France’s Loire Valley is famed for its chateaux — over 40 in all, ranging from large country houses to forbidding fortresses and the grandest of royal castles.
Every visitor to the area wants to see at least a few of these stunning buildings, but it can become tedious simply traipsing through one stately home after the other. Many visitors to the region are also tight for time. With that in mind, here are five of the best chateaux to visit in the Loire Valley over the course of a full day. Each one is different enough to ensure that you won’t succumb to castle-fatigue.
This self-guided itinerary assumes that you have your own car, so away we go!
Seemingly supported by its own perfect reflection as it rises out of the water, Château de Chenonceau was the 16th century home of King Henri II’s mistress — Diane de Poitiers. Both the building and its history epitomise the opulence and romance of Renaissance France.
This elegant chateau is best viewed from the river it spans — the Cher — a tributary of the Loire River. La Belandre River Cruises offers a one-hour trip that will take you right under one of Chenonceau’s five arches. Try and make the 11am cruise (there are also afternoon options if you’re changing our itinerary around).
The cruise begins and ends at the village of Chisseaux, which has ample car parking. At 9,50€ per person (at the time of writing), this cruise is one of the best value activities on offer in the region.
Unless you drive back to the chateau afterwards, you won’t get to see Chenonceau’s interior, but you’ll have had an unforgettable experience of what makes this building so special — its position over the river.
Château de Chissay is located a mere ten minutes’ drive from Chenonceau and is the perfect place to have lunch after your river cruise. Originally a medieval fortress, Chissay morphed into a fine aristocratic residence typical of the Loire region. The chateau is surrounded by gardens and woodlands and has a lovely fairytale atmosphere.
Featuring a gothic vaulted ceiling, Chissay’s restaurant is called La Table du Roy — and it does indeed offer meals fit for kings yet priced for, if not paupers, at least more ordinary citizens. From Monday to Saturday the restaurant does an excellent value two-course formule lunch, and the à la carte menu is also fairly reasonably priced. Many of the dishes are regional specialties.
Don’t miss experiencing the troglodyte restrooms! This subterranean style of architecture is found throughout the Loire Valley, where the abundance of soft tufa stone enabled the construction of well-insulated underground chambers.
Château de Chambord is the King Kong of chateaux and a must-see. This huge chateau was the brainchild of François I — the flamboyant king whose long reign defined 16th century France. Intended primarily as a royal hunting lodge, the castle also had the wider purpose of displaying the wealth and power of the French monarch to his subjects, and to Europe’s other sovereigns.
Chambord’s best features are its enormous stone fireplaces, the extraordinary double spiral staircase (which may have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci) and the roof terraces, which offer spectacular views over the castle and its gardens. After touring the building, you may want to hire a bike, boat or golf buggy to explore the vast estate grounds.
For a very different take on the phenomenon of the French chateau, visit Château Royal d’Amboise — one of the few Loire Valley chateaux to be situated within a town, rather than in a landscaped country setting. That’s because Amboise, unlike many other Loire chateaux, was a working castle rather than one designated for pleasure. It was a castle from which kings ruled, rather than a place for them to play.
This greater functionality doesn’t mean that Amboise lacks aesthetic allure — far from it! Don’t miss seeing the elegant Council Chamber or the tiny chapel, which contains the grave of Leonardo da Vinci. The castle’s elevated terraces provide fabulous panoramas of the town, river and surrounding countryside. Even better is the view from across the river. The chateau seems to perch on top of the town like a hen sitting on her eggs.
And so to bed — in your final chateau! There are grander chateau-hotels on offer, but the delightful Château de Nazelles has a unique character. This manor-house has been continuously occupied since the 16th century. Today it offers luxury B&B accommodation in a range of quirky rooms, including some troglodyte options.
The beautiful garden terraces are open to all guests and there are pleasant walks through the woods behind the property.
There you have it — five of the best chateaux to visit in the Loire Valley in one day. Bonne journée!
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best chateaux to visit in the Loire Valley? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
Roslyn Jolly is a freelance travel writer whose work has appeared in Luxury Travel, Get Up & Go, The Sunday Telegraph and The Australian. In her former career as an English Literature academic, Roslyn studied and taught the work of great travel writers, such as Henry James, Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson, and became fascinated by the history of travel and tourism. Two years at school in Wales and three years at university in England allowed Roslyn to travel extensively in Europe and North America, which she continues to do.