The 5-minute essential guide to the Loire Valley chateaux


Loire ValleyCultural Heritage

Château de Chambord
© Zodebala / Istockphoto - Château de Chambord

Reading time: 0 minPublished on 15 March 2024, updated on 1 June 2024

Greatness and decadence, architectural prowess, stories of the heart and stories of the court hidden hideaways... Packed with more intrigue than the Arabian Nights, these are the chateaux of the Loire! Have you got 5 minutes?

Where to begin...

You probably won’t have time to visit the Loire Valley’s 300+ chateaux, but what about the top 3? That would be Chambord, Chenonceau, and Blois. But that’s just our opinion!

1800 workmen for a hunting lodge

Chambord Chateau was originally intended to serve as a luxury hunting lodge that François 1st could show off to ambassadors and monarchs on official visits. 1800 workers were called in to complete this monumental project that began in 1519 and was not completed until 1547. That’s what they call delusions of grandeur, but not an accurate eye!

Da Vinci in Chambord

Only a Machiavellian or particularly brilliant mind could envision the iconic double helix staircase in the Chambord Chateau. So it should come as no surprise that the mind in question belongs to Leonardo da Vinci. The illusion is perfectly pulled off: facing the staircase, there seems to be a single ramp. But in reality they are two screws that turn around each other without ever meeting. Not for people who get dizzy easily!

The Chenonceau smuggler

During the Second World War, one side of Chenonceau chateau was in the free zone, and the other in occupied France. The demarcation line crossed the great hall, a fact which enabled many French people to be smuggled from one side to the other. A royal ruse!

Tintin in Cheverny

It was apparently at Cheverny that Hergé was inspired to write The Treasure of Rackham the Red, the adventure in which Captain Haddock inherited the Castle of Moulinsart. Follow in the footstep of the Captain and his companions Tintin and Dupond and Dupont, not to mention the faithful Snowy, and relive their adventures in the permanent exhibition.

A bakery under the chateau!

Here not all is as it seems... From the outside it appears to be a very ordinary chateau, but Brézé stands atop a true underground fortress. 18m below the ground, miles of galleries have been carved into the tuffeau stone. An unsuspected, and indeed unsuspectable, defensive network, it is also home to the castle’s bakers, and is where they set up their ovens.

Château des Dames

The plans for Chenonceau read like a true love story. Official wives or favourite companions, all of the women who lived here have left their mark on the “Château des Dames”. Erected by Catherine Briçonnet, Henri II gave the chateau as a gift to his favourite, Diane de Poitiers, who in turn gave her name to the gardens. When he died, Catherine de Médicis, his wife, chased out her rival and built the impressive gallery that spans the Cher.

Beauty Sleeps in Ussé Chateau

A chateau surrounded by pretty woodland, and Prince Charming (who else) arriving on his white steed... Once upon a time in Ussé, Sleeping Beauty’s real life castle. They lived happily ever after and had lots of babies.

A playlist for further listening

  • The blog you need: OMonChâteau, “the blog where you fall in love with old stones!” It tells you everything (but only en français, sorry).
  • The book to read: Le roman des châteaux de la Loire, by Juliette Benzoni. Every castle has its own story.
  • The train to catch: The Interloire. Throughout summer, cyclists who’ve decided to ride the Loire Valley’s 800km of cycle paths can climb aboard (with their trusty mount riding free) and travel from Orléans to Croisic to begin their next stage or return to the start.
  • The exhibition not to miss:Secrets of Moulinsart” at Cheverny chateau, organised in partnership with the Hergé Foundation.

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