Here’s a look at three must-see chateaux in this fabled region of central France.
Easily reachable from Paris, the Loire Valley is world famous for its exceptional and extraordinary heritage. The preferred holiday destination for France’s Renaissance kings, the UNESCO-protected region is fundamentally linked to the history of France, which only adds to its intrigue. Nowadays, the Loire Valley also gets a lot of duly merited love for its wines, picturesque villages and overall romantic aura so, in no particular order, here are three of the Loire Valley’s must-visit castles.
1. Chambord Castle, the largest
Chateau de Chambord is probably the region’s best known, and for good reason! In addition to being the largest, the castle lies in the heart of Europe’s largest enclosed forest park. Spread over 5,440 hectares, the castle and its grounds are as large as Paris itself. King François I commissioned its construction for a hunting residence where, due to the long time it took to complete, he wound up spending only 50 days in total. An emblem of the French Renaissance and symbol of the majestic aestheticism to which Francis I aspired, Chambord showcases many touches from the Middle Ages such as the famous “keep”. The sumptuous double helix staircase in the center is divided into two sections that revolve around each other without ever meeting.
The castle hosts many summer events such as a daily show featuring horses and birds of prey at the Stables of the Marshal of Saxony. Music lovers will appreciate the Festival de Chambord, (30 June-14 July) a series of nightly concerts performed below a covered section of the courtyard.
2. Chenonceau Castle, true feminine elegance
The Château de Chenonceau, also called Château des Dames, is an ode to feminine elegance. Everything in the castle reveals the sweetness, strength, taste and refined aesthetics of the exceptional women who lived, managed and protected it. Built on a bridge over the Cher, the arches of this Renaissance gem are reflected in the water, casting a perfect roundness reminiscent of sensuality and motherhood. A medieval castle of which only the Tour des Marques keep remains, the chateau was subsequently transformed into a sublime Renaissance castle thanks to the illustrious women who subsequently lived there. This beautiful setting houses an impressive collection of masterpieces by the most luminous sixteenth and eighteenth-century artists. The interior isn’t all that’s remarkable as the gardens are particularly neat and incredibly sublime. A walk through the Jardin de Diane de Poitiers, that of Catherine de Médici, the Jardin Vert or the Orangerie brings together perfumes and colors that create a soft harmony and subtle elegance. Get lost in the charming labyrinth and imagine what it would have been like to walk these grounds during the Renaissance.
3. Follow in Leonardo da Vinci’s footsteps at Château de Clos-Lucé
If you wish to totally immerse yourself totally in the Renaissance, do not miss the Château de Clos-Lucé. Leonardo da Vinci’s final resting place is a true haven of peace. The castle itself is certainly less impressive and lesser known than those of Chambord or Chenonceau but it houses a heap of treasures that display Leonardo’s genius. At first sight, it looks more like a noble residence than a castle, characterized by its pink bricks and tufa stones that give it a unique and charming air, standing out from other castles in the region. Walking in the garden among pines, irises and rocks, you will understand how Leonardo was inspired by Nature to develop his artistic techniques and scientific inventions. Continue your walk to the Park where you can contemplate and even test some of his scientific inventions. The children will have a great time here.