Loire Valley Chateaux – photos and travel tips
The Loire was a fashionable favourite with royalty from the 14th and 16th centuries, and the many Renaissance castles dotted throughout the region are some of the most popular tourist attractions in France.
Loire Chateaux – Chenonceau
There are literally hundreds of Loire Chateaux, and the challenge for any visitor is deciding which ones to see.
Famous French Castles of the Loire
If you are planning a trip to the Loire, we’d suggest visiting 3 or 4 castles, this will probably be enough or you’ll start to feel ‘castled-out’ very quickly!
Here are few chateaux that we would recommend.
Château de Chambord
The Château de Chambord is the largest castle in the Loire, with 365 chimneys (one for each day of the year), 80 staircases and more than 400 rooms, set in a 13,000 acre forest (the largest forest park in Europe). It is one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in France.
Louis XIV used to come to this castle to relax and hunt; Molière performed some of his works here.
Famous French Castles – Chambord
Château de Chenonceau
Château de Chenonceau is one of the most romantic, with a moat, drawbridge and turrets, and a beautiful location over the river Cher.
It is claimed to be the most visited castle after Versailles and is often called the Ladies Castle, due to the influence of famous women such as Diane de Poitiers (Mistress of Henry II), and Catherine de Médicis (Henry II’s wife).
Famous French Castles – Loire – Chenonceau
The arched gallery was used as a hospital during WWI – over two thousand wounded soldiers were treated here.
The castle is surrounded by a huge park, gardens and forests.
Château de Cheverny
Cheverny was built in the early 1600s, and is probably the most lavishly furnished of all the Loire Chateaux, with luxurious furniture, tapestries, paintings and armour.
The castle has been in the same family for seven centuries (in fact, the current viscount and his family still live here).
There is an orangery in the grounds of the chateau which was used during the second world war as a safe haven for artworks from the Louvre, including the Mona Lisa.
The kennels near the main entrance to the castle is home to around 100 hunting dogs, and feeding time (5pm) is a experience in itself.
The Château d’Azay-le-Rideau was built in the early sixteenth century, on an island in the river Indre. It is one of the most charming castles in the Loire.
Despite it’s idyllic setting, the castle has had a bloody history. In 1418, the prince (who later became King Charles VII) visited the castle, and was jeered at by the guards. Enraged, the prince had the town burned and the entire garrison executed (approximately 350 soldiers).
Famous French Castles – Château d’Azay-le-Rideau
Many of the castles have a sound and light show (son-et-lumière) in the evenings in summer, and Azay has one of the best.
Château de Villandry
Château de Villandry was built in 1536 by Jean le Breton, one of Francois I’s Finance ministers, and has some of the finest Renaissance style gardens in France. Even if you’re not an avid gardener, you’ll still be dazzled!
Château de Villandry
Villandry has numerous events and festivals throughout the year, such as the Nuits des Mille Feux (Nights of a Thousand Lights) in early July, when the castle and grounds are lit with thousands of candles.
The Loire was also strategically important during the Hundred Years War.
If you are interested in medieval castle life, the imposing Loche fortress will show you an altogether different side to the Loire. It’s in complete contrast to the harmony and serenity of the romantic Renaissance castles that this region is normally so famous for!
The huge and forbidding Loche castle was first built in the 9th century and was occupied by Henry II of England and his son, Richard the Lionheart during the 12th century. Used as a prison for centuries, you can visit the castle’s dungeon and torture chamber.
Loches was also a favourite of Charles VII who gave it to his mistress Agnès Sorel as her private residence. Agnès died mysteriously (suspected of mercury poising) – and pregnant – when she was only 28 years old.