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Which Loire Valley Historic Chateaux Should You Visit on a Family Vacation

Aug 17, 2007
The Loire Valley is a spectacular destination for a family holiday. There are many historical chateaux to visit, so many that it can be difficult to decide on which ones to visit before it becomes too much for the children to bare. Each of the Loire Valley chateaux listed below have their own special attraction.

We would highly recommend Chateau Close Luc and its gorgeous park and working models of over forty of Leonardo Da Vinci's amazing inventions. Chateau Chaumont is worth a visit in the summer months for the garden festival alone. Many of the gardens are highly interactive and highly sensory designed to capture the imaginations of children and adults

Chateau Chateau Chenonceau is classically breathtaking and a must see. There is a maize for children to get lost in for a little while. Chateau Cheverney has spectacular furniture and a working pack of hounds. Chateau Chambord is the largest of the Loire Valley chateau and you can hire bicycles or pedal boats to make it more child appealing.

Chateau Blois is interesting architecturally because it is like 4 chateaux rolled into one. It has the added benefit of being located opposite the Maison de la Magie which is a magic museum in honour of Robert Houdin who was Houdini's inspiration. Children delight at the exhibits and simulations and the magic show is very impressive.

Chateau Amboise (minimum visit 1.5 hours)
Hours- 9:00-6:30 Cost- $7.00 includes an English pamphlet
The chateau towers over the town and offers a mix of architectural styles including 16th century gothic and 17th century classical. Six Kings of France lived here including Francois the 1st, who had an underground tunnel built to the home of Leonardo da Vinci, located nearby. Using this passage they could visit each other without mingling with commoners. In the 15th century this castle was 4 times its current size, but it has been reduced by neglect and war.

It is worth combining a trip to Chateau Amboise with a visit to Chateau Clos Luce as they are nearby.

Chateau Azay-le-Rideau (minimum visit 1.5 hours)
Hours- 9:30-6:00 Cost- $6.00 for entrance and $4.00 for an audio guide
This chateau is less grand in size than many of the others listed here , but is all the more beautiful for it. Built in 1515, this is a fine example of early Renaissance. In summer there are often evening light shows at the chateau. It is best to visit this chateau late in the afternoon in summer so you can enjoy the son et lumiere show in the evening.

Chateau Blois (minimum visit 2-3 hours)
Hours- 9:00-6:00 Cost- $6.00 includes an English pamphlet . You can book a free guided tour even available in English.
This chateau dominates the town of Blois and was the home of royalty for over 400 years, including Charles the VIII and Francois I. Parts of the building, composed of 4 wings each of a different architectural style joined by a large central courtyard, date back to the 10th century.

Interiors include luxurious period design and floors stamped with fleur-de-lis motifs. One of the highlights is a Renaissance exterior spiral staircase designed by Leonardo da Vinci. In summer they have a son et lumiere show at night and on Wednesdays it is in English.

Chateau Chambord (minimum visit 2.5 hours)
Hours- 9:00-5:45 Cost- $7.00 for entrance and $4.00 for an audio guide
Chambord was commissioned by the young (then 25) King Francois in 1519 to help establish his power. The building we see today was not completed until 1685, and by far it is the largest chateau in the Loire. The style is a combination of traditional French and Renaissance Italian with a variety of towers and turrets.

The facade alone is 470 feet wide and over 168 feet high (18 stories), with 440 rooms and 365 chimneys. The highlight inside the chateau is the double helix staircase which serves as the axis for the entire building, and is thought to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci.

Originally built as a meeting place for hunting and later used for royal celebrations, today it is surrounded by a 19 mile wall that encloses the largest forest park in Europe. During its 500 year history, it was only used as a residence for 20 of those years. If you have time to spare, you can rent bikes or boats to explore the park. There is a 2 hour evening light and sound show at dusk on weekends from mid-April to June and September, and nightly in July and August.

Chateau Chaumont (minimum visit 1 hour and another 2 hours for the garden festival)
Hours- 9:30-5:30, plan on 1 hour for your visit
Cost- $6.00 includes an English pamphlet
Located between Amboise and Blois, this chateau is set high above the Loire and commands lovely views. Its placement was for strategic reasons, since it was built as a fortress stronghold in 1465. Later it became a home for royalty and then the merely rich. The most famous resident was Diane de Poitiers, the former mistress of King Henri II who lived in exile here, after Catherine de Medici demanded Chateau Chenonceau when King Henri II.

Today the interiors represent the lavishness of the rich people living here until the 1930's when the stock market crash caused the last owner to sell the property to the government. Of particular interest are the elaborate horse stables.

Chenonceau (minimum visit 2.5 hours)
Hours- 9:00-7:00 Cost- $8.00 includes an English pamphlet
This chateau is one of the most striking of the Loire Valley chateaux. It was built for Diane de Poitiers, the mistress of King Henri II. In 1559 when the King died his wife, Catherine de Medici, forced Diane into exile (to the smaller chateau of Chaumont). After Catherine moved in she had the beautiful gallery added, which is 180 feet long, 18 feet wide, with 18 windows and set on arches over the Cher River. It was originally used as a ballroom, and in WWI it became a hospital and the wounded soldiers used to fish out the windows. During WWII it was a means of escape as the chateau sat in occupied territory but the door at the end of the gallery opened to the Free Zone.

The kitchen is very popular with children. Today the gallery holds art exhibits. Also worth a note are the Marques Tower, the two formal gardens (each named for the two ladies who ruled the house), the 16th century working farm and the flower shop.

Cheverny (minimum visit 1.5 hours)
Hours- 9:15-6:45 Cost- $6.00, includes English pamphlet
This chateau was built in 1634 and has been owned and occupied by the same family ever since. Today family members occupy the third floor. This chateau has the best furniture of the Loire Valley Chateaux open to the public because the family that owned Cheverny was very popular with the local villagers and as a result the chateau was not stripped of it's treasures during the French Revolution.

The current interior is the most lavish and complete in the Loire. This chateau was built as a hunting palace and today hunts still take place on the grounds. You can visit the 70 hounds in their kennel, or watch the daily feed at 5:00 PM. The trophy room proudly displays the antlers from more than 2000 animals.

Usse (minimum 1.5 hours)
Hours- 9:00-6:30 Cost- $8.00 includes English pamphlet
This fairytale castle with lots of turrets was the inspiration for the castle in Sleeping Beauty. Construction began in 1455 on the foundation of an 11th century castle, and subsequent remodels took place in the 16th and 17th centuries. The chateau has been owned by the Blacas family since the 18th century and the family still occupies one of the wings. The grounds include several centuries old trees and a cedar that was given to the family in 1808.

There is a chapel from 1528 with a sparkling white interior made from local stones, and a garage with antique vehicles and a wicker carriage. The castle interior is filled with 18th century antiques. Finally you can climb the round tower to see wax figures depicting characters in Sleeping Beauty. If you are traveling with young children they will probably love the fairy tale scenes in the round tower depicted by wax mannequins.

Villandry (minimum 1 hour for each of chateau and 1 hour for the garden)
Hours- 9:00-7:30
Cost- $7.50 for chateau and gardens, $5.00 for only gardens
This privately owned chateau was built in the 16th century on the former site of a 12th century castle. Today the tower of the original castle still remains.

The chateau is most famous for its wonderful gardens, and is considered a must see for gardeners. There are 3 different gardens in all: a Louis the XIV style vegetable garden, an ornamental mosaic flower garden, and a water garden with pools and waterfalls. Many people skip the interior of the chateau and come for the gardens alone. There is a slide show that features photographs of the gardens during all four seasons.

Beware because most chateaux have shorter hours in off season and may even be closed for lunch during that time. Conversely in late July and August there are usually extended hours.
About the Author
Rent Chateau du Guerinet an exclusive luxury chateau for up to 15 people ideally located to visit these chateaux. http://www.loirechateau.com Rent a castle in France - Rent a french chateau
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