Rising turrets, lavish ballrooms, and beautifully manicured gardens, the castles of Loire Valley offer a glimpse into French high society hundreds of years ago. Kings, queens, and the bourgeois elite erected their own strongholds at this crucial frontier to express their power and affluence.
One step removed from France’s capital, Val de la Loire (Loire Valley) boasted strategic importance in the past centuries. It marks the boundary between northern and southern France and was a frontier zone during the Hundred Years War. After King Charles VII reclaimed the crown during the mid-15th century, the area was transformed into the center of French court life.
Embraced as a safe haven away from intrigues in Paris, the royal family took residence in Loire Valley. Soon, the nobility followed suit because they didn’t want or even dared to be far from the seat of power. Their presence began attracting the very best architects and landscape designers. And in the following centuries, more than 300 châteaux (castles) spawned up in this lush, fertile valley.
1. Château Royal d’Amboise
Elegantly settled on a rock cliff overlooking the River Loire, Château Royal d’Amboise (The Royal Castle of Amboise) was a favorite royal residence of many French kings. From Charles VII to Francis I, they all used this Italian-style castle as a frequent get-away from the official royal seat in Blois.
In the second half of the 16th century, Château Royal d’Amboise started falling into demise. The majority of its original structure was later demolished. Only the Gothic wing, the Chapelle St-Hubert, and the outer defensive circuit of towers and walls are still preserved.
- Amboise lies on the train route connecting Nantes and Paris. It is accessible by both TGV (express train) and the regional train. The trip takes approximately 1.5 hours.
- Aside from the royal castle, Amboise is also known for Le Clos Lucé – the former residence of the Florentine genius, Leonardo da Vinci. He moved to this mansion on the invitation of Francis I and lived there until his final moment on 2 May 1519. The museum displays models of various machines designed by Leonardo, as well as the prestigious history of the region.
2. Château Royal de Blois
Looming on a rocky outcrop at the center of the city of Blois, Château Royal de Blois (The Royal Castle of Blois) provides a magnificent panorama of art and history of the castles of the Loire. It comprises four wings surrounding a spacious courtyard.
Each wing poses a different style, making the château an outstanding example for the development of Frech architecture from the 13th to the 17th century. The castle was the seat of the powerful counts of Blois. Once in royal hands, it became the official residence of several French monarchs, including Louis XII, Francis I, Henry III, and Henry IV.
- Like Amboise, Blois lies on the train route between Paris and Nantes. Thus, there are frequent trains and TGV to/from the city. The trip to Paris takes around 90 minutes.
- Blois is an ideal base to explore nearby castles, especially the grand Château de Chambord.
3. Château de Chambord
If you only have time to visit one castle in the Loire Valley, make it the Château de Chambord. Rising up like Mont Saint Michel, but out of an ocean of trees, Châteux de Chambord is by far the most recognizable French castle. It attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors annually, making it the world’s most visited châteux. Started as a hunting lodge for Francis I in 1519, this project quickly grew into the region’s largest and grandest château.
It comprises over 400 rooms, 365 fireplaces, and more than 80 staircases. Blending Renaissance features with traditional French medieval structures, the castle is the finest exemplar for French Renaissance architecture. After several setbacks, the gigantic construction was completed 28 years later. But at that time, Francis I didn’t show any enthusiasm for his elaborate building. He kept residing in his royal apartments in Blois and Amboise and only stayed in Chambord on very few occasions.
- The most convenient way to visit Chambord is by using your own vehicle.
- Shuttle bus 41 (provided by Azalys) is a good alternative. It departs from Blois at 9:30 and 11:30 and passes Chambord, Cheverny and Beauregard. Please note that Bus 41 only operates on Wednesdays and weekends, with exception of July and August (bus runs every day during these months). A round trip takes around 6€. The ticket can be bought at the bus driver.
34 thoughts on “Loire Valley: Playground of the French Kings”
Another interesting and informative post, Thank you!
My pleasure! 🙂 I am glad that you like it
So informative post. Keep posting such informative posts!😊
I will try my best 🙂 Thank you for your encouragement!
Its so beautiful thank you for sharing this post and the most amazing photos. xx
You are welcome! 🙂
Oh there are so many beautiful Chateau along the Loire! And with vineyards too!
Yeah there are so many châteux that it might take weeks to see them all 🙂 I remember you have been here as well. Did you try the regional wine?
Oh yes we’ve driven around the Loire many times. And definitely the wines are something to try. We tasted our first red sparkling wine here back in 2004!
Loire valley is so awesome!!!! You have put the details so well ☺️☺️
Thank you for your very kind words! 😉
Château de Chambord is indeed the most recognizable of all castles in the Loire Valley. It’s funny that Francis I was not that impressed with this beautiful castle. Reading this post really makes me want to go back to France — I’ve only been once and my short stay was limited to Paris!
It’s kind of ironic, isn’t it? The king spent a large fortune on that castle, but at the end he lost his interest (and probably patience). As a fan of history and architecture, I think you will surely love this region, Bama 😉
The French do know how to live in opulence… I feel I can save a lot of money just by travelling through your pictures. 😂 I love the garden with the manicured lawns and immaculate 🌳 that remind me of 🎾…
I think you should be an architect of some sort! Forget medicine, it’s boring!!
No no! Although I like architecture I don’t want to go to class again 😛 It’s over! Besides, I could not draw at all.
You obviously haven’t worked for very long. Trust me. Once you e worked for a while you would be begging to go back to your student days.
Architecture would suit you. No physical drawing required! Just an eye for beautiful things. ☺️
Thanks for the tips! I might consider that when I get bored with medicine (probably soon LOL )
Lol. Asian families always want a doctor or lawyer in the family.
Happy lunar new year! Any more blogs about your new year eve dinner?? ☺️ I actually had a work function until late last night and missed out dinner altogether!
I guess not 🙂 Didn’t have time to write anything this week. Happy Lunar New Year to you as well! Wish you and your family all the best in the year of the Dog !
The Château de Chambord is gorgeous! Great post 🙂
Thank you 😉
This is the first time I am hearing about Loire Valley and the castles there are so remarkable, Len. I fell in love with this place thanks to your pictures. Is it easy to find accommodation there to stay while exploring Loire Valley?
Thank you! I am glad that you like the post. It won’t be difficult to find accommodation in major towns such as Blois or Tours. They are the region’s transportation hubs, thus there is a big chance that you can find a place to stay there 🙂
Very interesting article. We are living in Paris and are planning a bike tour along these magnificent castles. These ones are definitely on our list! Thanks for sharing! Marcella
Cycling would be the best way to explore the area 🙂 It’s a hilly terrain, but I think for enthusiastic cyclists like you two it would be no problem.
🙂 So pretty!
A very HAPPY weekend to you 🙂
Thank you! 🙂
Hi, just wanted to say, I loved this blog post. It was helpful.
Keep on posting!
Thank you! 🙂
Thank you 🙂