Why should you visit the Loire Valley Castles (Châteaux de la Loire) ?
Classified UNESCO World Heritage, The Loire Valley is about a 2-hour drive from Paris. It is a perfect one day or longer getaway. It is known as the “Valley of the Kings” since it is a home to more than 300 royal castles from which around 100 of them are open to public. The Loire region (La Loire) was an important and strategic location during the Hundred Years’ War. During the Renaissance period, fortified castles were slowly being replaced by the stunning “summer residences” as the Loire became a trendy place among Parisian royal families to spend their free time there.
Since the castles are huge residences with numerous rooms, huge gardens and endless surroundings, I recommend visiting two or maximum three castles in one day. Arriving from Paris, the first castle on the way is Chambord. Since it is the most visited castle in the Loire Valley it is better to arrive at the opening to avoid the crowds. Then I suggest having lunch in Amboise town where you can eat in a typical cave restaurant La Cave au Fouées that serves delicious local food including local pork spread (rillettes). Aftewards, you can stop by to visit Amboise castle or continue to Chenonceau. Then I higly recommend going to Villandry to which there is approximately 40-minutes driving. Last but not least, Azay-le-Rideau and Ussé are located in the area. Keep reading below for more detailed information about these castles.
1. Château de Chambord
Château de Chambord is the most magnificent of all Loire Valley castles. You get blown away by this architectural jewel. Having celebrated its 500 years anniversary in 2019, it was built for the King of France, François I as a hunting lodge. It counts over 400 rooms, 365 (huge) fireplaces and 84 staircases. All this for a residence only used for about 2 months (la belle vie!).
Everything about Château de Chambord is unique, the gardens, the interior and especially its rooftop with a splendid panoramic view. The famous double-spiral staircase leads to the rooftop. It was designed by Leonardo da Vinci himself !
Good to know: it is the only château with payed parking. Parking fee is 6€ per day.
For more practical information, visit the official website: https://www.chambord.org/
I highly recommend purchasing the tickets beforehand to skip the line. Chambord is one of the most visited castles in the area, so it is better to have more time for the visit itself rather than waste time in the queue. You can do so from the following link:
2. Château de Chenonceau
Chenonceau castle, also known as the Ladie’s Castle (Château de Dames), is the second most visited castle in the Loire Valley. It was designed and owned by women, hence the name. François I son, Henri II offered the castle to his young mistress Diane of Poitiers. She then embellished the castle by adding the gardens and built the bridge across the Cher River.
The gallery (Grande Gallerie) stretches along the bridge over the Cher River inside the castle. It was converted to a hospital during the First World War and was used as a symbolic boundary between Free France and Occupied France during the Second World War.
Official website: https://www.chenonceau.com/
I am dropping the link below to purchase the tickets in advance. What is more, if you are looking for a unique experience, why not admiring the Loire Valley Castles from the air? The hot air balloon ride allows you to discover the Loire Valley from a different perspective. I wish I would have done it, but you need to be there before the sunset. It is definitely on top of my to-do-list!
3. Château d’Azay-le-Rideau
Charming and romantic Azay-le-Rideau castle proudly shows its mirror reflection in the Indre river. Constructed during the reign of François I, it blends French 16th century traditional architecture with Italian Renaissance decor.
Official website: http://www.azay-le-rideau.fr/en/
4. Château de Villandry
Château de Villandry is a grand country house, known for its magnificent gardens. The Renaissance gardens include a water garden, ornamental flower gardens, and vegetable gardens. It is owned by the Carvallo family.
Official website: https://www.chateauvillandry.fr/en/
5. Château d’Ussé
Château d’Ussé is considered to be the Sleeping Beauty Castle. Known for its picturesque aspect, it was one of several castles that inspired Walt Disney in the creation of many of the Disney Castles.
Official website: https://www.chateaudusse.fr/?lang=en
You can also get my complete digital guide with a road itinerary including 9 Loire Valley Castles and a restaurant for a lunch stop. It works as an offline guide and GPS to use on your mobile phone. You can download it on MAPS.ME app from this link for mobile phones.
Looking for other trips around Paris ? Then you should consider going to Normandy.
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