With 42 chateaux making up the UNESCO World Heritage Site of
the Loire Valley, the region is undoubtedly the chateau capital of France.
Attracting more than 3 million visitors a year, the chateaux are in fact some
of the most popular tourist attractions outside of Paris.
Each castle is worth visiting in its own right, for their
cultural significance and the immaculate decoration both inside and out, though
even on the busiest of holidays youll only be able to fit in a visit to a few
of them. Below are five of our favourites which stand out from the rest,
unrivalled in beauty and steeped in centuries of history, all within a
reasonable distance from our Loire villas.
Chateau du Clos-Luce
Surrounded by three hectares of well-kept grounds, the
Chateau de Clos-Luce dates back to the 16th century, when the
property and land were purchased by Louise de Savoie, mother of King Francois
I. Though the king lived there for a short period of time, the chateau is more
well-known for one of its guests, who stayed there for three years. Upon
visiting Italy at the peak of the Renaissance, he met Leonardo da Vinci, who
came back with him to live at Clos Luce. Da Vinci stayed here until his death,
designing many of his most visionary inventions. Many of these can be seen in
the chateaus museum and park, which include prototypes of the helicopter,
paddle boat and machine gun he designed.
Still occupied by the family who privately own the chateau
on the top floor, theres a wealth of fascinating things to see both on the
ground floor and in the charming attic. According to legend, the author of many
French fairy tales, Charles Perrault, was inspired to write Sleeping Beauty
after a visit to the chateau. The ground floor is decorated with beautifully
looked-after 16th century wallpaper and furniture, while the
castles attic is set up with scenes of how the princess would have spent her
childhood. The attic is decorated throughout with antique toys and furniture,
decorated in a mock fairy tale style, complete with cobwebs.
Chateau de Chambord
Built under the rule of Francois I and designed under the
influence of Leonardo da Vinci in the 16th century, the Chateau de
Chambord sits near the river Loire, though Francois dreams of having the river
passing in front of the chateau never quite came true. The castle came into
some trouble during the French Revolution when rebels pillaged the castle,
taking away many of the extremely expensive furnishings and hunting the animals
in the surrounding forest to near extinction. After being privately owned for a
short time, the chateau was returned to the French state in 1930, and became a
home to some of Frances most valuable national treasures. Besides the striking
Renaissance architecture, the Chateau de Chambord is also worth visiting to see
over 500 years of history unfold.
Relatively small compared to some of the other grand
chateaux in the region, nevertheless, Chateau dAzay-le-Rideau is one of the
Loire Valleys most celebrated castles. Referred to as the Diamond of the Indre
by Balzac, the chateau is surrounding by a glorious moat a sign of the
splendour that awaits inside. Its interior spans the 16th century to
the 19th century, and is especially well-known for its 16th
and 17th century Flemish tapestries, demonstrating life in
Renaissance Europe. While one room is influenced by the Renaissance era of
Francois I, another is filled with 19th century excesses you
wouldnt find out of place in a Victor Hugo novel.
Chateau de Chaumont-sur-Loire
Made from beautiful white stone, the Chateau de
Chaumont-sur-Loire stands atop a high hill with breath-taking views of the
Loire Valley, setting the scene for a truly mesmerising day out. Though the
scene is as pretty as a picture, its also seen its fair share of conflict. In
the 1560s, Catherine de Medici, of the powerful Medici family, forced her
husbands mistress Diane de Poitiers to give her the more desirable Chenonceau
chateau in exchange for Chaumont. Nowadays, the chateau is perhaps most famous
for its Garden Festival, which runs from April to October. The worlds best
designers and landscapers come to the Loire Valley for the festival, putting on
display some truly beautiful and inspirational gardens.
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