Thanks to an abundance of vineyards, orchards, and artichoke and asparagus fields, the Loire Valley is often referred to as both the “Cradle of the French” and the “Garden of France.” It’s a region filled with charm and history as well as notable towns, wines, architecture, and over 300 châteaux. We’ve narrowed down our picks for 10 essential Loire Valley châteaux to visit.
10 Essential Loire Valley Châteaux
Château de Chambord
Château de Chambord is an exceptional masterpiece of Renaissance architecture. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 1965, François I built the Château de Chambord as a hunting lodge. It’s the largest château in the Loire Valley and most prestigious of the French Renaissance châteaux. Leonardo da Vinci inspired parts of the château, particularly the double-helix staircase.
From the terraces you’ll find incredible views of the fascinating architecture of the château and the entire estate. You could easily spend a day exploring the domaine on foot, by bike, or on horseback.
Unique Stay: Relais de Chambord
Just a four minute walk from the castle, you’ll find this small and refined 4-star boutique hotel in an unrivaled location. With captivating views around every turn, you’ll get to know each turret and spire of the castle’s famous rooftop skyline.
Each room is unique and filled with natural light. Some rooms offer a view of the Château de Chambord, while others overlook the river, Place Saint-Louis or the forest. Guests can enjoy hot air balloon rides over the estate, boat tours along the Cosson River, 4×4 safari rides through Chambord’s reserve and more.
Château de Blois
The town of Blois is located in the heart of the Loire Valley. It’s home to one of the most iconic châteaux in the area and is also a recognized Ville d’Art et d’Histoire (Town of Art and History).
The Royal Château of Blois is a true synthesis of the art and history of the Loire Valley châteaux. The four distinct wings are a prime example of the diversity of styles and architecture over the centuries. Be sure to take a moment in the courtyard to admire the four architectural styles: the 13th century Medieval fortress, the Louis XII Gothic wing, the François I Renaissance wing, and the Gaston of Orleans Classical wing. Over time, seven French kings and 10 queens lived at this royal château.
Château d’Amboise and Château du Clos Lucé
The Château d’Amboise has a picture-perfect setting overlooking the Loire River and the charming town of Amboise. It holds an impressive collection of medieval and Renaissance furniture. The council chamber and the royal chamber are absolute must-sees.
Amboise is also the location of Leonardo da Vinci’s last home, the Château du Clos Lucé. This relatively small 15th century palace was the childhood home of François I. The château is especially well-known because Leonardo da Vinci spent his final three years living here as a guest of the king. Today, the Château du Clos Lucé is a museum dedicated to the life and work of Leonardo da Vinci. You can see Leonardo da Vinci’s tomb on the grounds of the Saint-Hubert chapel at the Château d’Amboise.
Château de Beauregard
One of our favorite smaller châteaux in the Loire Valley is the privately-owned Château de Beauregard. Built at the end of the 15th century and set on an expansive 173-acre estate, it houses an exceptional portrait gallery featuring 327 European monarchs, ministers, clergymen, and diplomats among others.
Want to Be King of the Castle?
Enjoy a private tour of the Château de Beauregard followed by a wine and cheese tasting with an oenologist. This exclusive experience takes place in the late afternoon on a château terrace. You’ll be able to watch the setting sun with a glass of local wine in hand. Truly an unforgettable moment!
Château Azay-le-Rideau is perfectly set on an island in the middle of the Indre River. This 16th century is an early example of French Renaissance architecture blending French tradition with innovative Italian decorative arts. Thanks to both the beauty of the château and its sublime natural setting, Azay-le-Rideau is one of the most popular châteaux to visit in the Loire Valley.
Château de Chenonceau
This prestigious château spans the River Cher. Château de Chenonceau is known as the Château des Dames because of the women who built, expanded, defended, restored and ultimately saved it. Built by Catherine Briçonnet in 1513, it was later embellished and transformed by the likes of Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de’ Medici.
Be sure to visit the garden of Diane de Poitiers, a “floating” parterre created in the Renaissance. You’ll also want to see Catherine de’ Medici’s Italian-style maze and separate smaller garden facing the lake and the park. To the north, there is an English-style Green Garden. Last but not least, visit the Flower Garden where you’ll find over 100 varieties of “cutting flowers” used for the château’s floral arrangements. Yes – the château does organize floral workshops!
Set the banks of the Loire River, Château Chaumont-sur-Loire blends defensive Gothic architecture with aesthetically pleasing Renaissance architecture. The landscaped English-style grounds offer a spectacular, unique vista of the untamed Loire.
Each year between the end of April and November, the Festival International des Jardins invites landscape artists from all over the world to dream up and create extraordinary gardens on a different theme each year. The theme this year is “Biomimicry in the Garden” which proposes ambitious and exemplary creations that feature fresh and contemporary scenes, aiming to surprise, give understanding and capture imaginations all at once. The festival goes through November 7th.
Château de Villandry
The Château de Villandry is one of the most impressive of the Loire Valley châteaux. While the château itself is beautiful, the extensive gardens are the highlight of any visit.
The château is best-known for its formal French-style garden. There are also several smaller gardens in various styles that are worth exploring. Our favorites include the vegetable garden, the ornamental garden, the water garden, the sun garden, and the herb garden.
Built in the early 16th-century, Château de Villandry was the last Renaissance-style castle constructed in the Loire Valley. The interior of the Château de Villandry, although less frequented than the gardens, is well worth a visit. Highlights include the kitchen, the main staircase and dining room (classified historical monuments), and the ceiling in the oriental drawing room.
Château de Brézé
Classified as a Historic Monument, Château de Brézé is unique because of its remarkably well-preserved troglodytic cave network, richly furnished rooms, and highly detailed neo-Gothic architecture. Many visitors come to see the “castle under a castle.” This nearly four kilometer underground route holds unexpected underground rooms including stables, kitchens, a bakery, and a wine cellar.
Stay in a Château at the Loire Valley: Château d’Artigny
An unmatched experience of living in a château and feeling the grandeur is what this 5-star hotel promises.
Located south of Tours, Château d’Artigny offers the best of comfort and opulence to its visitors. During your stay you’ll enjoy marble statues, a French garden, beautiful woodwork, and amazing views over the Indre Valley.
This majestic region of France begs exploring. Whether you want to spend a few days visiting from Paris or extend your stay to see all 10 essential Loire Valley châteaux, we can help you plan the perfect itinerary. Some of our Loire Valley favorites include A Loire Valley Road Trip, An Exclusive, Romantic Visit to the Loire Valley, and Loire Valley Wine and Châteaux. French Side Travel has something for everyone whether you’re interested in food and wine, history and culture, adventure, or romance and scenery.
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