One of my favorite things about where we live is our proximity to all of France’s best chateaux. There are at least 20 amazing castles within a 2 1/2 hour radius of our apartment – some being the most spectacular the country has to offer. So here’s a list of my favorite chateaux of the Loire Valley.
Chateau d’Usse was the first castle Marc and I ever visited. It is said to be the inspiration for Charles Perrault’s “La Belle au Bois Dormant” – otherwise known as Sleeping Beauty. It has a slightly tacky side with mannequins dressed as fairy tale characters and “Once Upon a Dream” playing on repeat, but this makes it a great place for children and it doesn’t detract too much from the castle’s beauty.
Chateau de Chaumont-Sur-Loire is another picturesque fairy-tale style castle floating above the town and river below. It’s host to the International Garden Festival each year and the castle’s grounds and gardens are enormous. In fact, you have pay a separate fee to tour the gardens, but the castle itself is worth the trip.
Chateau de Chenonceau, with its six arches, sits directly on top of the Cher River and its design was greatly influenced by Italian architecture – making it unique among the rest of the French chateaux. I think what I like most about Chateau de Chenonceau is its scandalous history – the castle was supposedly a gift from King Henri II to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. But after Henri II’s death, his wife – Catherine de Medici – forced Diane de Poitiers to trade it for Chateau de Chaumont-sur-Loire.
Chateau de Chambord is the most spectacular chateau in the Loire Valley – by far. It’s size is unbelievable, and when you consider that it was built as a mere hunting lodge, you can’t help but be impressed. Its most notable feature is the double staircase that was designed by Leonardo da Vinci. It has 282 fireplaces, 84 staircases and 440 rooms. It’s just huge. If you can only choose one chateau in the region to see – this should be it.
Chateau d’Amboise is located in the cute little town of Amboise. It’s home to Leonardo da Vinci’s grave and is much larger than it looks from the street below. It has a beautiful garden and a stunning view of the river below.
Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau is one of the only chateaux that was once a privately-owned residence – no royalty ever lived here. It’s really not that big as far as castles go, but it’s situated on a reflecting pool that really adds to the beauty. Plus it’s located in a quaint little town that seems perfectly French.
Chateau de Blois was the home of many French kings and was built over several centuries. You can see this in the various styles of architecture – it basically looks like 4 different castles merged together. Touring the castle is like walking through France’s architectural history in one day. Plus there’s lots of art and other collections on display.
Of course, there’s many more castles to see in our area including Chateau d’Angers, which I’m saving that for another day – when I fill you in on all the great things to do and see in Angers.