5 Amazing Chateaux in the Loire Valley
Are you planning a visit to the Loire Valley in France? Are you interested in seeing some of the famous and amazing chateaux that are there? Are you going to Paris and looking for an easy, fun and beautiful side trip for a few days? Do you love castles? Do you love architecture and history? What about the Renaissance?
If any of the above are true, then read on my friend!
Let me start by saying this: I love castles, chateaux, and architecture. Ok good, I got that out of the way first. And it’s true! I suspect you love them as well. Aren’t they just incredibly awesome? I could spend years exploring places like the Loire Valley - there’s just so much incredible beauty at every turn!
There are also a LOT of chateaux in the Loire Valley - something like 50 of them, which blew me away. I had no idea there was so much awesomeness in the area. Sadly this is not a comprehensive list of all of them. Sure wish it was, because that would mean that I had been to them all!
Maybe someday I will get back there and explore more of the area, and add more to this list. But for now, let me focus in on the 5 chateaux that I did visit and photograph. And quite obviously, I highly recommend all of them. They were just great. I think you will enjoy them too!
Amboise is a great base...
And by the way, when I was there I stayed in the town of Amboise, which provided a great central location with easy access to these places (and of course, one of the chateaux is in Amboise). I also spent about 5 days there, but you can do these 5 chateaux in much less time than that. If you are really focused and moving fast, you could see these 5 chateaux in about 2 days. But, I would not recommend that, because moving that fast here would be a crime. It’s too beautiful to hurry through!
By the way, the town of Amboise is both beautiful and charming. Here's some proof:
Also, I definitely recommend having a car to get around from one place to the next. While there are trains you can catch from town to town, most of these chateaux are generally outside of the nearest town (these are effectively country estates for the wealthy), so you would still need transport from any train station. I saw several tourist buses out and about, so that’s an option, but I’m not much of an organized tour sort of guy, so for me a car was the way to go. That way I can control my coming and going, and stop wherever and whenever I want. Plus, I have a habit of wanting to take a lot of pictures, and being on a group tour surrounded by people would drive me crazy!
Here’s the list:
Chambord: this is the grand-daddy of them all! It’s huge!
Chenonceau: wow, such beauty!
Amboise: a great little town and a beautiful chateau too!
Cheverny: classic architecture, awesome hunting dogs, and a museum dedicated to TinTin!
Chaumont-sur-Loire: perched high on a hill overlooking the River Loire!
So without further delay, let’s start on the list, shall we? I will go over these in the order they are listed above, but to be clear this is not a ranking. They are all awesome, and vastly different from one another. If pushed to pick a favorite, I would probably go with Chenonceau. But I loved all these, and hopefully the photos inspire you to go visit the area! You can thank me later!
How to begin...how to begin? Ok, how about this: Chambord is probably the most famous Chateau in the Loire Valley, and probably the one that most people have heard of or seen photos of. It’s HUGE (the largest in the Loire Valley), and beautiful. And luckily for photographers, there is that awesome lagoon in front of it, so you can get some nice reflections.
The inside of the chateaux, however, is relatively bare. There are a few rooms with some furniture in them, but it’s pretty sparse. However, you still need to go inside for two reasons: you have to see the double-helix staircase (supposedly designed by Leonardo da Vinci - and it’s badass), and you really should go to the roof and have a look around. Quite a view from up there!
This was primarily a hunting lodge though, and was never actually finished, which probably accounts for the relatively lacking interior. Still though, it’s well worth a visit if just for gazing at that fabulous facade reflected in the lagoon.
If Chambord gets the vote for largest and most famous, I would give Chenonceau the vote for most beautiful all-around. It arches gracefully over the River Cher and is surrounded by lovely gardens and forest. It’s just pure beauty. I can’t say anything more than that. It’s incredible. It’s awesome. I was awe-struck, seriously. Ok, I guess I can say more than pure beauty. You really, really need to go see this place though.
And as if it wants to distinguish itself from empty-chambered Chambord, the interior rooms are all nicely maintained with the original decorations and furnishings. It’s also much smaller and feels less overwhelming. It’s a photographer’s dream. Go there.
I particularly enjoyed going to the second floor and standing on that balcony, which gives a great view. The section of the chateau which stretches over the river is also a long hallway on the inside and there are windows looking out over the river from the hallway.
As I mentioned above, Amboise is the name of the little town we stayed in, and there also happens to be a fabulous chateau there atop the town’s hill, with a commanding view of the area (and looking over the River Loire). This chateau also had nicely decorated rooms, and in particular I was lovin’ the tomb of Leonardo da Vinci. Yep, he’s buried there. And as you might expect for someone like him, this ain’t just any old tomb. It’s pretty awesome.
One thing I loved about this place was the ability to get outside, sorta on top and take a sweeping view out over the town and river. It’s quite beautiful, but I guess you are hearing that a lot in this article, aren’t ya?
The architecture here at Cheverny is less “castle-ish” and more “wealthy French country manor house”. That’s ok with me of course, but I am just trying to distinguish these places a bit. This one is interesting for a few reasons: the family that owns it still lives there (though you can tour portions of the home, and I did); they maintain a pack of hunting dogs which live on the grounds and you can visit them; and this chateau was used as a model in the TinTin comics of old. There is actually a small TinTin Museum onsite, which is fun to go through, especially if you have a kid that likes TinTin comics like I do.
It’s very beautiful, with a wide, sweeping yard leading up to the front entrance, as you can see in the photo. The grounds are extensive and well-maintained, but my favorite part was that there is a tiny little town just outside the estate that seems to have sprung up solely for the purpose of making it look like a fairy-tale village. And it really does.
Finally we get to Chaumont. This one most resembles a castle to me, what with the rounded turret sort of things at either side of the entrance. And, it seems a little rougher around the edges than say Chenonceau. Nonetheless, I found it quite stunning (but hey, I freely admit that I love castles!).
The interior has some great rooms and there is a really interesting kitchen down below, which requires a descent down some stairs but I found it interesting. But then again, I dig exploring random stuff like that.
There is also a small village sort of thing surrounding this place and it’s quite beautiful (photo below). But I also loved the extensive gardens which host an international festival each year, which happened to be there when we visited. Got lucky on that bit.
Well, that’s it for now. I sincerely hope I can return to the Loire Valley and see more of these. You could take a lifetime seeing it all of course, but that would sure be fun, wouldn’t it?
I hope this helps you in your travel and photography planning. The entire area is great to visit and I really enjoyed it. I hope this list inspires you to get out there and check it out. Just be sure you bring extra memory cards!
Thanks for stopping by! Feel free to leave comments! And I will be adding additional photos when I can find the time to process them (so that means check back in here later)!