The 3 most impressive castles in the Loire Valley
Château de Chinon
The distinctive small and cobbled streets of Chinon are just perfect to stroll around. Time hasn’t had much influence on this little town and its cosy squares are filled with cafes and little shops.
Spending a few hours exploring the town is a great way to unwind and relax. Still, you can’t ignore its colossal medieval castle that proudly stands on top of a rocky outcrop, overlooking the town and its nearby Vienne river.
Seen Chinon’s important strategic location, the first fortifications date quite a while back. The current stronghold on top of the steep plateau replaced those previous lighter structures and was a residence of many kings, both English and French. This way of defending a town was very common for that era and also something we noticed during our visit to the town of Sintra a few months back.
It was also at Chinon’s castle that Joan of Arc started her quest back in 1429 to liberate France from the English.
An admission of € 8.50 allows you to enter the domain. Apart from being able to enter the many renovated towers and dungeons, a lot of information is provided on Medieval times. This includes demonstrations for kids on different weapons at the time, including the destructive Juggernaut!
Consider 2-3 hours for your visit. A quicker tour would be possible, but it might be difficult to pick out the must-sees over the nice-to-sees.
Standing on top of the towers, you can tell why this was such an ideal place to build a stronghold. Its wide views over the region and the town allows a great lookout and a perfect defensive outpost.
We found the visit a very interesting and well-balanced mix of historical showcases, expositions on armour and weapons and the freedom of walking the impressive defensive walls and towers.
We never got bored for a minute and time flew by. Once you climbed one of the towers, you climbed them all. However, the views that were offered from the different wings still made it worthwhile.
Château de Chenonceau
The Chenonceau castle is probably one of the most scenic and thus, most photographed castles of the Loire Valley. After walking the long tree-lined walkway that brings you to the castle, a first glimpse of the chateau hits you with amazement. This feeling only increases as you walk closer and explore this impressive domain.
The Château de Chenonceau might not have the most thrilling spot in French history, but its origins are pretty interesting. Known as “the ladies chateau”, it is clear that mostly females have influenced the castle’s existence and its expansion.
The site initially held a much smaller castle, but when King Henry II gave the chateau to Diane of Poitiers, she expanded the castle over the Cher river. The desirable castle then passed on to Catherine de Medici, who further enhanced the castle.
A € 13.00 admission fee (or € 17.50 if you want an audio guide) allows you to enter the domain, including the chateau, its gardens and its surrounding parks (such as a labyrinth).
The inside is decorated with beautiful Renaissance furniture and the bedrooms of the ladies of the castle are probably the most admirable. The kitchens, storage rooms and supply area give some great insight into life at the cellars of the castle.
Once back outside, you can’t skip a walk along one of the parks or the gardens in front of the castle. You can even rent a rowing boat and explore the Cher river, paddling underneath the gallery of the château!
All rooms of the castle can be visited in about an hour if you want to. You will need a bit more time if you want to cover all its history though. Include an additional 1-2 hours if you want to explore all the gardens and surrounding parks of the domain.
The large gallery on top of the Cher river served as a large ball room and its splendid views of the river on both sides of the room are breathtaking. Standing on the second floor of the castle, you are rewarded with a panorama over the gardens and the surrounding domain.
The castle might become crowded and the interior might not be equally impressing as other ones, but don’t let this fool you. Its unique story and impressive outside largely make up for that!
As soon as we approached the castle through its imposing gardens, we were amazed by its beauty, its unique structure and its charming architecture. As a result, we spent more time outside the castle than inside, but didn’t mind that all!
Château de Chambord
As soon as you enter the national domain of Chambord, it is clear that everything here is either enormous in size or copious in quantity.
With about 400 rooms, more than 80 staircases and numerous towers, the castle easily makes an impression. A 13.000 acres (5000 hectares) large park surrounds the chateau and a 20 mile (31 km) long stone wall encircles the domain. If those numbers mean nothing to you, take our word that it is huge!
Built as a hunting lodge for King Francois I, this Renaissance masterpiece was built to impress. The king unfortunately only spent here little over 2 months of his life. Serving as a residence for later kings, it was Louis XIV who added several rooms to serve as apartments, making the château by far the largest one of the Loire region.
During the Second World War, the chateau served as a shelter for several art works from the Louvre, such as the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. Today, the castle has been beautifully restored and has been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
It’s not easy to summarise a visit in such an enormous domain, which means there is a lot to see! A map of the castle, fortunately, provides you with different paths to choose from, depending on your interest and available time. The “quick route” takes approximately an hour and brings you to the most impressive parts of the chateau.
Highlights are the double spiral staircase, where two people can go up or down without ever meeting, the royal apartments of king Francois I and Louis XIV and the terrace that allows a breath-taking view on the wonderful gardens. Once done with the inside, there is still a village, farms and so much more to discover that you could easily spend a day here!
After seeing all this royal extravaganza, the € 13.00 admission seems only reasonable to us.
While walking the walls offer a great view of the courtyard and the many spiral towers, it are the views on the terrace that are most striking. Especially when looking at the recently renewed historic gardens.
No doubt that the château de Chambord is one of the world’s most famous castles and we now know why. Its structure is simply magnificent and its size is hard to grasp when you haven’t seen it. Make sure you have some time when you plan a stop at the Chambord castle, you will need it!
Our top 3 castles in the Loire Valley gathered on the map:
Which castle did you visit? What did you like most?