My Top 14 French Castles of Loire Valley
I had a little knowledge about France I have to admit this…but I knew one thing for sure…they have amazing castles and palaces and in my deepest dreams I would really want to see them…yet I never thought this dream actually will come true…so here i am in France…and just visited the best French castles ever! That was a holidays! Spontaneous yet very well organized….I was supposed to explore more of the south of France, I had the eternity ready to go to see the magnificent Viaduct the Millau…and got excited about the trip and then i realize that with my smaller holidays budget I am not able to make the most out of the holidays in the seaside which gets too expensive during summer…so i thought about the alternatives and found equally expensive holidays but in the budget and yet I was able to do much more during them…and i did a lot! I travelled 2250 kms by car, I slept in a really comfortable and quite luxurious yet cheaper accommodation which i found on airbnb, I visited 14 castles of Loire Valley and 3 medieval villages and ZOO Beauval…are you impressed? So now I can honestly recommend doing the Chateaux de Loire Valley holidays and I will tell you about My Top Best French Castles which you should visit!
- Château de Cheverny is my favourite one! It is a classique in style castle (a style that was rare in that area during that time but prefered by Louis XIII ), build by Jacques Bougier. Nowadays it belongs to the Charles-Antoine de Vibraye and serves as the museum. Its architectural unity reflects that fact that it was built between 1604 and 1634, without interruptions and additions, which is a common feature in other châteaux. Interestingly, Castle Cheverny was constructed of white stones, which were collected from the area of nearby Cher Valley. The stone remain white in color and become even harder so the castle is very robust and solid. The Castle is well known for its hunting with hounds. Nowadays there are over 70 of these hunting dogs (half English foxhound and half French Poitou) live at the castle and each day at 5pm tourists can see the feeding ritual – a very interesting (a bit strange) experience! As at the end of the day, I dont enjoy seeing very hungry dogs! Another thing that we all associate with the Castle Cheverny is of course the Belgian comic book – The Adventures of Tintin book. Its creator Hergé used Cheverny as a model for his fictional “Château de Moulinsart“. So at the castle you will find many references to TinTin, if you like it or not.
- Château de Chambord is definitely the number 1 French Royal Castle, the most visited monument in the department of the Loir-et-Cher (but my number 2). This 16th century magnificent chateau is the real masterpiece of the Renaissance, the home of François I. Nowadays, it is a National Historical Monument, and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1981. It is said that the castle has been designed by Leonardo da Vinci. And definitely the Chambord famous double staircase (helix staircase) have been created by Leonardo da Vinci. The castle is enormous! It has 440 rooms, 335 fireplaces, 12 staircases and 70 main stairs are laid out over an area of 200.000 sq ft. François I spent fortune to build his dream castle. It took also many years to complete his dream. The castle had many kings: François I, then Henri II (son) Louis XIII gave Chambord to his brother Gaston d’Orléans; then Louis XV inherited it and gave to his step-father, the former king of Poland Stanislas Leszczynski. In 1809, the Emperor Napoléon gave it to Marshal Berthier, who sold the woodwork then the château to the Duke of Bordeaux in 1821. The Duke of Parma inherited it in the late 19th century. The French government bought the Chateau de Chambord in 1932 and returned his original appearance. But that’s not all. Let’s not forget the Chateau has the enclosed huge park (32 kilometers of walls), the largest in Europe (5 440 hectares), which is a national hunting reserve, it is open and free to all. Only one thing is surprising on here, you have to pay for a car park. But I guess this is due to the fact that the access to the park is FREE.
- Château de Brissac – is my number 3. Its small, cosy but has been called “The Giant of the Loire Valley” because it is the tallest castle of France and yes it is impressive. It has amazing atmosphere which I loved, it is a castle of 7 stories and 204 rooms nicely decorated and preserved. It is simply beautiful! René de Cossé, first Lord of Brissac bought it in 1502 and today the 13th Duke of Brissac actually lives there with the family. Because of this fact, you cannot visit the castle on your own but with a guide who actually is really nice and informative and funny so you can enjoy the guided tour which is in the price of the ticket. And it is worth seeing the inside of the castle as it is stunning! You will notice beautiful ceilings, precious furniture and a ravishing theatre Belle Époque, dedicated to Opera. The park which surrounds the castle is also very nice, it gives the shaded century old trees, you can admire the stable and small chapel as well as the vineyards which are located next to the castle. Have a walk, it’s relaxing and calming.
- Château de Villandry I loved for its stunning and not possible to describe amazing gardens! It is the 12th century Château which was completed in 1536 by Jean Le Breton, Minister to François I, and was the last Renaissance monument to be built in the Loire Valley! The state apartments of the château contain 18th-century furniture and tapestries, along with paintings by Italian and Spanish masters of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. The Château Villandry has been renowned for its gorgeous Renaissance gardens which represent typical (beautiful!) French-style formal gardens. They were the first ones to be laid out in the 16th century. The impressive gardens cover huge area of 5 hectares.On the left side of the castle, there are the ornamental gardens, with the “Garden of Love” and the vegetable gardens. There is also so called ‘The water garden’ which is the most peaceful of the gardens on the estate. Its central stretch of water plays an essential role in the creation of a relaxing atmosphere. Its definitely the best castle of the Loire Valley for its spectacular gardens!
- Château de Chenonceau is another beautiful castle which has to be visited! It was build in 1513 by King Charles VII and was given by Henry II to his mistress Diane de Poitiers who was then forced to leave it (and exchange it for the Chaumont) by Catherine de Médicis – the former wife of Henry. So mainly the women lived in this castle and therefore it has an elegant look and a feminine touch. Diane de Poitiers added the delightful arched bridge across the river and Catherine added a three-story structure atop Diane’s bridge, giving the château its unique river bridge charm. She also created the Corps de Logis gallery which is the castle’s highlight. They galery is designed to impress visitors and so its displays exquisite paintings and antique tapestries. There are beautiful gardens created by both Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Médicis. To add to the chateau charm, there is an impressive avenue of trees which leads you directly to the entrance.
- Château de Breze is another Loire Valley chateau, this time a bit small but still very elegant. Its located in Brézé, near Saumur. The château was built around 11th and transformed during the 16th and the 19th centuries. The current structure is Renaissance in style yet retains medieval elements. It represents the finest and the rarest examples of neo-Gothic and neo-Renaissance interior architecture. The Château of Brézé provides visitors with an opportunity to discover extraordinary underground fortress. This amazing world of rock opens out onto the deepest dry moats in Europe and reach a depth of 18m. So you must visit it. When being in the castle, you cannot also miss the Renaissance wing which served as the residence of the Marquis de Dreux-Brézé. It’s also worth mentioning that this small castle has 30 hectares of vineyards and produce a range of wines and that nowadays, the Colbert family owns this elegant residence and live here. Since 2000 it has been listed historic monument and open to the public
- Château de Sully-sur-Loire is a 14th-century medieval fortress which belonged to the Duke of Sully (1560-1641), Minister to King Henri IV, located in the Loiret department of the Loire Valley. The castle seems big, there are interesting medieval dungeon and 14 nicely furnished rooms with a rich collection of pictures, tapestries, statues and painted decors. lt has been listed or registered (CNMHS), UNESCO World Heritage. Interestingly, the castle was visited by Joan of Arc, Louis IV and Voltaire. It was also here that Voltaire found refuge when he was forced to leave Paris being accused of his provocative way of thinking. If you cannot make it to come over – discover the castle online here otherwise dont look …but visit it without checking anything online and have a first sight impression when you arrive. If you want to find out more about the famous Duke of Sully check for more details on here
- Château de Blois is another Renaissance gem in the Loire Valley area. It has been built in stages between the 13th and the 17th century and reflects changing architectural styles as well as the influence of many kings and queens who lived in this particular castle. There were 7 kings and 10 queens of France who loved this place such as: Louis XII, François I and Catherine de Medici, in 1397 the King Louis of Orléan moved to Blois. Each part of the castle looks different, you can get the impression that when you take a photo of one wall and the other and then look at them at home you actually cannot see it as a one whole castle. Each part has its style and different look and feel. The Francis I wing is a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture with a famous octagonal staircase. There is a Benedictine Church of Saint-Nicolas, built in the 12th and 13th centuries in the south part of the castle. There is also the Cathedral of Saint-Louis on high ground in the old town. You can find there also many nice looking burghers’ houses. Chateau de Blois is the was the first historical castle which has been restored (in 1845) and become a model for other chateaux.
- Château de Chaumont-sur-Loire is the fortress-like castle of the Kings Valley located in its Loir-et-Cher department, on the left bank of the river. It is just 18 kms away from the Blois. It was founded in the year 1000 and rebuilt by King Louis XI around 1465. Then it was owned by the Amboise family for over 500 years. On the death of Henri II, Catherine de Medici acquired the château in 1550 and ordered her rival Diane de Poitiers to exchange it against Chenonceau. Princess Marie-Charlotte de Broglie purchased the château in 1875, decorated its rooms with Renaissance furniture. Nowadays it is owned by the Centre-Val de Loire Region and it has been listed on the UNESCO site. The château fine example of the Gothic period’s defensive architecture as well as of the ornamental architecture of the Renaissance. It is beautifully preserved and rich in its historic tapestries and works of art. The gardens around represents the English style. Tourists can visit both the castle and the garden. Since 1992, the park of the Château has hosted the International Garden Festival, displaying the creations of many gardens on a different theme every summer. The gardens are transformed by light and art installations, look impressive and bring back tourists each year to see the novelties. Unfortunately to enter the Festival you need to purchase the separate ticket but if you think about it, the Festival de Jardins is a completely different to the castle visit experience.
- Château de Amboise you will find in the Indre-et-Loire department of the Valley of Kings. This is the Gothic & Renaissance style chateau and the first royal castle which introduced the Italian taste in the Loire Valley. Equally interesting, it was the first to have gardens laid out in the formal style that came to be known as ‘French style gardens’. The history of the Château d’Amboise dates back to the 11th century, when the Count of Anjou built the castle on the Loire River. In the 15th century it was confiscated and favoured by the French royals. It was a home for François I, Charles VIII and Louis XI. In 1516 Leonardo da Vinci arrived at Amboise at the invitation of King François I. He stayed at the the Clos Lucé Domaine – Renaissance’s domaine which is located in the heart of Amboise, 500 yards from the Royal Château. It was a place where Leonardo da Vinci spent his final years of his and his body lies now in in Saint-Hubert’s Chapel. In 1840 French Ministry of Culture appointed the Château d’Amboise as the monument historique.
- Château de Azay-le-Rideau is located on an island on the River Indre in French département of Indre-et-Loiret. It was built in the 16th century by a wealthy financier, Gilles Berthelot, during the reign of François I. The design of this stately château was greatly influenced by Italian architecture. The most notable features on the ground floor are the rib-vaulted kitchen and the dining room with a richly decorated chimney and numerous tapestries. But it is still an authentic masterpiece of the Renaissance. The visit to the castle was a bit disappointing as even due to the fact that the entrance tickets were reduced, the ¾ of the castle is covered in works…so this is a big spoiler for a visit.
- Château de Valencay is stunning! It came into existence in the time of Louis XIII, and were built on the site of an ancient feudal fortress. The castle represents the architectural harmony between the Renaissance and classical period The Château de Valencay has been the residence of the d’Estampes and Talleyrand-Périgord families. In ceremonial rooms and private apartments, the exceptional collection of Louis XVI and Empire-style furniture offer one of the richest visits anywhere among the Châteaux of the Loire. Château Valençay has many gardens: the French gardens, the flower chessboard, the Duchess garden as well as the forest park called the “Forest of the Princes”. All together, the park and forest cover more than 53 hectares. On top of this, it is highly recommended to see the impressive kitchens and Napoleon’s maze (Grand Labyrinthe). Amazing experience – just make sure you have a water & time and there is no heatwave…otherwise its not pleasant experience….
- Château de Saumur was build at the end of the 11th century by the Valois dynasty. The Château of Saumur has been a fortress, a manor house, a residence for the town governors, a prison, and even an arms and ammunitions depot. It belonged to the Dukes of Anjou in the 14th and 15th centuries, it was the home to King René (who by the way, called it “castle of love.”) At the end of the 16th century, the château was converted by its Protestant owners into a fortress, and it still retains its defensive character. Nowadays, the château contains the Musée de Saumur, which has a collection of antiquities, 15th and 16th-century tapestries, and 20th-cent
- Château de Usse is located in the Rigny-Ussé in the Indre-et-Loire département, in France. It is truly beautiful & romantic looking castle with a creamy white tower which is believed to be an inspiration for the Sleeping Beauty. The Château of Ussé, is the most fanciful of all the Loire Valley castles.It was built in stages between the 15th and 17th centuries. It represents late Gothic and Renaissance features. The rooms contain period furniture, tapestries, and weapons. There is a chapel designed in pure Renaissance style constructed between 1520 and 1583, in the park next to the castle. In 1885 the comte de Blacas inherited it from his aunt – the comtesse de la Rochejaquelein . Today the château belongs to his descendent Casimir de Blacas d’ Aulps the 7th Duke of Blacas. It is classified as a monument historique since 1931 by the French Ministry of Culture.
So please do tell me on how you like the sound of the best Chateaux de France? I am in love with them! I think I have done pretty well. I still plan to visit some few castles out of the Loire Valley but if you have any ideas and recommendations what to do and where…i would be happy to hear about them. In the meantime, fell in love with My Top 14 castles of Loire Valley and plan your dream holidays there! Bon voyage!