Châteaux Of The Loire
Once a region of immense importance, many members of royalty, dukes and nobles chose to reside in the Loire Valley.
The Loire Valley has some of the most beautiful châteaux on the planet. They've inspired nobility, artists, and even Walt Disney. Explore seven of the region’s finest and let the Loire Valley truly enchant you.
The Loire Valley has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site for over 15 years and is often referred to as the ‘Garden of France’ due to its myriad of vineyards, fruit orchards, artichoke and asparagus fields. As well as its impressive natural beauty, Loire Valley has remarkable historic towns and architecture, best known for the large cluster of grand châteaux. With over 300 châteaux spread around the region, Loire Valley is bursting with culture and historical architecture.
Boasting a range of historical monuments, the châteaux in Loire Valley are known for their royal past, cared for by noble families and historical figures. Meander through the grounds where the likes of King Louis XIV, Charles VIII, and many other fascinating personalities of the past once stood. Try experiencing Loire Valley on a camping holiday for the perfect way to enjoy the French countryside while exploring the grand and picturesque châteaux.
Why the Loire Valley?
Once a region of immense importance, many members of royalty, dukes and nobles chose to reside in the Loire Valley. Its peace and stability was the perfect setting to build hunting lodges, palaces, and castles to use as a retreat in the summer months. The nobles found the rolling hills and perfect countryside the ideal spot; not too far from home, but far enough to escape and enjoy family life.
Many famous battles did, however occur in the Loire Valley. The Romans staged several battles here, and it became part of the Roman Empire for several centuries. At one point, Attila the Hun was defeated by a combined army of Romans and Visigoths.
During the ‘Hundred Years War’ battle in the 15th century, most of Loire Valley was captured until Joan of Arc challenged the French army and freed the city. The ‘War of Religion’ lasted 30 years in the mid-16th century, which caused the French kings to retreat back to Paris, leaving their châteaux behind.
Affluent in history and antiquity, Loire Valley’s châteaux and the stories behind them take you on a journey through the major events in France’s past. With its storybook castles and a large array of wines to try, Loire Valley always exceeds expectations.
1. Château de Chambord
Dating back to the 1500s, this château was constructed between 1519-1547. Francis I, King Louis XIV and King Charles X have all inhabited the château since its construction, and it’s one of the most historically significant in France, with influences from Leonardo da Vinci, a friend of the king’s.
The Château de Chambord has a long and interesting history with more tales than Walt Disney. From the very beginning of its 28-year construction, the château has been one of the most historically significant in the country.
Constructed by King Francis I, it became the largest castle in the Loire Valley and has influences of Leonardo da Vinci, a friend of the king’s, in many notable areas.
Its artistic significance runs right through to World War II, where Chambord housed many of France’s works of art, including the Mona Lisa.
1. Notable Inhabitants
Francis I constructed the castle during his reign as king.
He used the château as a hunting lodge.
King Louis XIV
Much of today’s château pays thanks to Louis XIV.
He restored much of it and added a 1,200-horse stable.
King Charles X
The people of France bought the château for Charles X grandson Henry.
Charles and Henry were both were exiled in 1830, the family fleeing to the UK.
1. The Château Today
Today, it’s a national treasure in itself and is one of the finest Renaissance castles in the Loire Valley.
Exhibitions are displayed throughout the year as well as equestrian shows which transports visitors back to the days where nobility occupied the 440 rooms of the castle.
The 13,000 acre grounds which surround the castle welcome over 700,000 visitors every year to enjoy the wildlife, cycle, and walk before spending an evening in Blois, an ancient city which has architecture to rival Chambord, and plenty more to explore.
2. Château de Chenonceau
Taking eight years to construct from 1514-1522, The Marquez family, Diane de Poitiers, Duc de Vendome, Louise Dupin and Marguerite Pelouze have all stayed in this grand château which lies on the river. As well as Gothic and Renaissance style architecture, art is exhibited on the bridge with many of the world’s great artists welcomed through the doors of the de Chenonceau gallery.
Most châteaux in the Loire Valley lie beside the river or within the region, Château de Chenonceau is actually on the river. A mixture of Gothic and Renaissance architecture the castle and was built in the 16th century, although the estate of Chenconceau dates back to the 11th.
On the bridge lies a gallery which has welcomed many of the world’s great artists over the years, and has inspired many more. Like Chambord, it played a major part in both WWI and WWII. The gallery doubled up as a hospital ward in the first, and was bombed multiple times in the Second World War, by both the Germans and allies as it changed hands throughout the war.
By 1951 it was restored to its former glory and remains one of the most beautiful castles in France.
2. Notable Inhabitants
The Marques Family
The original château belonged to the Marques family.
It was torched in 1412 to punish the family for an act of sedition before being rebuilt and eventually sold.
Diane de Poitiers
During the 16th century Henry II passed the château onto his mistress Diane de Poitiers as a present.
She commissioned the famed arched bridge joining the building to the bank.
Duc de Vendome
César, the Duke of Vendome and son of Henry IV acquired Chenonceau with his wife Françoise de Lorraine. The Duke died in 1665 but it stayed in the family for over one hundred years.
In 1773, Claude Dupin and wife, Louise bought the estate for 130,000 livres.
Louise’s literary salon attracted many writers including Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Marivaux.
Marguerite Pelouze restored the château in 1875 and removed rooms between the library and chapel.
2. The Château Today
Today the question is, what does Chenconceau not have to offer? The gallery is still a major draw for tourists alongside the gardens which have been kept looking fit for royals for generations.
There’s plenty to do for all the family with lots of wildlife to see. All this alongside luxury tearooms and restaurants which serve up some stunning menus.
Located close to the city of Tours, you’ll never tire of the history of the area, with architecture to continually gaze at as well as the stories of the Battle of Tours, the Middle Ages, and the Second World War in which the city had to rebuild itself.
3. Château Clos Lucé
Constructed in the late 1400s, Charles VIII and Leonardo da Vinci both stayed in this culture-filled château. This is one of France’s smaller châteaus but has large historical value. Leonardo da Vinci arrived with three pieces of work, including the Mona Lisa, and spent his last years at the château until his deathbed on 2nd May 1519.
The Château du Clos Lucé is one of the smaller châteaux in France, but it has a big history. Built-in the late 1400s, it is located just 500m from the Château d'Amboise, which was occupied by Francis I and his sister Marguerite de Navarre.
It was in fact, Francis’ friend Leonardo da Vinci who left a lasting mark, though, arriving at the residence with three of his finest pieces of work, including the Mona Lisa. He spent his final years at the château, dying there on May 2, 1519.
Following da Vinci’s residence, the château hit times of bloodshed with Michel de Gast taking occupancy, the Captain of the Guard of Henri III, who helped assassinate Cardinal de Guise.
3. Notable Inhabitants
Charles VIII bought Clos Lucé for his wife Anne de Bretagne towards the end of the 15th century.
Leonardo da Vinci
During the last three years of his life, Leonardo da Vinci stayed as the guest of Francis I.
He arrived at the Close Lucé in 1516 with his Mona Lisa, Saint Jean Baptiste, and Sainte Anne paintings.
3. The Château Today
Located in Amboise on the banks of the Loire, the château is one of the most popular castles in France thanks to the great Italian painter and sculptor and is now a museum dedicated to the great man.
The grounds and house include over 40 models and inventions designed by da Vinci and a copy of the Mona Lisa to gaze in awe at.
Amboise itself has lots going on and was once home to the French royal court. Many notable names have passed through the town, including Joan of Arc, Mary Queen of Scots, and Clovis I, all leaving a lasting impact on a now small market town.
4. Château d'Azay-le-Rideau
The original castle burnt down during the Hundred Years’ War, and has since been rebuilt from the ruins in 1518. It has housed Berthelots and the Mayor of Tours over the years and there are many different styles throughout the château due to its continuous restorations.
Located in the town of Azay-le-Rideau, the château has had a chequered past right from day one, with the original castle burning down during the Hundred Years’ War.
The château we know and love today was built from the ruins in 1518 and housed the Mayor of Tours and the rest of the Berthelot family. It remained incomplete for nine years, and when the Mayor had to flee the city it was taken over by the Raffins. It passed hands once again in 1787 and in the following century was threatened by destruction once again during the Franco-Prussian War.
Due to its incompletion over many years, and continual restorations, you’ll notice many different styles throughout the castle. It’s divided into two sections with the central area heavily influenced by the Italian renaissance, while upon its reconstruction in 1518, many of its original bastion features were kept by the Berthelots. What it makes, is one of the most interesting châteaux in all of France.
4. Notable Inhabitants
Gilles Berthelot started the reconstruction of the château in 1518.
The family stayed there until 1535 when Francis I confiscated it from them, still unfinished, and handed it to Antoine Raffin.
The Raffins began making a number of minor renovations but still left the château incomplete, giving it the distinctive L shape it has today.
Marquis Charles de Biencourt bought d'Azay-le-Rideau for 300,000 livres in 1787.
The château remained in the family until 1899 when Charles-Marie-Christiain de Biencourt had to sell the home due to financial difficulties.
4. The Château Today
The island château is just a short drive to the southwest of Tours and is now one of the most picturesque parks in the region.
Alive with flora and fauna for generations, it has been a hotspot for nature enthusiasts, and the grounds have an array of wildlife, including rare and endangered species.
Much of the château itself has been restored to its 19th-century state and has a rich collection of portraits throughout the building. It looks as though it has been untouched for hundreds of years and gives you a real insight into how French nobility once lived.
5. Château d'Usse
Inspiring the classic ‘Sleeping Beauty’ by Charles Perrault, the mixture of Renaissance and Gothic architecture has made Château d'Usse one of the most unique châteaux in France. Influencing many of Walt Disney’s castles, the fairytale surroundings often attract tourists from far and wide.
Originally built as a stronghold in the Middle Ages, the Château d'Ussé has transformed into a real jewel in the Loire Valley crown and was even the inspiration behind Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty.
Its Renaissance style, along with flamboyant gothic architecture, has made it one of the most unique châteaux in France. Overlooking the Indre Valley, Jean V de Bueil bought the once-ruined castle in the 15th century before his son bought the castle for 40,000 golden écus before falling into debt and seeing the home passing hands numerous times.
In recent history, its picturesque nature has seen it influence a number of Walt Disney’s castles as well as the subject of many tourist posters and postcard pictures.
5. Notable Inhabitants
The de Bueils
The de Bueil family purchased the ruins of d’Usse in the 1440s and began to rebuild it before debts built up and Antoine de Bueil was forced to sell in 1455.
Late 18th century
In the late 18th century, the Rohans, a noble family of viscounts, dukes, and princes, owned the château.
They hailed from Brittany but spent periods further south in the Loire Valley.
For over 130 years, the château has been in the hands of the Blacas family, and today it belongs to Casimir de Blacas d’Aulps, the seventh Duke of Blacas.
5. The Château Today
Today, the castle sees tourists travel worldwide to sample its fairytale-like surroundings. If Sleeping Beauty were around today, she’d be in a constant state of sleep and relaxation thanks to its beautiful, calming gardens and an interior fit for a king – or princess.
Located just half an hour from Tours, the château is surrounded by rolling countryside perfect for walks and getting away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
The château’s garden dates back to the 17th century, and it was, in fact, Le Nôtre, the man behind the Gardens of Versailles, who perfectly designed them and can still be admired today.
6. Château de Villandry
After lots of time, money and devotion spent on the Château de Villandry, it is now one of the most beautiful châteaux in the world with its exquisite gardens and surroundings.
Once an ancient fortress, it wasn’t until the 14th century that King Francis I constructed a new château. Over the years, it has seen its fair share of important figures pass through the doors, making important decisions for the country's future.
Before the grand house was built, the original keep was the spot where King Philip II of France met Richard I to discuss peace, while Napoléon acquired it for his brother Jerome following the French Revolution.
As late as the 1900s, however, Villandry has had lots of time, devotion, and money pumped into it, with the Carvallo family transforming it into one of the finest châteaux in the world, with gardens that many consider to be the finest on the planet.
6. Notable Inhabitants
Jean Le Breton acquired the château in the early 16th century.
He began the construction, which turned it into the delight it is today.
During the French Revolution, Napoléon Bonaparte bought the property for his brother Jerome, King of Westphalia.
The Carvallos own the château today after Joachim, a Spanish doctor, bought it in 1906.
He restored the château and the 16th-century style gardens back to their former glory.
6. The Château Today
Today you can spend hours upon hours at the gardens, and that’s just getting lost in the maze! The Sun Garden opened to the public in 2008, completing a stunningly well-kept set of gardens.
The Carvallo family still own the château, and not only have they transformed the gardens, but the interior is also worth marvelling at and has been restored to the days when the Bonapartes walked the corridors.
Around Villandry, there’s plenty to do with the Balzac Museum just a short drive away, along with the Savonnières caves, which offer 100 million years of history topped off with a wine tasting in the most inspiring setting.
7. Château de Chaumont
Close to the historic city of Blois, this Château de Chaumont has had many transformations. Starting as a castle it suffered through invasions, fires, and crusades and now forms the grand château with gorgeous river views and luxury stables.
Just a stone’s throw from the historic city of Blois, Chaumont originally started life as a castle in 995 and has since seen many invasions and crusades. It wasn’t until the 1400s that the castle we know and love today began to form. The castle was burned down by Louis XI as a punishment to the owner Pierre d’Amboise and was reconstructed between 1465 and 1475.
Catherine de Medici took over the château in 1560, swapping Château de Chenonceau for Chaumont, which was owned by Henry II’s mistress Diane de Poitiers. Here she would entertain many in high society, including oracle Nostradamus.
In 1700, when Monsieur Bertin took over following Spanish ownership, the north wing built by the d’Amboise family was demolished to open up the house to the gorgeous river views tourists marvel over every day. By 1877 the finishing touches were added, restoring the château to its former glories and adding luxury stables which are a big part of the château’s appeal today.
7. Notable Inhabitants
The family helped build the château it is today after it was razed to the ground by Louis XI as a punishment for participating in a feudal nobles alliance.
Paul de Beauvilliers spent a great deal of money renovating the château.
His eventual heir was then forced to sell to Louis XV.
Madame de Stael acquired the château in 1810 until she died in 1817.
She was a principal opponent to Napoléon, and upon her death, the château remained neglected for over 15 years.
7. The Château Today
Today the château is well worth a visit for its magnificent grounds and rooms and the many fantastic events they hold every year.
A centre for art and nature, each year, Chaumont puts on a host of exhibitions from world-renowned artists.
Several other châteaux are within the area, including the Château de Chanteloire.
The intriguing city of Blois is nearby and is home to La Maison de la Magie Robert-Houdin magic museum. The breathtaking Saint Nicolas church by the art gallery is well worth a visit.
Towns and Cities of the Loire
As well as the history-rich architecture of the châteaux, Loire Valley is cram packed with things to explore. Take a look at the cathedrals, walk through the delightful parks and gardens, walk or cycle across the Pont Canal de Briare, or visit the Musee du Compagnonnage.
La Forteresse du Faucon Noir in Montbazon teleports you back hundreds of years with its different offerings of activities to try. Try stone carving, candle making, leather work and clay sculpting. Fire a crossbow or launch a catapult at the wall of the ancient keep to transport yourself to the 15th century.
Tours is a city of classical arts, artisan crafts, a mixture of luxurious and locally made food, botanical gardens, and street markets. The old square has many delights and distractions, offering shopping opportunities, restaurants, and cafes. The region's wines include Vouvray, Chenin Blanc, Chinon, Bourgueil, and St Nicolas de Bourgueil.
The city of Blois is built on steep hills, with steep and winding paths running through the city. It is well known for its numerous châteaux, royal chambers, paintings and sculptures from the 16th - 19th century. Blois is the original home of Sauvignon Blanc, with grapes being grown here for over 2000 years.
Chambord is most recognisable due to the royal Château de Chambord; its characterful French Renaissance architecture blends traditional French medieval forms with classical Renaissance structures. It was constructed by King Francis I of France but was never completed.