France's Loire Valley
Visit 12 of the Best Castles in the Loire Valley
Situated at the heart of France, the Loire Valley beckons travelers with its captivating fusion of history, natural beauty, and cultural abundance. Often referred to as the "Garden of France" this picturesque region boasts an abundance of Renaissance chateaux, vineyard-covered landscapes, and quaint villages, offering an authentic and quintessentially French experience.
The Loire River, the lifeblood of the Loire Valley, stands as a testament to nature's grandeur. Winding its way for over 1,000 kilometers, this river graces more than a fifth of France's total land area with its majestic presence, earning its distinction as the longest river in the country. Along the banks of the Loire River, you'll find lush vineyards and charming towns, creating a visual feast for travelers and wine enthusiasts alike.
Step into a living tapestry of history within the Loire Valley, where tales of Viking invasions from centuries past add layers of intrigue. The intrepid Viking Chief Hastein, navigating his longboats up the Loire River, left an indelible mark on historic cities such as Tours, Angers, and Nantes. The echoes of these remarkable adventures still reverberate within the valley's quaint streets and stately fortresses.
During our visit, we had the privilege of exploring twelve magnificent châteaux that grace this region. From the grandeur of Chateau Chambord to the elegance of Chateau Chenonceau, each chateau possesses its own unique charm and history. Our journey took us through the opulent interiors, meticulously maintained gardens, and rich cultural tapestry of these architectural treasures.
Before we proceed, let me give you two startling facts about French Chateaux; There are over 40,000 castles and fortresses in France dating from between the 9th and 21st centuries. And there are some 300 castles and fortresses in the 175-mile stretch of the river known as the Loire Valley. Gives you an idea of the amazing amount of history available to visit in France!
In this video, we'll share insights into the geography of the Loire Valley, the best ways to get there, and top tips for navigating this stunning region including how to pick where to stay and the rules of the road; a detailed review of road signs, toll booth navigation, and parking information. Get ready to plan your dream trip!
Join us on a journey through the heart of France as we explore twelve of the most magnificent castles in the historic Loire Valley. Our video provides an in-depth look at each castle and offers logistical information, including an itinerary with logical base camps for exploring the region to help make your own trip a success.
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Our Loire Valley Map (above image) highlights our journey from Angers to Chinon and then to Amboise, with each castle pinpointed. Follow our Loire Valley Itinerary to create your unforgettable Loire Valley adventure.
Base Camp 1: Angers Our adventure began in Angers, where we uncovered the medieval splendor of Chateau d'Angers, explored the fascinating secrets of Château de Brézé, and marveled at the grandeur of Chateau de Brissac.
Base Camp 2: Chinon Our journey continued in Chinon, where the captivating history of Chateau de Chinon awaited us. We ventured on to Chateau d'Usse, often referred to as the 'Sleeping Beauty Castle,' and immersed ourselves in the elegance of Chateau Azay-le-Rideau, and the magnificent gardens of Chateau de Villandry.
Base Camp 3: Amboise Our final base camp was set in Amboise, a charming town that served as the gateway to more spectacular chateaux. Here, we explored the regal Chateau d'Amboise, the romantic Chateau de Chenonceau, marveled at Chateau de Chambord's architectural wonder.
Angers was stop # 1 on our Loire Valley adventure, and because our hotel was only a few blocks from Château d'Angers, which allowed us to park the car and hike over to the fortress. The less than perfect issue that arose, was that it was Sunday when we visited the fortress, which meant that a lot of stores & restaurants were not open. It was probably to our advantage that we hiked from our hotel to the fortress, as parking was very limited and there were no empty spaces.
Approaching the château, visitors are immediately struck by its imposing walls and massive stone turrets. The castle's 17 towering towers create an awe-inspiring silhouette against the sky. Once inside, you'll find a treasure trove of historical artifacts, including the renowned Apocalypse Tapestry, a masterpiece of medieval art that tells the story of the Book of Revelation in intricate detail.
The construction of Château d'Angers dates back to the 9th century, making it one of the oldest castles in France. The castle served various purposes throughout its history, including as a defensive fortress, a royal residence, and even a prison. One of its most famous occupants was Duke René of Anjou, who was a renowned patron of the arts and responsible for commissioning the famous "Apocalypse Tapestry," which is displayed within the castle.
In 1204, the region was conquered by Philip II and the new castle was constructed during the minority of his grandson, Louis IX ("Saint Louis") in the early part of the 13th century. Louis IX rebuilt the castle in whitestone and black slate, with 17 semicircular towers.
Château d'Angers is not only a historical marvel but also a vibrant cultural center, hosting exhibitions, concerts, and events throughout the year. The beautifully maintained gardens surrounding the castle offer a serene escape, featuring lush greenery, fragrant flowers, and serene water features.
We departed Angers for Chinon and stopped in the village of Brissac-Quincé where the Château de Brissac is located. This magnificent château is often referred to as the "Giant of the Loire Valley" due to its impressive seven stories, making it the tallest château in France. Originally constructed in the 11th century as a fortress, it underwent significant renovations in the 16th century, which transformed it into the elegant castle we see today.
As we drove up to the château, its impressive towers and turrets rising majestically above the surrounding vineyards and lush greenery immediately grabbed our attention. The château's façade, adorned with intricate details and elegant windows, leaves visitors in awe. Stepping inside, you'll be greeted by beautifully decorated rooms, each with its own unique charm and character. The highlight is undoubtedly the grand gallery, an exquisite double-height chamber adorned with sumptuous tapestries and chandeliers.
One of the most notable features of Château de Brissac is its fascinating history, including tales of political intrigue and a notorious double murder that took place within its walls. This history adds an intriguing layer to the château's charm and allure. Today, Château de Brissac continues to captivate visitors with its historical significance, architectural beauty, and the opportunity to step back in time and experience the grandeur of French aristocratic life.
As this Chateau was on our route to Chinon, we decided to stop here and explore. This stronghold at the edge of the Chinon forest overlooking the Indre Valley was first fortified in the eleventh century by the Norman seigneur of Ussé, Gueldin de Saumur, who surrounded the fort with a palisade on a high terrace. The site passed to the Comte de Blois, who rebuilt it in stone.
Charles Perrault, author of the versions of several of the most famous fairy tales known today, often visited the castle and was a guest there. He had the castle of Ussé in mind when writing "The Sleeping Beauty".
Château d'Ussé was built in the 15th century on the foundations of a medieval fortress. Over the centuries, the castle has been home to a number of notable figures, including the Marquis de La Fayette, the Duc de Blacas, as well as the writer Charles Perrault.
The castle's architecture is a blend of Renaissance and Gothic styles. The main façade is decorated with intricate carvings, including the salamander, which was King Francis I's emblem. The castle is surrounded by a moat and a vast forest.
The castle is still owned by the Blacas family, who have been living in the castle for over 200 years, and it has been featured in a number of films and television shows, including "The Princess Bride" and "Once Upon a Time."
We had selected the village of Chinon as our next "base camp" for exploring various chateaux, our concept was that we could easily drive to any location within a 100 kilometer circle around Chinon, which gave us a number of places we wanted to explore. The drive from Angers to Chinon was not quite 100 kilometers (via the A-85). Chinon is on the south side of the Loire River, so we exited the A-85 onto the D-749.
The region between Angers and Chinon in France, is renowned for its picturesque vineyards and historic wineries. This scenic stretch along the Loire River is often referred to as the "Garden of France" due to its lush landscapes and fertile soils, making it an ideal terroir for winemaking.
The village of Chinon has a long and rich history, dating back to the Roman era. It was once the capital of the Touraine region, and it was also the home of King Henry II of England. Chinon is also known for its role in the Hundred Years' War, as it was here that Joan of Arc met with the Dauphin Charles VII in 1429.
The Château de Chinon is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Chinon. The castle was built in the 12th century, and it was the site of many important historical events. Visitors to the castle can tour the castle's many rooms and chambers, including the Royal Apartments, the Chapel, and the Keep.
Chinon is also known for its delicious wine. The region around Chinon produces a variety of red wines, including Cabernet Franc and Chinon Rosé. Visitors to Chinon can sample the local wines at one of the many wine bars and restaurants in the town.
For nature enthusiasts, the surrounding countryside offers hiking and cycling trails that wind through vineyards and along the riverbanks. Chinon is a destination that seamlessly blends history, culture, and natural beauty, making it a must-visit for those exploring the Loire Valley.
NOTE: Our VRBO rental in Chinon was a very large and comfortable apartment on the top floor (no elevator). Well equipped with all the amenities (including A/C, washing machine and a flat panel TV), it was perfectly located for our purposes. We utilized a free parking lot near the Loire River, which worked out nicely for us because it was perhaps a half mile from our apartment. We had to move the car on our last day in Chinon, as there is a weekly market that utilizes the entire parking lot, but we found a Payamt space close to the fortress elevator and just a few blocks from our apartment.
As our VRBO rental apartment was only several blocks from the elevator that takes pedestrians up to the Château, it was an easy hike for us to make to see this huge & imposing Chateau. The castle was built in the 10th century by the Counts of Blois, and was later expanded and fortified by the Plantagenet kings of England. In the 12th century, the castle became the royal residence of Henry II of England and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. This is a large site, over 500 metres long and 75m wide on top of a hill that overlooks the Village of Chinon and the Vienne River.
The Château de Chinon is a complex of three castles, each with its own unique character. The Château Fort is the oldest part of the castle, and is home to the castle's donjon, or keep. The Château du Milieu was built in the 12th century, and is home to the castle's royal apartments. The Château du Coudray was built in the 15th century, and is home to the castle's gardens.
The oldest portion, known as the "Fort St. Georges," dates back to the 10th century and offers a glimpse into the medieval era. The "Château du Milieu" became famous during the reign of King Henry II of England and Richard the Lionheart, who resided here. The "Fort du Coudray," built during the 14th century, reflects later architectural styles.
Chinon Castle played a pivotal role in the Hundred Years' War and served as a residence for French and English monarchs. It is most renowned for being the site where Joan of Arc recognized the Dauphin Charles VII in 1429.
Château de Villandry is renowned for its exquisite Renaissance gardens, which are as captivating as the castle itself. The castle was built in the 16th century by Jean Breton, the finance minister of King François I. Breton commissioned the famous Italian architect Domenico da Cortona to design the castle, and it is considered to be one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in France.
The castle's architectural beauty is characterized by its harmonious proportions and graceful lines, reflecting the Renaissance style. Visitors can explore its well-preserved interiors, featuring ornate furnishings, tapestries, and period-appropriate decorations, providing a glimpse into the opulent life of the French aristocracy.
However, the true highlight of Château de Villandry is its world-famous gardens. Designed in the formal French Renaissance style, the gardens are divided into distinct terraces, each with its own theme, including a water garden, a decorative vegetable garden, and a captivating maze. The precision and artistry of these gardens make them a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-visit for garden enthusiasts and history lovers alike, offering a harmonious blend of natural beauty and historical significance.
In addition to the gardens, the Château de Villandry also has a number of other attractions, including the castle itself, a museum, and a shop. Visitors can tour the castle's many rooms and chambers, including the Grand Hall, the Royal Apartments, and the Chapel. The museum houses a collection of Renaissance furniture, tapestries, and paintings.
This is such an unusual château, and it had attracted our attention during our trip research. The castle is built over the Cher River, and it is connected by two bridges. The main bridge is a double-decker bridge, with the ground floor used for horse-drawn carriages and the upper floor used for pedestrians. The second bridge is a single-decker bridge that was added in the 19th century. You can see the arches underneath the château, these are wide enough to allow boats to pass thru.
The current château was built in 1514–1522 on the foundations of an old mill and was later extended to span the river. The bridge over the river was built (1556–1559) to designs by the French Renaissance architect Philibert de l'Orme, and the gallery on the bridge, built from 1570 to 1576 to designs by Jean Bullant.
Built in the 16th century, Chenonceau features a harmonious blend of late Gothic and early Renaissance architectural styles. The château boasts a series of elegant galleries, towers, and gardens that showcase the opulence of the French Renaissance. Its beautifully furnished and decorated rooms transport visitors back to a time of grandeur and sophistication.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Chenonceau is its fascinating history, which includes associations with influential women throughout the centuries, such as Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de' Medici. Their influence is evident in the castle's design and the exquisite gardens that surround it.
Château de Chambord is located near the village of Chambord, and it is the largest château in the Loire Valley. The building was constructed by the king of France, Francis I, and was originally intended to be a "hunting lodge". Construction required 28 years (1519–1547) because the design was altered frequently. Francis I alternated residences between Château de Chambord and Château Royal de Blois (located in Blois).
Chambord's most distinctive feature is its intricate and harmonious double-helix staircase, which is often attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, who was a guest at the nearby Clos Lucé at the time. The celebrated staircase resides in a hollowed central core and, twisting and turning one above the other, twinned helical ramps servicing the main floors of the building. The double-spiral staircase's design (never before seen in France) seems to suggest a more than coincidental link with the famous Italian polymath, whose notebooks were filled with similar architectural sketches and designs on everything from plumbing to horticulture.
Spanning over 13,000 acres, the huge Chambord estate features meticulously designed gardens, woodlands, and a stunning canal that reflects the château's elegant façade. The gardens are a testament to the Renaissance era, with intricate parterre designs, manicured lawns, and ornate fountains that transport you to a bygone era of French aristocracy.
Additional things to do in the Château de Chambord area
In addition to visiting the Château de Chambord, there are a number of other things to do in the surrounding area. Visitors can:
- Take a boat trip down the Loire River.
- Visit one of the many vineyards in the area and sample some of the local wines.
- Explore the charming villages of the Loire Valley.
- Visit other Loire Valley castles, such as Château de Chambord and Château de Chenonceau.
The Château de Chambord is a truly unique and awe-inspiring place. It is a must-see for anyone visiting France. With its stunning architecture, rich history, and picturesque setting, Chambord is sure to leave a lasting impression.
Located in the village of Cheverny, and only 42 kilometers from our rental in Amboise; The current building was constructed between the late 16th and early 17th centuries, however, there had been a house there since at least 1315. The current building represents classical French architecture and offers visitors a glimpse into the opulent lifestyle of the French aristocracy.
One of the notable features of Château de Cheverny is its exquisite symmetry and harmonious design, characterized by a graceful white stone facade, slate roof, and perfectly manicured gardens. The interior of the château is equally captivating, with well-preserved period furnishings and decor that transport visitors back in time. The rooms provide a sense of the daily life of the nobility, from the grand salon to the impressive dining hall.
In 1914, the owner opened the château to the public, one of the first to do so. The de Vibraye family still operates it, and the Château de Cheverny remains a top tourist attraction to this day, renowned for magnificent interiors and its collection of furniture, tapestries, and objets d'art. A pack of some one hundred and twenty hunting hounds (60 males, 40 females and 20 pups) are kept in kennels within the grounds and are taken out for hunts twice-weekly.
The château is also known for its beautiful park and gardens, featuring geometrically designed flowerbeds, a charming canal, and a lush forested area. Additionally, Cheverny is renowned for its kennels, where a pack of hunting dogs is kept and can be visited by tourists.
We were staying in Amboise (35 kilometers southwest) and drove the D-751 to reach the village. As we were not aware of where parking was located, we wound up parking in the village and then hiked up a steep street to reach the Château. We then discovered that they had a nice restaurant with seating in a tree covered garden, so we ate lunch there before exploring the Château and the grounds.
The Château de Chaumont-sur-Loire is a stunning example of medieval and Renaissance architecture. Originally constructed in the 10th century as a fortress, it underwent significant transformations over the centuries. The castle boasts a dramatic location perched on a hill overlooking the Loire River, providing breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside.
The village itself exudes a peaceful and quaint ambiance, with its cobbled streets, historic buildings, and riverside promenades. Chaumont-sur-Loire is a true gem in the Loire Valley, offering a unique blend of natural beauty, historical significance, and artistic inspiration that continues to enchant travelers seeking a taste of authentic French culture and heritage.
Surrounded by vineyards and the natural beauty of the Loire River, Chaumont-sur-Loire offers ample opportunities for outdoor activities, such as hiking, cycling, and picnicking along the riverbanks.
Since we were renting a VRBO apartment in Amboise, a visit to the Château d'Amboise was a simple task. There is a public (Payamt type) parking lot next to the Loire River and across the street from the Château.
NOTE: Our VRBO rental was approximately 5 miles outside Amboise via route D-952. It is essentially a one bedroom cottage positioned as a "gate house" next to a vinyard. Beautiful location and the owners were extremely nice. The cottage was equipped nicely, and was modern, A/C unit worked well, etc. If you are ever in this area, we would highly recommend that you consider renting this unit.
Originally constructed in the 15th century, Château d'Amboise played a significant role in the French Renaissance and was a favored residence of several French kings, including Charles VIII and Louis XII. Its unique blend of Gothic and Renaissance architectural elements reflects the transition from the medieval to the modern era.
One of the most notable features of the château is the Saint-Hubert Chapel, where the great artist and polymath, Leonardo da Vinci, is said to be buried. Leonardo spent his final years in Amboise under the patronage of King Francis I, leaving behind a legacy of art and innovation. Leonardo spent his final three years in France, and died in 1519 at age 67 in the Loire Valley. His chateau, the brick-and-marble Clos Lucé, is the artist's only known residence and workplace that is still standing.
Visitors can explore the château's ornate rooms, including the beautifully restored royal apartments, and take in the breathtaking views from its terraces. The serene landscaped gardens offer a peaceful retreat, making Château Royal d'Amboise a must-visit destination for history enthusiasts and lovers of architectural beauty.
Located in the village of Azay-le-Rideau and 50 kilometers from our rental in Amboise; It was built between 1518 and 1527, this château is considered one of the foremost examples of early French renaissance architecture. Set on an island in the middle of the Indre river, this picturesque château has become one of the most popular of the châteaux of the Loire valley.
The castle was built in the early 16th century by Gilles Berthelot, a wealthy financier who served under King Francis I. Berthelot commissioned the famous Italian architect Baccio d'Agnolo to design the castle, and it is considered to be one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in France.
The Château d'Azay-le-Rideau is built on an island in the Indre River, and it is surrounded by a moat and a beautiful garden. The castle's architecture is characterized by its symmetry, its graceful proportions, and its intricate carvings. The castle's interior is also decorated with Renaissance furniture, tapestries, and paintings.
The Château d'Azay-le-Rideau has a long and fascinating history. It has been owned by a number of notable figures over the centuries, including the Marquis de Villeroi, Madame de Montespan, and the Duke of Choiseul. The castle was also used as a hospital during World War I.
The initial portions of this drive were through French farming areas, forests and very small villages. This was due to our GPS system selecting the D-31 & D-764 to reach the E-9/A-20 at Châteauroux. There were several occasions where we were worried that we had somehow gotten onto a bicycle trail because the road was so narrow. However, we eventually got to the A-20 and motored south to our destination. Overall, it was about a 5 hour drive of approximately 400 kilometers.
Once we got to the A-20 Autoroute, the speed limit became 130 kilometers per hour, but the route from Amboise to Châteauroux was mostly secondary roads where even if the speed limit was 90 kilometers per hour, the road conditions and curves did not allow that kind of speed. Later we realized that we should have used the A-85 Autoroute out of Amboise, however that might be an adventure for another day.
We exited the A-20 in Brive-la-Gaillarde, and drove the D-1089/D-60 into Sarlat. It was only 50 kilometers, but we kept ascending over the mountains that surround Sarlat, and frequently had excellent views of the valleys below. The route is challenging, because of the number of switchbacks, but the road is in excellent condition and the traffic density was low.
- 15 Best Things to Do in Centre-Val de Loire on 'The Crazy Tourist' Site
- Google Maps Search Results list for "accommodations in the Loire Valley"
- Loire Valley Châteaux on the "Get Your Guide" site
- Loire Valley Wineries on a Google Maps page
- Just Traveling Thru European Travel Tips
- Just Traveling Thru Travel Planning Tips
- All of our Loire Valley Images
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