Château de Chenonceaux, Loire Valley
Best sights of Loire Valley Chateaux
The lush and lovely Loire Valley, just a couple of hours southwest of Paris, was discovered by French royalty in the middle ages as a fertile hunting ground and soon became a competitive building site for extravagant hunting lodges and ever-more fantastic castles.
Now known as the ‘Garden of France’, the Loire Valley – actually more of a massive flood plain for the largest river in the country – is a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its ‘exceptional cultural landscape, of great beauty, comprised of historic cities and villages, great architectural monuments – the Châteaux – and lands that have been cultivated and shaped by centuries of interaction between local populations and their physical environment, in particular the Loire itself. ‘
Most impressive exterior: Château de Chambord, largest of all Loire castles but just a hunting lodge with over 400 rooms
Château de Chambord
The Château de Chambord began as a hunting lodge in 1519 for young King Francois I, but became gradually more excessive, ending up with 426 rooms, 77 staircases and plenty of innovative Italian architecture, including a bizarre double spiral staircase that was probably designed by Francis’ good buddy, Leonardo da Vinci. Incredible exterior, less exciting interior.
These are the chateaux, towns and main sights that the bugcrew visited over a week during July.
There are many more attractions that will have to wait till next time such as the superb medieval town and cathedral of Chartres (better than the Notre Dame apparently, uncrowded and just one hour from Paris by fast train), the similarly historic town of Bourges, taking a wine tour of Loire vineyards with plenty of tasting and someone else driving (the whites are especially notable), and of course checking out a few hundred more chateaux!
Tours city medieval centre
The spectacular old centre of Tours city is at the heart of the Loire’s most striking collection of châteaux. The new town ain’t bad either and fast trains and slow planes all arrive here so this makes a great base/starting point for Loire Valley exploration. Alternatively, closer to the châteaux action and smaller are Blois and Amboise towns.
The most disappointing Loire Valley château: Château d’Amboise
The popular Château royal d’Amboise failed to impress. Cute town though.
The grounds of Amboise are limited and dull, the interior uninspiring and fixtures and fittings of little interest. We give the place a resounding zero on the must-do meter, the Loire wooden spoon.
Best activity: cycling
La Loire à Vélo is one of the best: a network of 650km carefully created cycle trails that threads through the château-rich campagne of the Loire Valley. It enables visitors to see the region at the ideal pace, while preserving the planet and getting fit. Using a combination of lightly used minor roads, woodland tracks and dedicated bike paths, the network allows you to explore in safety and serenity.
Almost flat Loire River cycle paths are fun and easy but those less fit or more hurried can also do gorgeous, low-traffic drives.
Loire Valley river embankment with cyclists