14 Fabulous French Castles to visit
France’s Loire Valley was once home to kings, queens, and their various courts. This incredibly beautiful fertile valley was a strategic location during the Hundred Years’ War between England and France. When the wars ended the French built their fairytale castles and palaces to demonstrate their wealth and influence.
Today, these French castles in the Loire Valley bring in over three million visitors every year, making this UNESCO World Heritage site one of the most popular French tourist destinations beyond Paris.
How many castles are in the Loire Valley?
There are over 300 famous french castles or chateaux to visit in the Val de Loire so it would really take deep pockets and a lot of time to visit them all but dammit I’m gonna give it a try.
- 14 Fabulous French Castles to visit
- How many castles are in the Loire Valley?
- Tips For Visiting these famous French Castles
- Map of French Castles
- History of the Castles in France
- 14 must-see French Castles of the Loire Valley
- Which chateau in the Loire Valley should I visit?
Tips For Visiting these famous French Castles
- Pick a central location to visit the chateaus that you want to see – we chose Amboise as it was central to many of them.
- If you want to take a day trip from Paris I would recommend you visit the Chateau de Blois and the Chateau de Chambord which are only 2 hours south of Paris.
- Don’t try to cram in more than 2 chateaus in a day. To really appreciate the chateau and its parks and grounds you will probably need around 3-4 hours each.
- Take some time from Chateau viewing to do a wine tour or indulge in some fabulous French food.
- Wear comfortable shoes – I can’t stress this enough. Seeing tourists stumble on gravel paths and cobblestones and what can seem an unending walk from the parking lot – it’s not a pretty sight.
- Book your tickets in advance so you can skip the lines.
- Take some water with you, and if you are on a budget a picnic. Snacks and meals at the chateau can cost ridiculous amounts of money and truly are not that great.
- Figure out what type of souvenir you want to buy (or not) so you don’t load up your suitcases for the journey home. May I suggest a fridge magnet or postcards because sometimes you can’t get a better photo.
- If you have to visit any chateau in the Loire Valley try to avoid the months of July and August when most of the tourists come to see them.
- If you do visit during July and August go as early as the chateau opens or later in the day to avoid the worst of the tourist crowds and the heat.
Map of French Castles
Loire Valley Chateaux tours
Famous castles in France
History of the Castles in France
Many of these fine palaces in France date from the 15th to 17th centuries when the region was the favourite playground of the French Kings and noblemen, who competed against each other to build ever more elaborate and luxurious chateaux.
The Loire Valley became the royal playground due to the nastiness of French politics in Paris in the Loire they could escape to their Chateaux and relax with wine from their vineyards, spectacular gardens and luxurious Loire Castles.
14 must-see French Castles of the Loire Valley
This is my first pick for Chateau to visit it made sense for us since we drove the 3 hours to the Loire Valley we could visit this chateau on our first day in a relaxed way.
The fully restored Amboise castle stands in all its glory looking out over the Loire Valley with stunning views of the French countryside, the rooftops of Amboise, and the River Loire.
The exterior of the chateau is simply stunning with its green lawns and exquisite beds of lavender where the fragrance is unbelievable.
Due to its position on a bluff, you will have to walk up a long ramp to the chateau. These medieval fortresses have no mod cons so to speak however Chateau d’ Amboise does have an elevator up to the grounds which is fabulous. It is of course difficult to access the Chateau itself but at least you can see the grounds and the Chapel.
Inside the Chateau there are rooms in the late Gothic style as well as Renaissance. Some rooms are furnished with tapestries, paintings, and furniture.
The Chapel of Saint-Hubert is located on the edge of the walls and this is where the tomb of Leonardo Da Vinci is located. It is believed that the tomb is empty because it was desecrated during the Revolution.
Chateau Du Clos Luce
This is where Leonardo lived and died during his time in Amboise and it has been beautifully restored over the years.
Château de Cloux known now as the Château du Clos Lucé was built in 1474 by the bailiff of King Louis XI on foundations dating back to the 12th century.
You can visit the gardens where you will see some of Da Vinci’s larger inventions including a double-decker bridge. There are also exhibitions of his works throughout the gardens which by the way are just stunning. Here’s a tip the Chateau is not far from the centre of town but the walk is uphill and the place is quite large to wander so wear comfortable shoes.
Chateau De Chenonceau
The Chateau de Chenonceau has been a must-visit for me ever since I saw photographs of this stunningly beautiful fairytale castle. The former hunting grounds of French Kings Chateau de Chenonceau spans the River Cher in the Loire Valley and is nicknamed “Château des Dames”.
The Chateau Chenonceau is perhaps the most visited of all in this area and dates back to 1513. An exquisite castle it is the most important and most visited of the French castles, second only to the Palace of Versailles. A truly magical castle, Chenonceau spans the River Cher and like most French chateaux is surrounded by incredible gardens and forests.
The Château de Chenonceau or as it is also known the Chateau des Dames or ‘ladies chateau’ due to the substantial influence women had on its development – is the second most-visited chateau in France and in my eyes probably the most romantic.
Owned by many well-known historic figures including Diane de Poitiers, Catherine de Medici, and Louise de Lorraine the Chateau is imbued with the spirit of all these incredible women.
The interior of the Château de Chenonceau is filled with impressive tapestries, fine furnishings, fireplaces, and decorative highlights. You will see many fine rooms such as the chapel, the main ‘salon’, the royal chambers, the galleries, the chapel and the library, all furnished as they were in centuries gone by.
Château de Chambord
The Chateau de Chambord was one of the many chateaux I simply had to visit when in the Loire Valley of France. The outstanding Chateau Chambord was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981 and it sits within the realm of the Val de Loire or Loire Valley. The Loire Valley was added to the World Heritage List by UNESCO for its cultural landscapes in 2000.
The Château de Chambord was originally built as a hunting lodge for King Francis I in 1519, but over time it blossomed into the largest chateau in the Loire Valley even though it was never truly finished. François, I created his private retreat, using 1,800 workmen over 15 years. You’ll see his signature salamander symbol everywhere.
Only a few of the rooms are furnished but the main reason to visit is to see the magnificent architecture of Chambord. There are over 400 rooms, of which you may see around 40 or so, 300 fireplaces, and that famous piece of architecture designed by Da Vinci the double helix staircase.
Since Chambord is absolutely massive you can take a bicycle around the gardens, see the castle from the water and even do a 4×4 tour of the grounds that tourists rarely get to see.
Château de Villandry
Château de Villandry was the last castle to be built in the Loire Valley during the French renaissance. Jean Le Breton, Minister of Finance of François I had the old medieval fortress torn down with the exception of the keep which is historically important as it was the place where Henry II Plantagenêt of England recognized his defeat against Philippe-Auguste, king of France, and signed the treaty known as “the Peace of Colombiers ” two days before he died.
During the French Revolution, the chateau was confiscated and in the 19th century, Napoleon Bonaparte bought the château for his brother, Jerome. One bedroom recalls this period of history with its mahogany furniture, red and moiré silks, drapes, and military decor.
In 1906, Joachim Carvallo purchased the property, financed by his wife Ann Coleman, who was an heiress to the Coleman fortune Interestingly her father was born in Donegal and made his money manufacturing cannonballs and shot.
The Carvallo family still owns the chateau to this day and over the generations have spent a lot of time and money restoring and repairing the chateau while creating its extraordinary gardens.
In 1934, Château de Villandry was designated a Monument Historique. Like all the other châteaux of the Loire Valley, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Chateau De Blois
Chateau de Blois was the birthplace of King Louis XII. Home to 7 Kings and 10 Queens the Chateau tells the story of the secrets of the French courts. Classified as a historical monument the chateau has 4 facades, 4 monuments all incorporating 4 eras of history.
The Chateau de Blois contains 30 beautifully furnished rooms and over 35,000 works of art in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, which showcases a collection of artworks from the 16th through the 19th centuries. Highlights include the masterpieces by Marco d’Oggiono, Bourdon, Ingres, and Boucher.
The Royal gardens and terraces have absolutely stunning views over the Loire Valley and river. Originally created by Louis XII, the gardens were restored in 1992 by the landscaper Gilles Clément, they are beautiful with beds of flowers including, irises, roses, and daylilies, and also for their aromatic, culinary and medicinal plants.
The site on which the Château d’Angers was built has been occupied since1000 BC when a burial dating from the Neolithic was been discovered there. The site was then occupied by the Gauls and then the Romans.
Construction on the Château began around 1230 and was considered the largest castle fortress in France The Counts of Anjou owned the chateau throughout the 14 and 15th centuries.
Louis I of Anjou modernized the count’s palace and Louis II built the chapel, King René, built the royal residence (1435-1440) as well as the châtelet (1450) which closed the entire court.
Duke Louis I st of Anjou ordered that a tapestry be made, which became known as the Apocalypse tapestry. This tapestry was originally about 140 meters long, 100 of which are currently preserved and presented within a special room in the chateau, it illustrates the text of Saint John, the last book of the Bible.
The grounds hold a stunning hanging garden full of medicinal and herbal plants for both cooking and healing. The gardens include a vegetable garden, rose garden, and hydrangea garden.
The Château of Azay-le-Rideau is situated on a small island on the Indre River, a tributary of the Loire River. One of its most famous architectural features is the ‘stairway of honour’ which leads directly up from the main entrance.
The Azay-le-Rideau Château was built in the reign of King Francis I by Gilles Berthelot (treasurer of France, and former counsellor to Louis XII). It combines the charm of the early Renaissance and is surrounded by a romantic 8-hectare park.
Inside, the Azay-le-Rideau Château is adorned with decorations that trace four centuries of French history, as well as exquisite collections of objects, tapestries, and furniture.
In 1791, the Marquis Charles de Biencourt bought the castle and undertook a major restoration, giving the castle its current appearance.
Passionate about botany, the Biencourt family not only modernized the castle, they also redeveloped the park by providing Azay-le-Rideau with a reflecting pool and bringing in exotic trees such as redwood and cedar. They also opened the castle to visitors in 1868, which was extremely rare for private property.
Château d’Azay-le-Rideau was bought by the State in 1905, which in 1914 classified it as a Historic Monument.
Château de Chinon
The location of the Chateau de Chinon has been occupied for over 1000 years. Perched above the Vienne river another Loire tributary the castle has a long and dramatic history between the British and the French.
Henry II the King of England, made Chinon his home when he married the former Queen of France, Eleanor of Aquitaine and this is where Henry’s son Richard “Lionheart” declared war on him.
Henry II died at Chinon in 1189. King Phillip II of France took the castle in 1205 and it was his heir Phillip IV who imprisoned members of the Knights Templar at Chinon when they were declared heretics by the Pope.
During The Hundred Years’ War in the 14th and 15th centuries when the French and English kings fought over the French throne Joan of Arc came to the Château de Chinon to meet with Charles IV to beg for an army and supplies to fight the British.
During the Revolution, the Castle was abandoned and left to rot. It was during the 1800s that the Castle was rescued and reconstruction and repairs took place. It was recognized as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture in 1840. Between 2003 and 2010 the castle was the subject of a massive excavation and restoration project, costing 14.5 million euros.
A true fairytale castle that was used as the model for the Disney Cinderella Castle Chateau D’Usse is about a 3-hour drive southwest of Paris. This is another privately owned Chateau the owners are the Duke of Blacas whose family has owned the Chateau for centuries.
Straight out of the Sleeping Beauty beauty story the castle tour includes scenes from the story in the beautiful round turret rooms. Charles Perrault, who wrote Sleeping Beauty used Ussé as his model when writing “The Sleeping Beauty“.
Originally built in the Middle Ages as a Medieval fortress complete with a drawbridge and moat it was renovated over time into a residential Renaissance château.
In the heart of the Loire Valley classified in 2000 as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Château de Saumur is located on the historic route of the Plantagenets and in the Loire-Anjou regional natural park.
Standing above the city of the Chateau is the first thing you notice about Saumur. With its fairytale towers, and mullioned windows it was the inspiration for Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, an 11th-century illuminated manuscript Book of Hours created in about 1413.
It has been a prison and an ammunition depot and eventually, the city purchased the Chateau and installed a Museum of Decorative Arts within the building.
Château de Cheverny
Château de Cheverny is one of the few chateaus in the Loire Valley that is still owned by its original ancient family. The family still lives at Cheverny which is why there are some areas you cannot visit.
Cheverny opened its doors in 1922 for tourists. Cheverny has been owned by the same family for over six centuries and, the chateau was pretty much unaffected by the Renaissance and hasn’t been changed since the 17th century.
The castle was never built for defensive purposes and you won’t find any armouries, towers, or moats here. There is a huge estate attached to the castle and one of the highlights is the dog kennels. These kennels are home to more than 100 hunting dogs.
You can tour the grounds of Cheverny by electric vehicle, or see it from the water on an electric boat.
Cheverny is famous in France for inspiring the cartoonist Hergé, who wrote The Adventures of Tintin inspired by Cheverny. Within the castle, you will be able to visit the 3D exhibit dedicated to Captain Haddock and Tintin.
Château de Chaumont
A castle was built on this site in the 10th century by Odo I, Count of Blois to protect his lands from attacks by the Count of Anjou. For five centuries after his death, the chateau was owned by the Amboise family but Pierre d’Amboise rebelled against King Louis XI As a result the king ordered the castle’s destruction.
Château de Chaumont was acquired in the 15th century by Queen Catherine de Médici. When Catherine’s husband King Henry II dies she decided that Chenonceau, where her husband’s mistress Diane de Poitier lived, was going to be hers. So she forced Diane to move to Chaumont. Diane was not a fan of Chaumont and so she lived out her last in her château in Anet, Eure-et-Loir,
In 1875, Princess Marie-Charlotte Constance Say bought the castle when she turned 17 and inherited her father’s money. Princess Marie-Charlotte and her husband Prince Amedee de Broglie entertained artists, royalty, and anyone who fascinated them from around the globe.
Chateau de Montresor
The privately-owned Chateau de Montresor overlooks the Indre Valley the stones for the ancient medieval fortress were laid in 1005 by Foulques Nerra the Count of Anjou. You can still see the remains of the 11th-century donjon and 15-century walls. A donjon is the ancient walls or a great tower or innermost keep of a castle.
This unique Chateau was purchased by Count Branicki in 1849. Branicki was a Polish political exile and friend of Napolean III. He renovated and decorated the Chateau in the Second Empire fashion. The Chateau houses a truly interesting art collection including paintings that were once part of a collection owned by the Uncle of Napolean I, Cardinal Fesch.
In the park of the Château de Montrésor, there is a beautiful, peaceful garden with ancient trees, antique flowers, and two remarkable sculptures by Constantino Corti and Jules Franceschi.
Which chateau in the Loire Valley should I visit?
If you only have time to visit one chateau in the Loire may I suggest Chenonceau? For me, it was the most beautiful and engaging. That may be because of the history of the women that owned it but there is a very feminine spirit at Chenonceau that says it was a much-loved castle and that means a lot.
Spread across 280km between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes-sur-Loire, the idyllic Loire Valley, or La Loire, is an often-overlooked region of France just one hour and thirty minutes from Paris. With bustling cities and charming small towns alike—along with an extensive network of cycling and hiking trails, world-famous vineyards, expansive gardens, and majestic châteaux—the “Garden of France,” as the region is affectionately called, merits more than a day trip.
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