The beautiful Loire Valley features many exquisite châteaux. The meandering Loire River, hidden among the rolling green hills and stately forests, provides the perfect setting for these grand French Renaissance styled buildings. It’s definitely a trip back in time when visiting the Loire Valley châteaux!
Chateau de Chenonceau
The Chateau de Chenonceau, a beautifully situated and exquisitely fashioned château, spans the width of the Cher river.
Many prominent French women have resided here over the years which has resulted in it often being called the ‘Ladies Chateau’. Completed in 1576, it has also housed scholars, academics and philosophers. In more recent years, during the First World War, it has served as a military hospital .
You cannot help but be irresistibly drawn to its beauty.
Tip: We met a cleaner in the château car park who gave us the following hot tip:
Absolutely free of charge! Cross to the opposite river bank from the château entrance (you will need to cross via a nearby bridge) then walk along the river right up to and past the château. We parked the campervan off the D976 roadway and drove down a single lane road to stop here. It was worth it for these fantastic views!
Chateau de Chambord
With its French Renaissance architecture, this unfinished château (building ceased in 1547), is the largest in the Loire Valley. Sitting on about 13,500 acres, it was primarily used as a short-stay hunting lodge. At that time, with no nearby villages to supply food, the château residents hunted the animals within the forest. Would you believe that the château was actually not permanently furnished! People who stayed here needed to bring their own furniture for their stay.
During World War II, many art collections from the Louvre Museum in Paris were secretly stored here. It is also the site where an American B-24 Liberator bomber crashed with the two surviving pilots secretly housed in nearby villages. They re-joined their own forces some months later. A memorial plaque commemorates this event. You will find the plaque to the north-east of the château, just off a walkway that borders the château’s moat.
This very picturesque château was the inspiration for the tale of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ and has been associated with many other Walt Disney movies.
It has been a family home for more than two centuries and still to this day, remains the private residence of the Duke of Blacas and his family.
The French styled gardens were designed by Le Noble, who also designed the gardens for the Palace of Versaille.
The road passes right below the château and the nearby bridge gives you some spectacular views.
Chateau de Villandry
Originally a 14th century fortress, the current château was built around the fortress’ old keep. The gardens have changed continually over time. Originally Renaissance styled, the gardens were then replaced with an English theme and later returned in the early 20th century to the beautiful ornamental Renaissance gardens and hedgerows we see now.
We arrived in early spring and unfortunately did not see the gardens in full bloom. However, this was offset by the château interior which is luxuriously appointed. This decorative splendour was typical for the era.
Chateau de Azay-le-Rideau
Set on an island in the Indre River, this exquisite château was once a 12th century feudal castle. Construction of this château was both slow and complex as the river silt did not make for a very solid foundation. The building’s large stones had to be transported from a site one hundred kilometres away. Definitely a challenging enterprise!
The French State purchased the château d’Azay-le-Rideau in the early 20th century and it joined the distinguished list of Loire Valley UNESCO World Heritage sites, along with the other châteaux mentioned within this post.
We spent about three days travelling through this beautiful area but by no means did we see all the Loire Valley châteaux. We did however, capture what we thought would be the most captivating and diverse examples of these Renaissance splendours.
Are there any other châteaux that left you feeling just wonderstruck?
Being an Australian boy brought up in the country, I learnt at an early age to enjoy the freedom and beauty of nature. Leaving Australia at the age of 20, although I didn’t know it then, would be the beginning of a life of adventure. So join me here on our travels and see the world through my eyes.