A magnificent illustration of French thought and design, each of the Loire châteaux tells a story of the region. From grand royal residences to military headquarters and even prisons, they have served countless purposes through times of war and peace. Today, they present a fascinating insight into France’s rich history, and the surrounding estates, vineyards and woodlands are the ideal place for cycling and walking.
The garden of France
The Loire Valley’s fertile lands have earned it the title of ‘Garden of France’, so it’s no surprise to find some of the country’s most beautiful and impeccably maintained gardens there. One of the most striking examples is the garden at Château de Villandry, terraced on three tiers and dating from 1906.
Visitors can take a gentle stroll through the Garden of Music, the Garden of Love and the Water Garden, each of which offers a riot of geometrical shapes, vibrant colours and enticing scents. Even the kitchen garden gives the impression of a colourful chessboard, with its greens, reds and blues arranged in the ordered plots that monks of the Middle Ages would have used.
In contrast to these is the woodland, situated above the rest of the grounds and ideal for a leisurely ramble. Here, tourists can view the gardens from a different perspective or climb the scenic trail to the wooden gazebo for a short rest.
The charming gardens at Château d’Usse are structured on a terrace and overlook the Chinon forest. Designed by Andre Le Notre, creator of the gardens at Versailles, they are richly ornate, the lawns highlighted by bright flowers and fountains. Above the flower garden is the orangery, which dates back to 1664 and is filled with orange and lemon trees, many of which existed prior to the French Revolution.
The château itself is said to be the inspiration for Charles Perrault’s ‘Sleeping Beauty’, and waxworks of the story’s characters bring the tale to life inside the castle.
Camping de la Mignardière is situated within easy reach of both châteaux, and offers plenty of amenities for the active traveller: bicycle hire is available for those who fancy a cycle to the nearest château, and there are numerous sports and activities both on-site and nearby to enjoy.
Château de Blois
The Royal Château de Blois is the perfect introduction to the Loire châteaux. Situated at the gateway to the Loire Valley, it paints a vivid portrait of the region’s history, art and royal inhabitants. Its diverse architectural styles echo the variation in design that can be experienced across the Loire, and its opulent royal apartments provide an excellent insight into the daily life of the Renaissance court.
Château de Chambord
The largest and most elaborate of all the Loire châteaux, Château de Chambord was built as a hunting lodge for François I. Used as the inspiration for the Beast’s castle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, the château captures the imagination, while its surrounding forest is a joy to explore on foot or by bicycle.
Château d’Azay le Rideau
Situated on an island in the river Indre, Château d’Azay le Rideau has both accommodated kings and borne their wrath. Burned to the ground by the future Charles VII in 1418, it was reconstructed over 100 years later by the Mayor of Tours and in the 17th century received both Louis XIII and Louis XIV as guests.
Château de Valençay
Blending Classical and Renaissance architecture, Château de Valençay played a magnificent host to European dignitaries during the time of Napolean. The grounds present over forty hectares of delightful gardens and vineyards to explore, and the maze, children’s château and farm provide something for all the family.
Château de Chaumont
With its rounded turrets and winding staircases, Château de Chaumont is the quintessential fairytale castle. Overlooking the stunning scenery of the Loire Valley, the estate often welcomes exhibitions by internationally renowned contemporary artists and photographers.
The women’s château
Château de Chenonceau is the Loire’s ‘Château des Dames’, having been built and cared for by some of France’s most influential women. Built by Katherine Briçonnet and developed by Diane de Poitiers and Henry II’s queen, Catherine de Medici, it has survived the French Revolution and both world wars. Spanning the river Cher, it was used during the Second World War as a means of escaping from Nazi occupied territory to free France on the opposite bank.
The gardens of Catherine de Medici and Diane de Poitiers are spectacular throughout the spring and summer, with their orange trees, climbing rose trees, daffodils, petunias and lilliput dahlias.
The children’s play area and maze offer something for youngsters, and summer visitors can enjoy the gardens by night, wandering through the illuminated walkways to the music of Italian classical composer Arcangelo Corelli.
Where to stay
Huttopia Saumur - Saumur, Maine-et-Loire, Pays de la Loire
Flower Camping du Port Caroline - Brain-sur-l’Authion, Maine-et-Loire, Pays de la Loire
Yelloh! Village Voiles d'Anjou - Les Rosiers-sur-Loire, Maine-et-Loire, Pays de la Loire
Domaine du Houssay - Spay, Sarthe, Pays de la Loire
Camping du Lac de Maine - Angers, Maine-et-Loire, Pays de la Loire