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Touring in the Loire Valley of France - The 10 Best Chateaux To Visit

Aug 17, 2007
The Loire Valley is a splendid region awarded world heritage listing because of its amazing chateaux.

The kings and queens of France, seduced by the mild climate and the game-filled oak forests built their sumptuous homes here in the Loire Valley. They surrounded themselves with the greatest artists and architects of this era. This is the country of a thousand castles.

The valley is full of not only royal chateaux and renaissance palaces, national museum and large magnificent chateaux, but also medieval castles and fortresses, small fairy tale manors, private chateaux, medieval cities, churches, abbeys, and cathedrals. Many chateaux and stately homes are open to the public: some are state owned, such as Chambord and Blois; others are private, and still lived in. A huge proportion of them run son-et-lumiere spectacles during the high season. Chateau de Chenonceau and Chateau de Chambord are definitely worth a visit and are close to Blois.

Chateau de Chenonceau
Le Chateau des Dames built on a bridge across the river Cher is one of the more beautiful chateaux of the Loire with elegant turrets, arches and stately avenues bordered by plane trees. It's romantic feel is further heightened by the fact that its stylised and symmetrical structure is reflected in the waters of the Cher.

Chenonceau owes much of its design and beauty to four women in particular. It was Catherine de Briconnet who first started the trend and was largely responsible for its early Renaissance style. Catherine then passed the baton to Diane de Poiters (mistress of Henri II) who was responsible for the formal gardens to the left of the chateau as you approach it.

Unfortunately Diane de Poitiers was forced to relinquish ownership of Chenonceau to Catherine de Medici (the embittered wife of Henri II) who offered Chateau de Chaumont in exchange. Not entirely a fair swap! Later the chateau was inherited by Louise de Lorraine, the bereaved wife of Henri III Catherine's favourite son. Louise painted her bedroom ceiling black and white out of respect for her late husband.

Madame Dupin also had a pivotal role in the development of Chenonceau in the 18th century and was responsible for encouraging literary events to be held here. The likes of Rousseau, Voltaire and Montesquieu all spending time here. Today Chenonceau is a profitable business owned by the Menier family who are known as respected chocolatiers.

Chateau de Chenonceaux: Chateau de Chenonceau, 30 minutes from Blois, Chenonceau, 37150 Tel: +33 (0)2 47 23 90 07 Open: Closed 25th Dec & 1st Jan, 1st May

Chateau du Chaumont
Chateau du Chaumont is located on the southern bank of the Loire River about twenty minutes west of Blois. It was the first chateau at Chaumont-sur-Loire, Loir-et-Cher, France. Originating in the 11th century, it was built by Eudes II, Count of Blois.

In 1560, the chateau became the property of Catherine de' Medici who entertained numerous astrologers there, including Nostradamus. On the death of her husband, King Henry II, Catherine used her power to take over the much coveted Chateau de Chenonceau from her husband's mistress, Diane de Poitiers. As certain legalities had to be met, Diane was forced to accept the Chateau de Chaumont as payment for her beloved Chenonceau. Diane de Poitiers lived at Chaumont for only a short time when the castle was sold.

The chateau holds an international garden event covering a different theme each year from April to October.

Chateau du Clos Luce
Chateau du Clos Luce is where Leonard de Vinci spent the last fewyears of his life. You can visit his study, salons, kitchen and bedrooms, the chapel and see frescoes painted by his pupils. His paintings and drawings are set out in the park of the chateau with giant models of the most spectacular machines he invented with voice-overs of Leonardo da Vinci and his disciple Melzi.

Le Chateau du Clos Luce: 30 minutes from us, at demeure de Leonard de Vinci,Amboise 37400 Tel: +33(0)2 47 57 00 73 Open: daily except 25 December to 1st January

Chateau de Beauregard
Chateau de Beauregard was mostly built at the same time as Chateau de Cheverny as a hunting lodge for Francois I. It is famous for its Galerie des Portraits which comprises over 327 portraits of Kings and their lovers plus famous dignitaries from 14th to 17th centuries. Take note of the unique flooring that is covered in 17th century porcelain tiles.

Chateau de Beauregard: 6 kilometres south of Blois, Cellettes, 41120 Tel: +33 (0)2 54 70 36 74 Open: Closed Wed in winter months and entirely for the month of January

Chateau de Villandry
Villandry was one of the last of the very big chateaux built around 1536 in the Loire valley during the renaissance. It houses some interesting and very valuable antiques and furnishings but it is probably best known for its Italian Renaissance garden created by Doctor Carvallo. As well as being very ornate and decorative, the gardens produce fruit, vegetables and herbs which are sold locally to raise funds for the maintenance of the chateau.

Chateau de Cheverney
Chateau de Cheverny is undoubtedly the most lavishly furnished of all the Loire Chateaux. Built between 1604 and 1634 little has changed. Its present owner is a direct descendant of the original owner and his 70 hounds or so are still used for regular stag hunting.

Some of the chateau's masterpieces include paintings by old masters, tapestries from Paris and Holland plus Louis XIV's commode and unforgettable grandfather clock. The 1640s interior decoration, consisting of panelling, painted ceilings, and fireplaces, and paintings by Jean Monnier, is among the finest of its kind.

There are two interesting facts pertaining to Cheverny. Firstly, serious Tintin fans will note that Herge based the mythical Moulinsart on Cheverny. If this appeals, check out the Tintin exhibition situated directly opposite the chateau. Secondly, the 18th century Orangerie served as a hiding place for the Mona Lisa during world war 2. From here, you'll be able to take in the majesty of the park and its canals which are open to the public from April to November.

Chateau de Cheverny: 16 kilometres south-east of Blois, Cheverny, 41700 Tel: +33 (0)2 54 79 96 29 Open: Open daily

Chateau Azay le Rideau
The Azay le Rideau Castle, one of the purest creation of the Renaissance, was built on an island of the Indre River, an ideal setting for an architectural jewel. The son-et-lumiere shows held in the park during the summer tell some of the history of the Chateau and are not to be missed if you are there at the right time.

Chateau de Chambord
Chambord is truly royal in its great scale, its grand air, its indifference to common consideration (Henry James). It combined the dream of King Francois I with the imagination of Leonardo de Vinci. The result is a real mathematisation of architecture, a grandiose creation : 440 rooms with 365 fireplaces, a fabulous double staircase, and a unique roof terrace

Chateau de Chambord: 15 minutes south east of Blois, Domaine national de Chambord, Chambord, Tel: +33 (0)2 54 5040 00 Open: Closed on 25th Dec, 1st Jan and 1st May

Chateau Blois
Chateau Blois is almost like 4 separate chateaux rolled into one - so diverse are the architectural styles at play here. The Medieval heart is centred around the Salle des Etats Generaux which is where the court and council were based. Flamboyant Gothic flair is evident in the Louis XII wing whereas Renaissance architecture is the dominant style in the Francois 1 wing.

It is in the Francois 1 wing that you'll find Catherine de Medici's private rooms complete with array of poisons. This was also the spot where the Duc de Guise was brutally murdered in 1588 after he was thought to be planning a Catholic uprising against Henri III. Apparently, it was Henri who carried out the deed himself only to be killed himself a year later by a monk.

Lastly, the Gaston d'Orleans wing will satisfy any cravings for Classical architecture. Evenings are a particularly good time to visit Blois especially if you book to see the 'son et lumiere' spectacles that recount the chateau's turbulent past.

Chateau de Blois: Place du Chateau, Blois, 41000 Tel: +33 (0)2 54 90 33 33 Open: Closed on 25th Dec and 1st Jan
About the Author
Corina Clemence operates a luxury chateau in the Loire Valley, for up to 15 people ideal for a romantic French wedding and for visiting vineyards, historic chateaux and unwinding. Hire french chateau. Hire french chateau http://www.loirechateau.com Rent castle France
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