With its rolling hills, sweeping vineyards and charming towns, Loire Valley, France is straight out of a storybook—and no fairytale is complete without a castle. With over a dozen impressive chateaus scattered throughout the region, it’s easy to see why castle hopping is one of the main reasons to visit the area which is just a short jaunt from Paris. From exquisite gardens to grand architecture and one that you can even canoe under, here are some of the best Loire Valley castles.
Chateau de Chambord
Dramatic, spectacular, grandiose, unforgettable. These are just a few of the ways to describe Chateau de Chambord, a larger-than-life castle found in the French countryside. It paints an imposing picture from all directions: a seemingly endless pathway dotted with hedges leads up to the grand front entrance, while the back is framed by perfectly-manicured gardens and a reflective pool.
The castle is even more spectacular up close, where a pair of huge winding staircases lead to the top floors where visitors can wander through palatial rooms with high vaulted ceilings, and out onto the terrace to admire the exquisite architecture up close and enjoy a panoramic view of the entire estate. It’s easy to see why Chateau de Chambord is considered one of the best castles in Loire Valley.
Once the visit is wrapped up, be sure to head to the nearby Biscuiterie de Chambord shop to nibble on some of their famous cookies and sip Chambord liqueur. If there’s one place in the world to sample the sweet drink, it’s the place it was named after!
Chateau de Villandry
Green thumbs won’t want to miss Chateau de Villandry and its jaw-dropping ornamental gardens. Built in the 1500s, the castle itself is photo-worthy thanks to its sculpted windows, steep slate roof and fabulous, unobstructed views of the surrounding Loire Valley. However, the real highlight of a visit is wandering through the meticulously-kept, sprawling gardens.
There are six in total, including a maze, herb garden, water garden, and a vegetable garden planted in geometric patterns. The crown-jewel is undoubtedly the Ornamental Garden, which is best seen from the roof of the chateau to properly appreciate its artful design. Created with a ‘love’ theme, there are four squares symbolizing tender, passionate, flighty and tragic love, complete with hedges in the shape of hearts and butterfly wings.
Chateau de Chaumont
Another great pick for green thumbs is Chateau de Chaumont, a cute medieval castle complete with round towers and a drawbridge. Surrounded by ever-changing flowers and foliage, the Gothic-Renaissance style chateau is best known for its annual International Garden Festival of Chaumont, which sees more than two dozen show gardens erected on the grounds. Winners are picked through a worldwide competition, and the gardeners create a unique landscape using a dizzying assortment of blooms which tie into a certain theme.
Chateau de Chaumont is open year-round, while the garden displays are in place from mid-April to early November.
Château de Chenonceau
Not many people can say that they’ve canoed under a castle, which is why a visit to Château de Chenonceau is a must-do on any Loire Valley itinerary. Masterfully built right over the water, the best way to truly appreciate the grandeur of its reflection is from below.
Rent a boat from an outfitter like Canoe Company, then take a quick paddle down the Cher river to enjoy the best views from both sides. Bring along a picnic to dig into as you bob in front of the castle, and uncork a bottle of wine for a truly memorable experience that’s sure to make the tourists standing on the shore envious!
Chateau de Blois
Found in the attractive town of Blois, Chateau de Blois is an imposing fixture nestled into a steep hillside in the centre. Its perch makes it look more like a stately home versus one of the Loire castles from the outside, but once you’ve passed through the grand gateway into the courtyard it’s easy to see why the chateau was a favourite residence of many French royals. Dating back to the 10th century, it has medieval, Renaissance and Gothic influences, and visitors are particularly wowed by its majestic spiral staircase.
Once your tour of the chateau is finished, Blois itself is well worth exploring. Wander through its narrow, winding cobblestone streets lined with shops, sip a glass of wine in a sun-soaked plaza, or wander across the bridge to enjoy a gorgeous reflection of the city skyline against the Loire river.
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