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Which French Loire Valley Historic Castles Should You Visit on a Family Holiday

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

We would highly recommend Chateau Close Luc and its gorgeous park and working models of over 40 of Leonardo Da Vinci's amazing creations. 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 adults and children.

Chateau Chenonceau is architecturally 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 dogs. Chateau Chambord is the largest of the Loire Valley castles and you can hire bicycles or pedal boats to make it more child attractive. Chateau Blois is interesting architecturally because it is like 4 castles 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 entertaining.

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 castle 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 Chenonceau (minimum visit 2.5 hours) Hours- 9:00-7:00 Cost- $8.00 includes an English pamphlet. This castle is one of the most striking of the Loire Valley castles. 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 castle 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 sixteenth century working farm and the flower shop.

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 17th century classical and 16th century gothic. 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 war and neglect.

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

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 and feed his ego. 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 boats or bikes 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 Usse (minimum 1.5 hours) Hours- 9:00-6:30 Cost- $8.00 includes English pamphlet. This fairytale chateau with lots of turrets was the inspiration for the chateau in Sleeping Beauty. Construction began in 1455 on the foundation of an 11th century chateau, 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 travelling with young children they will probably love the fairy tale scenes in the round tower depicted by wax models.

Chateau 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 castle 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 castle was not stripped of it's treasures during the French Revolution.

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

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 River and commands spectacular 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 died.

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.

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 wonderful example of early Renaissance.

In the high season there are often evening sound and light shows at the castle. 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.

Beware because most chateaux have shorter hours in low and shoulder seasons and may even be closed for lunch during that time. Conversely in late July and August there are usually extended hours.
About the Author
Corina Clemence runs a luxury french chateau in the Loire Valley near Blois, for up to fifteen people perfect for touring vineyards and chateaux and relaxing french holidays. It is also ideal for a french wedding, party or event. Rent the whole castle or rent a suite. Rent a castle in France. Hire castle - hire chateau Rent castle http://www.loirechateau.com Rent chateau France
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