Often referred to as ‘The Valley of a Thousand Châteaux’, the Loire Valley has an abundance of stately French castles in need of exploration. However, with so many to choose from deciding which ones to visit first can be a daunting prospect.
People will normally opt to go for the larger, more prestigious and well-known châteaux that impressively cast shadows over the landscape of the Loire. Ask anyone and they will probably start by mentioning Chambord to you, with its imposing turrets and extensive grounds, quickly following it up with either the Royal château at Amboise, with its UNESCO World Heritage Site stature, or the exceptional château at Chenonceau which typifies aesthetic French architecture.
These are all wonderful châteaux, but prestige and notoriety always comes at a price. In this case, that is the hordes of people, arriving by the coach load to see these spectacular sites. Now, we are not implying that you shouldn’t visit, we simply want to highlight that there are hundreds of other castles in France worth exploring.
So, if you want to explore the wonderful masterpieces of the Loire whilst avoiding the masses we have a few suggestions for you.
5 Stunning Châteaux of the Loire Valley
#1 Château de Serrant
Driving up the dirt track, you cannot even begin to imagine the impressive building that will appear the moment you round the corner. Built on the foundations of a medieval fortress, this renaissance château dates back to the 14th century.
The current owners, Prince and Princess Merode, descendants of the La Trémoille, are happy to open the doors of this restored private home allowing people to relive the history of their family.
Wander around the royal bedrooms, and gaze at the stunning gilded walls and deep claret carpets before climbing the stone carved stairwells to marvel at the ornate columns and heavy wooden doors with their beautifully etched designs.
For the bibliophiles, head to the library where you will find in excess of 12,000 old, carefully preserved books for you to admire. Here you will be able to peruse titles like the Encyclopedia of Diderot or La Fontaine’s Fables with drawings of J.B. Oudry.
Finally, no visit here would be complete with taking lunch at one of the many decorative picnic tables placed around the lakeside before wandering the extensive wild gardens in search of deer and birds of prey.
#2 Château de Montgeoffroy
With the longest tree-lined driveway we have ever seen, this stately manor’s surroundings are handsome. With large, wrought iron, arched gateways leading up a gravel pathway to the main house and well-maintained hedgerow protecting the inner gardens from prying eyes this is a building enticing you inside.
The current château, dating back to the 18th century, was designed by Sir Jean Benoît Vincent Barré, a Parisian Architect, who decided to retain the two round towers and the chapel of the original 16th century château cleverly incorporating them into his new design.
Today, Montgeffroy is one of the last château in France to preserve the original furniture dating back to both Louis the XVth and Louis XVIth.
#3 Château et Parc de Langeais
After years of turbulence, at the end of the 10th century Foulques Nerra conquered Langeais and decided to build a fortress on a prominent overhang on the Loire. Unfortunately for Langeais the problems didn’t end there and it would take until the 15th century, when Charles VII ordered the castle to be destroyed for any peace to arrive in the region.
Today, the only part remaining from this time is the Keep; the rest was built by Louis XI in 1465. With corresponding facades, the outer edge demonstrating attributes of a fortified castle whilst the inner courtyard was palatial making it fit for any king or nobleman, this would have been a pleasant place to stay and visit.
Whilst visiting, make sure you allow time to explore the park area where you will find recreated scaffolding and lifting machines that would have been used by builders back in the year 1000. Then head over to the six-storey treehouse where you will be able to catch a glimpse of the 11th century chapel before wandering over to the promenade for views across the Loire River.
The town of Langeais itself is also worth a mention. If you are after a typical French-feeling town take the time to explore more than just the castle.
#4 Château de Samur
With stunning views stretching out across the valley and the Loire River, the château de Samur is positioned directly on the historic King’s Valley Route. Since the 11th century this building has been a home for town governors, a fortress, a manor house and a prison.
The collections inside are impressive, but it is the views from the outside that are simply breathtaking. Even if you do not have time to explore inside, you need to wander around the grounds and take in the varying vistas over the landscapes below.
It is believed that King René wrote about Samur in his novel ‘Le Cœur d’Amour Épris’ (1457):
“This most beautiful palace château was built on an emerald rock…”
If you enjoy dazzling views, this is a château not to miss.
#5 Château des Ducs de Bretagne
If you decide to combine a city break with a château tour then Nantes is your answer. Originally sitting on the banks of the Loire River, building work started here during the 13th century but was later demolished and remodelled into the 15th century towering gem you see today. Francis II may have started the work, but the Italian renaissance decorative influence that can be seen was added by his daughter, Duchess Anne of Brittany.
Wander around the outer walls, taking advantage of the views across the city before heading inside to take an audio tour which celebrates the history of Nantes.
After learning about not only the successes of Nantes but also its failures, including the city’s hefty involvement in the slavery trade, why not sit in the courtyard and enjoy a warm coffee, or a regional glass of before heading back out into the hectic city side streets.
With so many stunning Châteaux surrounding the Loire Valley, choosing which ones to visit takes time and planning and often the ones mentioned above are forgotten about in favour of the grandiose castles that heavily feature on the front cover of guide books.
With each château offering something unique it is fair to say that even a two week holiday would not give you enough time to visit them all, so choose wisely, pick those that appeal to you visually and occasionally consider visiting one of the lesser known masterpieces that you will find dotted around the Loire Valley.
Have you visited any of the chateaux of the Loire Valley? Which ones would you recommend we visit next?