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10 of the greatest Loire Valley chateaux

Posted on 16 April 2015 by Dan Johnson

The Chateaux of the Loire are one of the most stunning sights in the world. From romantic fairy tale castles to impressive fortresses designed to repel armies, there is something for everyone.

Nor is it just a matter of incredible buildings, these chateaux provide an opportunity to explore some of the greatest moments in French history together with stories of murder, intrigue and adultery. The only drawback is trying not to suffer from chateaux exhaustion as there are over 300 scattered around the Loire Valley.  To help, here are 10 of the greatest Chateaux.

1. Chambord

Chambord Castle, Loire Valley

Acknowledged to be one of the masterpieces of the Loire valley, Chambord is certainly magnificent.  If you only have time to see one – this has to be top of the list.  It sits calmly amid lawns, its image perfectly reflected in the lake.  Inside is a wealth of art, tapestries and antique treasures, while the surrounding gardens and forests stretch for miles. The great double spiral staircase found in the centre of the Chateaux is awe-inspiring.

2. Blois

Blois is unusual as it sits closely within the town. As you explore each side of the Chateaux you can see a different aspect of castle architecture. Not to be missed is the outside staircase designed to seen and be seen by Francois I. Murder occurred here – the Duke of Guise was murdered on Henri III’s orders during the tumultuous sixteenth century religious conflict.

3. Chinon

Chinon Castle, Loire Valley

Size alone makes Chinon impressive as it stretches for 400 metres above the River Vienne. This is a classic fighting fortress designed to hold invaders at bay. The Knights Templar were imprisoned here before their execution in 1308, and later during the Hundred Years War, Joan of Arc persuaded the French Dauphin (the future Charles VII) to support her bid to destroy the English armies.

4. Cité Royale de Loches

The sheer scale of this medieval castle creates an impression of impregnability – but Richard the Lionheart captured it in just three hours!  Another famous resident was Agnes Sorel, the mistress of Charles VII.  She was the first official royal ‘favourite’ in French history. Disliked by the rest of the Royal Court, Agnes died by poisoning when she was only 28.

5. Meung

Meung may be small but it makes a fascinating place to visit. All the rooms are set out to show a different historical aspect including hygiene, cooking, games, music and herbalism. It has a dramatic history – in the eleventh century, 60 rebels threw themselves from the castle tower rather than give in to the king.

6. Chenonceau

Chenonceau Castle, Loire Valley

Chenonceau is full of Renaissance turreted splendour.  It is actually built across the River Cher, and is surrounded by beautiful formal gardens. This is one of the most photogenic chateaux in the country.  Originally built by Henry II for his mistress Diane de Poiters, she was evicted on his death by Catherine de Medici and the chateaux became a setting for royal parties.

7. Amboise

Amboise Castle, Loire Valley

Set high above the town, this medieval building was embellished with imposing Renaissance towers complete with ramps designed to take horses and carriages right into the chateaux.  This was a favourite castle among the French kings –Mary Queen of Scots lived here when married to Louis XII.  Hundreds of French Protestants were murdered here following a failed attempt to take control of Louis XII.  Another irresistible reason for visiting is the fact that Leonardo da Vinci lived at Amboise from 1516, bringing with him the legendary Mona Lisa.  He died here three years later.

8. Villandry

Smaller in scale than many of the great chateaux, Villandry sits perfectly surrounded by formal terraced gardens which are almost a maze in which you can get lost.  This is a garden designed to impress with a sense of order and Renaissance symbolism.  Flowers are confined within neat box hedges with trees neatly placed at each end. This remains a family chateau and is still lived in. It is a home rather than just a museum so there are lots of family mementos to be found on tables and shelves.

9. Chaumont

Another chateaux renowned for its gardens, Chaumont is the home of the International Garden Festival containing up to 30 special themed gardens each year.  A pretty Renaissance chateaux complete with a myriad of elegant turrets, this was the home of the Princess de Broglie who transformed the landscape around her chateaux by moving houses and a church in order to create the garden of her dreams.

10. Riveau

Riveau has just 14 themed gardens but these have a distinct quirky appeal.  Myths, legends and fantasy combine to create dragon style trees, a labyrinth and even gnomes based on French politicians.  Also worth seeing here is the stable block which is almost a horse mansion. The chateau is like stepping into a fairy tale, small and compact with an air of mystery around it.

Are you ready to live like a king in the Loire Valley?

See our siblu holidays to the Loire Valley:
www.siblu.com/france/loire_valley/

Find out more about owning your own holiday home in the Loire Valley: www.sibluvillages.com/villages/loire-valley/

For more reasons to visit the region, see our Loire Valley holidays guide.

 

Picture credits:
Chinon: copyright KOEHL
Chenonceau: copyright David Darrault / CDT de Touiraine

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