The Loire Valley chateaux in Touraine
To say that the castles in Touraine are part of the landscape would be an understatement! Whether they are illustrious french chateaux or less well-known manor houses, their silhouettes are always omnipresent. Why are so many of them concentrated in this part of France, around the city of Tours?
Those heritage sites are the legacy of the French kings who adored the Loire Valley.
Alongside the medieval fortresses (Chinon, Loches) then the royal estates (the royal chateau of Amboise, right above the Loire river), a large number of castles were built by leading figures of the realm and court nobility (Azay-le-Rideau, Chenonceau, Villandry). A beautiful travel through history.
Initially built for defensive purposes in the troubled times of the Middle Ages (Langeais, Le Rivau, Ussé), the Loire Valley chateaux gradually opened outwards during the French Renaissance (15th century), abandoning their austere ramparts and drawbridges to make way for a style particularly inspired by Italian culture. It was at this time that the tradition of gardens, considered as ‘outdoor salons’, came into being in the Loire Valley.
The myriad personalities of the Loire Valley Chateaux
Today, each one tells its own unique story, which is part of the French history: the sumptuous feasts of the royal court at the royal chateau of Amboise, the legendary meeting between Joan of Arc and the French Dauphin in the town of Chinon, the multi-talented genius Leonardo da Vinci at the chateau of Clos Lucé, the epic marriage of a Windsor at the Domaine de Candé, the work of the great gardener Dom Pacello at the Royal estate of Château Gaillard, Rodin and Camille Claudel’s love affair at the chateau de l’Islette… You’ll be spoilt for choice!
The Loire Valley Chateaux, heritage in motion
The revival is here to stay and Touraine’s heritage has its sights set firmly on the future. Almost everywhere, there are initiatives helping to improve the ways of discovering the Loire Valley castles and the visitor trails. Cycling Loire Valley also provides an opportunity to combine an active holiday in the French countryside with discovering this Unesco World Heritage Site, with essential steps like Chambord, Blois, Chaumont, Amboise, the town of Tours and its old cathedral, Villandry gardens, Langeais, Azay-le-Rideau, Ussé, the town of Chinon and its wines…
Even if summer is the ideal season for beautiful night shows or a wine tasting organized by winemakers in a castle courtyard, winter time has got surprises in store. In a few years’ time, The Touraine region has become the place to be in December thanks for “Christmas in the land of chateaux”. It is the occasion for 7 of our most famous castles to dedicate their monument to the magic of Christmas and celebrate the end of the year !
Map of the Loire Valley Chateaux
Which Loire Valley castles to visit absolutely?
Here is some key information (history of France, remarkable elements…) to help you make your choice of self-guided or guided tours on the way to the most beautiful castles, parks and gardens of the Loire Valley. Most of these buildings have been modified over time. Some have elements of both medieval and Renaissance architecture, or even from other styles. For ease of understanding, however, we have classified them into two broad categories.
Royal fortress of Chinon. Henri II Plantagenêt, Jacques de Molay (the Knights Templar), Charles VII and Joan of Arc succeeded one another in this superb medieval fortress on the banks of the river Vienne.
Fortress of Montbazon. Under its impressive keep, many activities take visitors into the medieval world.
Royal city of Loches. To visit: the keep erected by the Count of Anjou Foulques Nerra, and the royal dwelling (Renaissance architecture) which saw Agnès Sorel, Joan of Arc and Anne of Brittany pass by.
Castle of Langeais. A fortified castle facade (drawbridge, towers, machicolations…), but on the garden side, a residence marked by the Renaissance style! The marriage between Charles VIII and Anne of Brittany sealed the attachment of Brittany to the kingdom of France.
The Renaissance monuments
Château Gaillard. Louis XII entrusted it to Dom Pacello, one of the first landscape designers of the Italian Renaissance.
Royal Castle of Amboise. Associated kings: Charles VIII and Francis I. Shelters the tomb of Leonardo da Vinci in the Saint-Hubert chapel.
Château du Clos Lucé. Visit to the last residence of Leonardo da Vinci. To see: a large collection of models of his inventions.
Château de Chenonceau: Visit the property of Diane de Poitiers and then Catherine de Médicis, its arches elegantly spanning the Cher.
Castle of Azay-le-Rideau. Visit of a masterpiece of the first French Renaissance, reflected in a water mirror fed by the Indre river.
Castle of Villandry. Property of Jérôme Bonaparte, the castle of Villandry is mostly surrounded, known for its splendid gardens.
Castle of Ussé. Charles Perrault was inspired by it to write Sleeping Beauty!
Castle of Montrésor. A large collection of objects is to be discovered in this historical monument marked by the presence of Xavier Branicki, a very rich Polish count in exile.
Castle of Islette. The favourite meeting place of Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin.
Montpoupon Castle. Where one discovers castle life at the beginning of the 20th century, in the footsteps of Louise, the chambermaid.
Château de Gizeux. Numerous activities are offered to families. To be seen on a visit: the great gallery of castles.
Champchevrier castle. Particularly well furnished, King Louis XIII nevertheless slept there on straw!
Castle of Candé. Here, we plunge into the history of England, with the marriage of the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson.
Loire castles to visit elsewhere in the Loire Valley
The great collection of Loire Valley castles is not limited to Indre-et-Loire. Many others are also to be visited in the neighbouring departments:
In the Loiret: Sully-sur-Loire castle;
In the Loir-et-Cher: castle of Chambord, domain of Chaumont-sur-Loire, royal castle of Blois, castle of Cheverny …
In the Indre: Valençay castle ;
In Maine-et-Loire (Anjou) : Saumur castle, Brézé castle, Brissac castle, Angers castle;
In the Loire-Atlantique region: Nantes castle.