Where to stay in the Loire?
In Saint-Etienne, it can be interesting to sleep in the city center, in order to have easy access to many sites and monuments. If you are looking for a calmer, opt for the districts of Villeboeuf or Fauriel.
Travelers looking for trendy and alternative neighborhoods will choose the Crêt-de-Roc. Do you prefer a smaller city? Stay in Roanne, in the historic center. For more authenticity and tranquility, nothing prevents you from traveling itinerantly by spending a night in each of the villages of the character of the department!
So there is no shortage of solutions! To find the offer that best suits you, do not hesitate to use a hotel comparator.
What to do in the Loire? There are countless unusual things to do in the Loire. So, what’s your opinion, Is Loire Worth Visiting?