5 Must See Fairy-tale Châteaux in the Loire Valley
The Loire Valley is home to rolling hills, the River Cher and no less than 42 fairy-tale châteaux! Mostly built or improved during the Renaissance period, the Loire became the valley of choice for French royalty and their courtiers. Some of the most beautiful châteaux in the Loire Valley lay within several hundreds of metres from one another, making it easy for visitors to see several in one trip!
If you’re considering a visit to this region of France, it would take many weeks to visit all the châteaux of the Loire Valley. To make it easier for you to choose which Loire Valley châteaux you stop at, we’ve put together a list of our top 5, so you don’t miss the best ones!
1. Château de Chenonceau
Château de Chenonceau is the most spectacular château in the Loire Valley. With the exception of Versailles, Chenonceau receives more visits than any other château in France. Its white walls, turrets and impressive five-arched bridge tower above the River Cher, providing a crossing over the shimmering waters below.
Château de Chenonceau has a fascinating history filled with stories of strong women. Built on the banks of the River Cher in the early 1500s, it has come to dominate the landscape. Given as an elaborate gift to Diane de Poitiers in the mid-sixteenth century, it was her that commissioned the beautiful bridge over the river that still exists today. After King Henry II’s death, Catherine de Medici took ownership of this Loire valley château. It was here that she held the first ever firework display in France, when her son, Francis II, acceded the throne. Catherine expanded the stunning gardens and had a gallery built above the famous bridge. Two hundred years later, this château of the Loire valley rose in popularity again when it became the centre of the French enlightenment. Under the ownership of Louise Dupin, the château received guests like Voltaire and Rousseau.
Guests to Château de Chenonceau can stroll around the Renaissance gardens of Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici, admire its spectacular architecture and experience exceptional works of art by Poussin, Rubens and other Old Master painters. Cruising on European Waterways barge, Nymphea, you can even have the privilege of passing through one of the famous archways under the bridge. Château de Chenonceau is certainly one château of the Loire valley that you shouldn’t miss!
2. Château de Villandry
The majestic Renaissance Château de Villandry was the last Loire Valley châteaux to be built. Its sumptuous neoclassical interiors are exquisitely decorated with gilded fittings and exquisite silks and paintings. Its dominating exterior was inspired by Italian architecture, following the Italian wars that France fought with Spain from 1494 to 1559.
This Loire Valley château was acquired in the sixteenth century by Jean Le Breton, who was King Francis I’s Controller-General for War and financial secretary. It was Le Breton who influenced its redesign from a medieval fortress to a Renaissance residence, through renovating the original château around its keep. The new architectural designs saw Château de Villandry laid out in U-shape symmetry, opening onto views of the valley where the rivers Cher and Loire flow.
The grandeur of Château de Villandry’s interiors were chosen by the Count of Castellane, who was a leading tastemaker in the nineteenth century. Its Renaissance-style gardens are laid out in perfect geometry, lined with neatly trimmed box hedges, well-tended ponds and extravagant water fountains. Visitors to the area shouldn’t miss an opportunity to visit this château in the Loire Valley.
3. Château d’Amboise
Home of the French monarchy during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Château d’Amboise towers above the banks of the mighty river Loire. Its tall, cream stone walls reflect serenely in the water and its imposing grandeur gives away nothing of its history and conflicts.
This Loire valley château’s most interesting legacy is its connection to the artist, Leonardo Da Vinci. The artist was invited to Château d’Amboise by Francis I, who was a patron of the arts and literature. From 1516 to 1519, Da Vinci sketched this gothic château in the Loire Valley and was present at court. The chapel, built during the earlier reign of Charles VIII, is Da Vinci’s final resting place. In addition, Château d’Amboise unwittingly hosted as setting for the Amboise Conspiracy of 1560, which was an attempt to overthrow the young King, Francis II. Over the following centuries, this Loire valley château fell out of favour with the royal family and was visited less frequently. Its fate was altered again in the late eighteenth century, when it was confiscated during the French Revolution, and in the Second World War, when it was occupied by German troops.
Though Château d’Amboise often found itself on the wrong side of history, it has today been restored to much of its former glory. After being bombed by the allies towards the end of the war, it was restored, and its ownership passed to the Dreux Domain Heritage Society. The panelling, fireplaces, statues, paintings, ironwork, woodwork and interior décor that was stripped from the château during the French Revolution has been somewhat replaced so that guests can experience it as it once was. You can cruise to this château of the Loire valley aboard hotel barge Nymphea.
4. Château du Clos Lucé
At only 500 metres from Château d’Amboise, you shouldn’t miss out on visiting Château du Clos Lucé. Bought by Charles VIII in the late 1400s, this Loire valley château was turned into an additional royal residence and pleasure palace. Château du Clos Lucé is best known, however, as the home of Leonardo Da Vinci.
Invited to the French court by Francis I in 1516, Leonardo Da Vinci crossed the alps from Italy to reach the Loire Valley, taking with him several of his students and his favourite artworks, including the ‘Mona Lisa’. Housed comfortably at Château du Clos Lucé, Da Vinci received a pension from Francis I and was obtained primarily to have intellectual conversations with the King. In fact, it is said that the tunnel which connects Château du Clos Lucé to Château d’Amboise allowed the King and Da Vinci to pass freely between the two residences. Visitors to this château in the Loire valley can see Leonardo’s bedroom, kitchen, study and chapel, which contains frescoes completed by his pupils. It is thought that the fresco ‘Virgo Lucis’, which translates as ‘Virgin of Light’, gave the château its name.
Made from red brick and local ‘tufa’ stone, the château has a decidedly different appearance to many of the châteaux of the Loire Valley. Guests can visit the splendid gothic oratory and the dovecotes, which are supposedly the most beautiful in France!
5. Château de Nitray
Another unmissable Loire Valley châteaux is Château de Nitray, which is situated between châteaux Amboise and Chenonceau. Sitting within a stunning landscaped park of 43 hectares, the château is a designated historic monument, and the grounds are a national heritage site. Walk through its turreted archways and taste the fruits of its landscape as you admire the beauty all around you.
Since the eighteenth century, the grounds of this château in the Loire valley have been home to ten acres of vineyards. From grapes such as Sauvignon, Chenin, Chardonnay, Cabernet France, Grolleau and Côt, the vines at Château de Nitray produces premier Loire valley wines. Guests to the château can enjoy a visit to the wine warehouses and learn about the winemaking process of white, red and rosé wines. The tour ends in wine tastings from this ‘vignoble et découverte’ awarded destination.
Explore the landscaped grounds and see the vineyards where exquisite vintages are made. Built with the golden ratio, guests can admire the Touraine stone château, which on close examination, reveals fossilised animal fragments in the sediment. Why not board the classic cruise aboard hotel barge Nymphea and experience this Loire valley château for yourself?
Cruise the Loire Valley
European Waterways can take you on a calming cruise along the River Cher, stopping at Châteaux Chenonceau, Villandry, Amboise, Clos Lucé and Nitray. For more information on our itineraries, and the rest of our collection of luxury hotel barge cruises, why not order a free copy of our brochure or speak to a member of our team directly using our handy Contact Form.
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