River cruising down the Loire

Angela Youngman


Cruising down the Loire is no ordinary cruise journey. It is an opportunity to discover one of the most beautiful rivers in France, yet one which receives far fewer visitors than you might expect. There are beautiful chateaux, gigantic steampunk elephants, fantastic wines and riverside scenes that can only be viewed by boat.

The Cruise

A specially built paddle steamer, CroisiEurope's MS Loire Princesse, is the only vessel of its kind operating cruises along the Loire. Starting from Nantes, the majestic steamer takes passengers downstream to Saint-Nazaire and upstream as far as possible, depending on the depth of water at varying times of the year.

During my visit, there were fascinating conversations with fellow travellers from America, Australia, Russia and New Zealand. As well as that, the food & drink is of a high standard with menus including dishes such as Rack of Veal with shallots and tarragon, violet mashed potatoes and vegetables.

This is a totally unique cruise, offering access to superb countryside, rarely seen by any other means, as well as unusual activities and excursions, good food and wine in pleasant company. 

Romantic Chateaux, Towns, Vineyards and more

The Loire is one of the most romantic of all French regions with castles and vineyards in abundance. Fairy-tale chateaux seem to drift among beautiful gardens, moats and lakes. Rising up high above surrounding forests, the white turrets of the Chateau d’Usse inspired Charles Perrault to write Sleeping Beauty – while many believe that it also influenced the design of Disney’s Cinderella Castle at Disney World. 

Visiting the towns along the route offers a time capsule into French history – from Second World War reminders at St Nazaire to the tiny classic medieval towns like Clisson or the quietness of Ancenis. Nantes offers a look into a fantastical Jules Verne inspired world of secret alleyways and buildings, while Roman ruins and Gothic-style architecture dominate the city of Angers. 

The City of Nantes

Nantes is definitely unusual – where else can you get lost within a historic castle or ride on a gigantic mechanical elephant? And that is not counting the great shopping opportunities.

The quirkiest, must-see attraction is Les Machines de l'Île - an amazing steampunk wonderland where you can discover mechanical delights such as an immense Aragog-like spider or be invited to sit on a caterpillar moving along a branch. Take a ride on a fantastical three storey marine carousel with strange creatures that live below, within and above the water. The Great Elephant itself has become a much loved symbol of Nantes, carrying around 50 people as it makes its way ponderously around the site, while a magnificent tree complete with huge creatures and flights of life-size herons also commands centre stage. 

Getting There

There are regular flights to Nantes from most European airports, taking just over an hour from London. Passengers also have the option of an overnight in Paris travelling down to Nantes by coach with guided tours of the Château de Chambord and the Château de Chenonceau en route.

The MS Loire Princesse is moored in Nantes opposite Les Machines de l'Île, approximately ten minutes by tram to the rail station, where a connection can be made for the airport bus. Alternatively CroisiEurope can book transfers at an additional cost.

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