Castles have played a special role in some of the famous fairytales we know. From Beauty and The Beast to Sleeping Beauty to Snowhite, they have been the romantic setting where our favorite fairytale loveteams lived happily ever after! Castles have also been witness to the mysterious stories of love and betrayal, wars, victories and treacheries where kings and queens, princes and princesses, dukes and duchesses, ladies and lords and all the Knights, ladies-in-waiting, and servants were all prominent characters during the glorious periodS of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.
Europe is just the perfect place to explore some of these great castles. And the best country to begin is in France, particularly the Loire Valley. Loire Valley alone boasts of about 300 castles or chateaux .
Because we were always fascinated by the architecture and the idea of romance associated with castles, we decided to do a castle tour at the Loire Valley. With our D’Traveller, we left Holland and drove to central France and embarked on our memorable two-week castle tour. Because of limited time and budget (entrance fee to castles ranges from 10 to 15 euro per person), we selected some prominent castles that we thought we should never miss!
CHÂTEAU DE CHENONCEAUX
Château de Chenonceaux, or better known as “Château des Femmes” (castle of the ladies) because it was administered, loved and protected by women throughout the centuries, is situated in a small village of Chenonceaux along the River Cher. It is for us the most beautiful and captivating castle we have seen during our Castle Tour. It is not so big as any other castles, but its sheer beauty, architectural design and gardens are simply amazing. The view from the other bank of the River Cher is mesmerizing especially during nighttime, when the lights are on and the reflection of the castle is visible on the waters. The entrance fee of 12.50 per person (which includes the visit to the castle, the galleries and its gardens) is simply worth it.
2. CHÂTEAU DE CHAMBORD
Inspired by the renaissance and mediëval architecture, Château de Chambord is the largest castle in the Loire Valley. Originally built to serve as a hunting lodge for Francis I, the facade of the castle is 156 meters long, and it has 426 rooms, and 84 staircases, one more intricate than the other. It is the most imposant castle we have visited. The roofs are remarkable, with its numerous almost symmetrical towers, the rooms are even large as the others, and the parkland and grounds are extensive. The best views are from the small bridge on the castle ground where you see also the reflection of the castle on the water. Entry is 11 euro per person.
3. CHÂTEAU DE VILLANDRY
The château, which is situated in small village of Villandry, is one of the greatest castles built along the Loire. The castle is impressive in itself, but its six gardens which extends to almost 2.5 acres of grounds, are even more impressive! The gardens of Château de Villandry are the most amazing gardens we have ever seen. Inspired by French and English styles, the gardens are constructed at various levels, each different from the others. Exploring the gardens, you will see pine trees and many fruit-bearing trees along the avenues, the vegetable gardens with its rich assortment of colorful vegetables in season, many fountains especially on the upper level of the grounds, the somewhat hidden sun garden, and all the well-cut plant fences found in the area. The best view are from the Beldevere and from the castle tower.
4. CHÂTEAU DE CHEVERNY
Built in the 17th century and situated in a big park with towering cedars, lime trees and redwoods, Château de Cheverny, with magnificent interior design gives you the feeling that you actually are living in the castle. The rooms, having fabulous furnitures, are neatly- maintained. Its gardens, particularly the vegetable and Apprentice’s gardens, are huge and wonderfully kept. An added attraction in this castle are the hunting dogs, Cheverny kennels. Cheapest entrance fee is 10 euros pp.
5. CHÂTEAU D’USSÉ
The castle that inspired Charles Perrault to write the story of Sleeping Beauty, Château d’Usse brings you back to the magic times of fairy tales. The moment you enter, you find yourself lost in time, in the middle of countless giant-life sized mannequins dressed in French renaissance costumes depicting how it was to live during that period. The grand staircase is extraordinary fabulous; the dungeon displays selected scenes from the famous fairytale Sleeping Beauty; the French gardens are well-kept, with lots of lemon trees, grapes and pears and different types of daisies and lavandel. Simply one of my favorite castles.
6. CHÂTEAU DE BRISSAC
With its 7 storys, this castle is by far the tallest chateau in France. Owned by the Cossé-Brissac family, the castle is situated in a 70 hectare park with century-old trees and own vineyard. The family has its own mark of wine, there is a wine tasting in the wine cellar; just don’t taste too much, or you’ll end up drunk! The chateau is open for public and overnight stay.
7. CHÂTEAU DE SAUMUR
Built in the 10th century, the castle which was once a fortress, overlooks the Loire river majestically. At present it is a town museum, which displays how the castle was used as a governor’s house, a prison and munition storage. There is also a unique exhibit of special wood carvings in one of its galleries. Best view is from the other bank of the Loire river.
8. CHÂTEAU D’ AZAY LE-RIDEAU
Set on an Island in the middle of the Indre, the Chateau of Azay-le-rideau seems to rise straight out of the waters of the river, which reflect the castle’s façades so that the chateau appears to float in its own image. The writer, Balzac, who lived nearby and occasionally a guest at the chateau, deeply admired the building, describing it as a “faceted diamond set in the Indre”. This striking setting has helped Azay-le-rideau become one of the most famous of the Loire’s chateaux. (Wikipedia)
9. CHÂTEAU DE CHAUMONT
A 10th century castle, the Château de Chaumont stretches out about 40 meters above the Loire river. The castle was built in a 21- hectare grounds filled with woods and meadows. The park is well-kept; the drawbridge gate of the castle is unique and remarkable. Entrance fee is 11 euros pp.
10. CHÂTEAU DE ANGERS
With its 17 defense towers, this 13th century mediëval castle was once a fortress. Having an area of about 25,000 sq.m., the castle hangs over the river Maine. They say it has the oldest and largest collection of mediëval tapestries (never seen it myself, though as we just walked around the castle’s fortifications).
How about you? Have you done the Loire castle tour also? Maybe we have missed something, feel free to add this in the comments below …