The 10 most beautiful castles in the Loire Valley, France

The Loire Valley in the north of France is famous and popular for its idyllic river landscape, its medieval towns and festivals and its magnificent historic castles with valuable art treasures.

At around 1,000km, the Loire is the longest river in France to flow into the Atlantic. The Loire Valley is in many ways a unique jewel of France.

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The almost untouched riverbank, whose course, sandbanks and river islands are allowed to change without regulation by man, is an ideal habitat for flora and fauna. It is not for nothing that it is also called the "Garden of France".

The beauty of the Loire Valley was also appreciated by the high nobility of France. Since the 16th century, the nobles built their manors along the Loire and lined the beautiful Loire Valley with numerous magnificent Renaissance castles. Even most political matters of the time were discussed here rather than in Paris - which earned it the further nickname "Valley of the Kings".

The natural and architectural beauty of the Loire Valley earned it the title of UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000 on the stretch between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes-sur-Loire.

Chenonceau Castle

The arcades of Chenonceau Castle form a multi-arched bridge over the River Cher, creating an impressive façade reflected in the water, Loire Valley, France - © Alex.Demyanenko/Shutterstock
© Alex.Demyanenko/Shutterstock

The arcades of Chenonceau Castle form a multi-arched bridge over the River Cher. The façade reflected in the water makes an impressive photo motif. The construction of the Italian-style marble gallery was ordered by Catherine de Medici, representing the border between the occupied and unoccupied zones during the Second World War.

Art lovers will enjoy the works within its walls, including those by Rubens and Tintoretto. 20 years before the Loire Valley was added to the list, this castle was already part of the UNESCO World Heritage.

Amboise Castle

The Renaissance castle is known for its two massive round towers and gardens and also has parts of Gothic architecture, such as the elegant Hubertus Chapel or the ornate interiors of the "Logis royal".

Leonardo da Vinci lived for several years in a house very close to the castle. Frescoes and models of him can be seen there.

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Saumur Castle

View of Saumur Castle in the Loire Valley, France - © Alex.Demyanenko/Shutterstock
© Alex.Demyanenko/Shutterstock

The fairytale castle of Saumur is enthroned on a rocky plateau above the town of the same name. The beginnings of the estate, which can be seen from afar, date back to the 10th century and Thibaud, the Count of Blois. In 1203, the castle passed to the royal family of France, who gradually had it expanded into a magnificent residence.

Today, the castle is managed by the town of Saumur and houses the Municipal Museum and the Horse Museum. The collections under the slate-covered roofs consist mainly of works of art and handicrafts and can be admired amidst the historical backdrop of the château.

Blois Castle

Blois Castle was also built by the Count of Blois. The sprawling château captivates not only with its Italian-influenced appearance, but also with its storied past. For several centuries it was the seat of 10 queens and 7 kings of France and thus the centre of power of the French monarchy.

King Henry III had his enemy, the Duke of Guise, murdered here a few days before the French Queen Catherine de Medici died here.

King Louis XII moved the government to Blois Castle and in the course of this had it furnished with a large number of secret compartments. The precious wood panelling dates from his time. The rooms he occupied with Anne de Bretagne are now home to an art museum.

In summer, Blois Castle is always the scene of light shows that make the towers shimmer in red and blue and turn the surrounding lawn into a sea of stars.

Chaumont Castle

The fortified impression of Chaumont Castle is not deceptive, it used to be a castle, Loire Valley, France - © marekusz / Shutterstock
© marekusz / Shutterstock

The fortified impression of the castle is not deceptive, Chaumont used to be a castle. The Italian influence has softened the robust impression somewhat. There is a collection of terracotta medallions and the observatory of the Italian astrologer Ruggieri.

Castle of Azay-le-Rideau

The neat two-winged building stands on an artificial island directly in the Indre River and only survived wartime in France because the owners got on well with the outraged citizens.

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This enabled the castle to be extended in the 19th century to include an English park with cedars, redwood and gingko trees. Inside, visitors will find valuable tapestries, paintings and objets d'art.

Chambord Castle

Chambord Castle is a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture and was built between 1519 and 1559, Loire Valley, France - © marekusz / Shutterstock
© marekusz / Shutterstock

Francis I had this castle built with the aim of showing off his greatness. And he succeeded in doing so. With over 400 rooms and fireplaces, it is an extremely imposing building and the largest castle on the Loire.

The richly decorated façade impresses with its countless hatches, gables, turrets and roofs. The spiral staircase was allegedly penned by Leonardo da Vinci. The landmark of the castle is unmistakably the salamander - it follows the visitor through the castle at every turn.

In summer, the castle is the venue for performances in historical costumes with ingeniously staged lighting effects and projections.

Castle of Villandry

The youngest Renaissance castle from the early 16th century is particularly captivating for its allegorical gardens, which were restored in the 19th century. Visitors stroll through the vegetable garden, the love garden and the water garden on three levels and are enchanted by the fantastically laid-out floral ornaments and ornate boxwood figures.

Cheverny Castle

Cheverny Castle is one of the few castles in the Loire Valley whose architectural styles have not been mixed, France - © Sergey Kelin / Shutterstock
© Sergey Kelin / Shutterstock

The small château of Cheverny is one of the few châteaux in the Loire Valley whose architectural styles have not been mixed. Apart from the rather simple façade, the interior is particularly impressive.

Here you will find precious furniture, tapestries and paintings; the king's state bed alone is worth seeing. The castle is surrounded by a beautiful park with an ornamental garden and navigable waterways.

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Ussé Castle

The romantic castle of Ussé lies in the forest of Chinon and with its steep roofs, playful oriels and turrets is reminiscent of a fairytale castle. According to legend, the author of "Sleeping Beauty" was inspired by Ussé. Despite the lovely details, the mighty towers and battlements recall its past as a medieval fortress.

Festivities in the Loire Valley

In summer, Chambord Castle hosts performances in period costume with ingeniously staged lighting effects and projections, Loire Valley, France - © Neirfy / Shutterstock
© Neirfy / Shutterstock

The Loire Valley is also an ideal route for cyclists. The leisurely cycle paths lead through idyllic lakeside landscapes, past picturesque meandering river courses and past the more than 400 magnificent chateau buildings of the nobility and sleepy medieval towns. The area can also be optimally explored by canoe or kayak.

Festival de Loire

Every two years, the Loire Valley is also a cultural centre of attraction. At the "Festival de Loire", all the participating cities, especially Orléans, celebrate for over a week in an exuberant atmosphere with fireworks, artists and showmen, competitions and culinary delights. The Loire forms the centrepiece and many of the attractions for young and old take place on the water.

Joan of Arc Festival

Joan of Arc, the young peasant girl who freed Orléans from siege during the Hundred Years' War between France and England, came from the Loire Valley. Orléans also hosts the Joan of Arc Festival every May, during which the city turns back time with medieval costumes and equestrian processions.

PICTURES: Loire Valley and its castles

Photo gallery: Loire Valley and its castles

Related links:

List of châteaux in the Loire Valley with their opening hours

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