France’s Top 10 Châteaux in Loire Valley

Joyeuse fête nationale! Today France celebrates 14th July Bastille Day – the storming of the prison during the French Revolution. The Monarchy may be no more but French glory and history still lives on… in their most sublime and breathtaking châteaux. Frog took me to the Loire Valley to visit the famous châteaux and it was my most memorable trip of France. Enjoy my top 10 châteaux to visit in the Vallee de la Loire!

1. CHATEAU DE CHENONCEAU:

My absolute favorite château in the whole of France because of its beauty and history. Having read the biographies of Catherine de Medici and Diane de Poitiers, this château is nicknamed the “Château des Dames” because King Henry II gave this castle to his mistress Diane de Poitiers, but when he died, his wife, the Queen Catherine de Medici threw out Diane and installed herself there. Everywhere you’ll see the symbols HDC, originally it was H and D entwined and after the King’s death Catherine added her initial C. A must visit!

2. CHATEAU DE CHAMBORD:

Built as a hunting lodge for François I, Château de Chambord is one of the finest examples of the Renaissance architecture in France. It took over 30 years to build during the 16th century. To me, it’s one of the most extravagant châteaux with elaborate rooftop of 800 sculpted columns and over 440 rooms and 85 staircases, making it the largest château in the Loire Valley.



3. CHATEAU D’AZAY-LE-RIDEAU:

Built in the reign of King Francois I (where architecture and arts truly flourished during this Renaissance period), Chateau Azay-le-Rideau is a small and charmingly romantic castle with Italian style architecture. It is hard to believe that it was a defensive fortress in times past because of its beauty.

4. CHATEAU DE CHAUMONT:

Built on the 10th century remnants of a fortress built to protect Blois, the Chateau de Chaumont was built in the years between 1465 and 1510 by Charles I and Charles II d’Amboise. The Château de Chaumont was purchased by Catherine de Medici a year after Henry II’s death. There she entertained numerous astrologers, among them Nostradamus. In 1559 she forced Diane de Poitiers to exchange the Château de Chenonceau for the Château de Chaumont.

5. CHATEAU D’USSE

The Chateau d’Ussé is where Charles Perrault the author of Sleeping Beauty (La Belle au Bois Dormant) was inspired to use this castle as Sleeping Beauty’s castle and later on in Disney- and it’s beautiful. Located on the edge of the Chinon Forest overlooking the Indre River, the chateau sits atop the bank along the river and has terraced gardens.

6. CHATEAU DE VILLANDRY

For those who have a passion for gardens, then Chateau de Villandry is for you as it has the most spectacular gardens! Completed in 1536, the chateau was built in a Renaissance style by Jean le Breton, one of François I’s Finance Ministers. Frog and I had a lovely stroll in the gardens.

7. CHATEAU DE BLOIS:

The Château de Blois sits right at the Blois’ city center. The wings and buildings were built between the 13th and 17th century and they surround a lovely central courtyard. The François I wing houses the chateau’s most famous feature – a spiral staircase. The chateau was the location where the Archbishop of Reims blessed Joan of Arc before her march on Orleans in 1429 and has also served as the residence of many French kings.

8. CHATEAU DE CHEVERNY

Chateau de Cheverny was built the chateau between 1624 and 1630 by Philippe Hurault. Renowned for its exquisite interior which was renovated in 1768, the chateau holds a large collection of tapestries, furniture and artwork.

9. CLOS LUCE

Not exactly a castle,  but Clos Luce mansion is connected by an underground tunnel to the castle in Amboise and is where Leonardo Da Vinci lived and worked during the last years of his life. He died in 1519 in his upstairs bedroom. Leonardo was brought to Amboise by King François I who resided in the nearby castle. Here you can walk through Da Vinci’s crazy early inventions recreated by engineers according to his drawings located in the garden and his basement.

10. CHATEAU D’AMBOISE

Dating back to the 11th century, this was taken by the French King Charles VII in the mid-15th century and became a royal palace. François I based his court here and he invited Leonardo da Vinci to move to Amboise (Clos Luce above).

As you can see we walked miles through castles and immense gardens but it was so worth it. Another great way to view the chateaux is late afternoon take a hot air balloon ride (known as montgolfiere in French) over the Loire Valley. Breathtakingly stunning!

PZ.

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50 thoughts on “France’s Top 10 Châteaux in Loire Valley

  1. Please, I will stay 2 nights in the loire valley with my husband and I am thinking in stay one night in amboise and 1 in chinon. What do you think?
    I would like to see castles ans some charming towns….tks

  2. Hi Cristiana, 2 nights is a bit short in my opinion for the loire valley as you will miss out on so many amazing chateaux. I stayed in amboise as it’s an easy location to get around by car to see the chateaux, from here we drove everywhere. Buy Michelin guide to Loire Valley and you will see from the map a good place to stay and then plan strategically which castles to see and in which order. The last thing you want to do is back track to another castle. Be sure to see my top 3 or 4 at least! Enjoy!

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  5. Bonjour Frog&Princess,
    First off, I think your blog is an ode to romance & beauty.
    I am actually a Filipina-Canadian “Princess” living in Angers (since 2006) awaiting the return of her “Frog Prince”, long, sad story but hopefully one that ends Happily Ever After.
    Bref, sorry to detract. I have to ask you about the photos on your blog. DId you take pictures of postcards?!!! They’re too perfect, lol.
    Thanks in advance,

    Maria

  6. Dear Maria, thank you for your lovely heartfelt message. I hope your frog prince returns soon. No the photos are not postcards! :) all the best, PZ

  7. Many thanks for posting this. I am planning a trip to France from the UK and this info is very helpful.

  8. very cool to see your picks for top 10 châteaux in the loire valley. i planned our april trip and all 10 of these made the itinerary. we want to see them all, but only have 3 days in the area before amsterdam. i hope 3 days is long enough to see them all…sunrise to sundown, baby! we are ever more excited for our trip now! santé!

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  10. Hi! We are going to visit the Loire valley from Paris, do you know if it is possible to stay at any of the castles listed above? Thanks, Lance

  11. Hello Lance,
    Chateau les Ormeaux is a nice hotel (inside a 19th century castle), but if you are looking for a true, authentic château experience, actually being welcomed by the owners themselves, whose family have lived in their château for more than 600 years, (and yet have redecorated their château with totally elegant designer fabrics), go to
    http://www.chateaudelabarre.com , number one on TripAdvisor for the Pays de Loire Region and rated “France’s Best Château -Chambres d’Hôtes- by a stretch” in the Sunday Times.
    Comte & Comtesse de Vanssay, 20th generation, will also help you with your sightseeing plan and maps, so that you really get to see all the wonders of their region, not just the famous 10 châteaux, but also the picturesque little Loir valley with romanesque chapels, Renaissance Manors, wineries, farmers markets and untouched countryside.
    And the medieval Plantagenêt city of Le Mans, stageset to numerous films and birthplace to Henri II of England

  12. Chateau des Ormeaux is indeed a nice hotel in a small 19th century castle, but you can also actually stay as a guest in authentic châteaux still owned by the same family for more than 600 years, and full of family heirlooms, portraits, precious XVIIIth century antiques and vibrant designer fabrics throughout. You will also be welcomed by the owners themselves who will help you discover the many treasures of their region, famous and hidden, and provide you with all the sightseeing maps and details.
    http://www.chateaudelabarre.com is number 1 on Tripadvisor for Pays de Loire, and has also been reviewed “France’s best château -chambres d’hôtes- by a stretch” in the Sunday Times

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  14. Thanks so much for these pictures and information.. I was doing a school project on this region and now my family is considering traveling here!
    Great pictures ~

  15. This will be a really interesting trip for you Matilda, how many days will you have to spend? There is really so much to see, from the famous châteaux to small XIth century romanesque chapels, bucolic countryside, the medieval city of Le Mans, home to the Plantagenet Kings of England (yes, England!). The new edition of National Geographic France just published in October has some good tips, pages 184 to 188.

  16. Thanks for sharing and taking the time to put up this site. It’s charming. Which company did you use for the hot air balloons?Can you reply to review anon@me.com as I am sure you you would steer me in the right direction! Thanks in advance…

  17. I stumbled on your blog doing research for a short trip to the Loire Valley. Great help! Wow! I am a Canadian but was born in Ipoh, Malaysia. I returned and lived in Shah Alam for a while during my quarter-life crisis. While there, I came to the realisation that I could not live without my French “Frog”. We are now married and living in Marseille with our two year old daughter. Elle n’est pas belle la vie?!!

  18. Help! Love your blog! We will be coming to France in late July 2013 with our 10 year old son. Coming from Paris, we only have 1-2 days in Loire before we have to train to London. We really want to see Chencenou, Chambord and possibly Villandry if we can fit it in. Due to our short time we need a convenient place to stay (easy in and out by train) yet I would like a nice place like Tortiere? So confused where to stay: Ambois, Blois, Tours? Maybe train from Paris to Blois, see Chambord driving south to Chencenou overnight at Tortiere see Villandry and train to London next day?

  19. Blois is probably the best option as the most famous chateaux are nearby: Azay le Rideau, Chambord, Chenonceau and Usse. Have a good trip!

  20. If you are visiting late July with your 10 year old son, then I would suggest you rent a car in Paris, and drive to Blois. (it is harder to visit all this by train, you would have to have a chauffeur, which would up the cost. However, if you don’t have the choice, then contact the company Quart de Tours.
    Visit Chambord (quickly, mainly for the roof tops and staircase designed by Leonard da Vinci), then go on to Cheverny (be there at 3 pm for the feeding of the hounds), and don’t miss the “Tintin museum”. If your son has seen the Spielberg movie, he will love this. If you are in Blois then on a Wednesday, go to the sound and light show in Blois castle, it is in English on Wednesdays.
    Drive on to Amboise overnight at Les Minimes and visit Chenonceau (and the maze gardens), followed by Leonardo da Vinci’s home (you can enjoy a Renaissance lunch there served in costumes), then visit Amboise Palace, mainly the underground passages at 5 pm.
    I don’t think Villandry will interest your son that much, but Ussé might (sleeping beauty’s castle).
    Tortinière is a nice hotel. Les Minimes might be better, as it is in the middle of Amboise. If you really want a chateau experience, then you might come to http://www.chateaudelabarre.com, which has been in our family for more than 600 years, from father to son, so more than a luxury accommodation, our chateau offers an elegant experience of French aristocratic life today.
    The medieval Plantagenet city near us is also well worth a visit, as it is the stage set to most historic films, the Man in the Iron Mask, the three Muskateers etc

  21. I had a brilliant time based at Langeais which has the bonus of a bridge over the Loire enabling easy access to the chateaus at Villandry, Usse, Azay-Le-Rideau, Chinon and Villandry. We stayed at the internationally acclaimed Le Clos Rabelais B&B (www.langeais.co.uk), featured on TV here in Australia. A brilliant host with a great sense of humour and a huge help in telling us the best places to visit.

  22. I LOVE your photos! Absolutely beautiful. I am now inspired to visit this region. Top off the evening with a hot air balloon ride is simply the best! Was it easy to navigate from one castle to the next by car?

  23. Thanks for posting these photos and the great rundown of each castle! My boyfriend and I are heading over to Tour tomorrow to hit up some of your mentioned spots. Beautiful pics!!

  24. Thank you so much for this beautiful lay out of the chateaus. So many fond memories of picnics and lazy days when my husband and I were younger….We visited these grand properties. Bruno is from France and took me to the “summer homes of the kings” as a young Texan bride. The most romantic times of our 40 year marriage. We now live in Texas and still visit France often. Had the privilege to share these with our grand-daughter on her 16th birthday – love of the Loire valley has been handed down. Sincerely, donna

  25. Cher Frog & Princess, I am planning a day trip to see the chateaux with my teen daughter. What is the best way to get the most out of our day? We will be staying in Paris for 8 nights as our home base. I was thinking of taking the TGV to Tours, then book a mini bus tour of 3 castles.
    Your photos are amazing! I wish we had time to see more. I would have like to stay overnight in a castle for one night, but I thinki it would be a hastle with all of our luggage to check in/ out.
    What do you recommend?
    Thanks for your lovely blog!
    Christina

  26. Hi,

    Your pictures look fabulous. I am travelling to Paris with a family of 6. We are planning to spend 3 days in amboise and visit some Chateau and vineyards. Please advise how can we visit them in order so we dont have to reroute?

    Is there any recommendations on accomodation too?

    Cheers
    Ed

  27. Dear Edmund
    To not only see the châteaux but actually expérience authentic and elegant aristocratic life? Instead of just a hôtel, stay in a real château as guests of Count and Countess de VANSSAY , 20 th génération unbroken lineage? Check out the reviews on Tripadvisor. Visit Amboise Royal palace, Leonardo da Vinci’s Home and Chenonceau one day, dining at the gourmet Auberge Le Relais d’Antan in the beautiful town of Lavardin on the way back to Château de la Barre to magnificently appointed rooms full of precious antiques and désigner fabrics and located just a bit off the heavy tourist zone of the immediate Loire area. Skip Tours, crowded and spotty but add in the superbly restored médiéval Plantagenet City of le Mans, stageset to numerous historic films. It´s full of great Auberges at low prices too. And you will enjoy the magical light show in the late evening. As well as the many quaint villages and untouched buccolic countryside around. Then spend a third day Visiting Chambord, Chenonceau and the Town of Vendome, taking a boatride along it´s canals before returning to Château de La Barre for the “grand siècle” dinner event, hosted in their 17th century dining room with all the family silver and crystal. This way you will not just have done the crowded tourist visit of castles but actually experienced château life in Western France.

  28. My husband and I are touring the Lorie 9/11/13-9/15/l3. I am trying to make reservations for Chenonceau, Villandry, and Chambord, but not having any luck. We are staying at Chateau de Nazelles. I have asked them about reservations, but have not heard back from them. Can you help me? I am also having the same problem with the caves in the Dordogne Region.

  29. You don’t need to make pre réservations, these chateaux are open to the public and you buy your ticket on the spot. In November, they should not be crowded at all. We recommend that our guests visit Chambord and Cheverny on one day, as they are very close by, and you then see the largest followed by the most magnificently furnished Loire Chateaux. Cheverny is still privately owned, by a third cousin of my husband, actually. On another day, we usually send our guests to Villandry (even in late fall, the gardens, all geometrical and topiary, are worth visiting) and Langeais right next to Villandry. Langeais, less well known, has a splendid collection of XVth and early XVIth century tapestries. On another day, we would suggest famous Chenonceau and Leonardo da Vinci’s home, also both side by side. Then, close to us, but far from Hotel de Nazelles, the medieval Plantagenet city of Le Mans is magnificently restored and stage set to numerous historic films. As are some wineries and small gourmet Auberges and farmers’ markets and knight templars fortresses. Less touristy but very much France as it used to be. It is the little Loir valley, running parallel to the large Loire river.
    Hope this helps. We do know the region, our family has been in our château for more than 610 years!
    The caves in Dordogne are probably similar, in that you just buy your ticket on the spot.

  30. They are gorgeous, aren’t they? You forgot to mention about the spiral staircase that two people can go down or up without ever meeting each other. Some say it was designed by Leonardo da Vinci…

  31. Reblogged this on closetoeighty and commented:
    When we visited Disney World first time we were very impressed by a movie in the French pavilion. It showed a beautiful country and, in particular, many fantastic palaces. We decided to travel to France as soon as we could afford it.
    So in 1980 we bought a tour “Paris and Chateaux in Loire Valley”.
    More than 30 years passed but this fantastic trip is still in our memory.
    At that time we visited only three chateaux: de Chenoncean, de Chambord and de Blois.
    I am very happy that I discovered today this blog and can share with you history and beauty of Top 10 Chateaux in Loire Valley.

  32. Merci beaucoup, Grenouille et Princesse,
    C’etait une belle promenade dans la Vallee de la Loire surtout parce que j’ai visite presque tous ces chateaux pendant ma carriere comme prof de francais. Et maintenant j’avais besoin un peu sur l’histoire de Chenenceau et Chaumont. Je vais en Haiti pour enseigner aux 5e “graders” et eux, ils ont deja surpasse mes anciens eleves au high school au niveau d’apprentissage du francais. Merci encore. Et a un de ces jours ou je voyagerai encore dans la belle France.

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  35. Your article was perfect reference when we first went to Loire and trying to decide which Chateaux to visit. There were just too many of them.

  36. Thank you very much for your insight. I’m planning a trip from Sydney, Australia in June 2015 & you’ve brought it to life for me. I’m planning a 4 week driving holiday around France with a week stay in the Loire. Would you still recommend Amboise as the best base?
    Thanks

  37. Hi! I’m trying to plan my Europe trip at the moment and a friend sent me a link to your blog. Definitely adding the Loire Valley to my itinerary! Could you please tell me which hot air balloon company you used? I’m guessing you took the aerial shots of the châteaux during this ride in the air? Do you think it’s better to join a tour here or to just try to navigate our way around by foot and hot air balloon the rest? We’ll probably only be there for around 2 days, since we only have a week in France.

  38. The Loire Valley is the largest site ever registered in France as World Heritage site by UNESCO. The site crosses a multitude of historic towns and villages, rich with architectural heritage and ancient history. It reveals religious buildings and castles, each more sumptuous than the last, cultivated land and wild landscapes exploding with biodiversity. This ensemble, which witnessed thousands of years of interactions between man and nature, is a cultural landscape of exception. The Loire River is at the heart of this landscape. Indeed, without it, none of this would exist. The largest river in France, and the wildest, it is nicknamed “the Royal River.” The Loire Valley was chosen as a royal residence in the 15th and 16th century. Several days are needed to explore the natural and cultural heritage of these landscapes. Take the time to soak up the history, culture and landscapes, and your stay in the Loire Valley will be unforgettable …
    For more information: http://www.france-patrimoine-mondial.com/en/world-heritage-sites/cultural-landscapes/loire-valley
    Bon voyage !

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