Loire Valley Castles, France

Recently I shared with you a story about Museums of Paris. Now I want to continue this topic, but this time I will touch much historical places, such as castles located in Paris and on Loire Valley. These are also made as museums, you can go inside and see how people lived in the past, people like Leonardo da Vinci or queens of France..  France is a great country, with beautiful architecture and old history. It has many points of interest for the tourists and one of those are the castles located all around the country. Probably most famous and most visited castle of France is the Versailles Palace, but how it could sound strange, I didn’t have chance to visit it so far. But this is also another place to check in the future. Instead of that I had luck to see some of the most beautiful castles outside Paris, in Loire Valley.    Let’s talk a bit more about these beautiful places.   Castles, these are gems of France, the treasures connecting you with the history. Each of them has it’s own place on the French history and is unique. The most wonderful castles are located on the Loire valley, among the Loire river. The list of the castles in this area is quite big. If you want to visit all of them, you should consider to spend at least a weekend in this region. There are a lot of cozy hotels and guest houses in all close cities, so you can easily find a place to stay at night. People are very nice. If you stay in a small guest houses, you may even join the owners for some evening talks or nice discussions during home made breakfast. Hospitality is on high level here. You won’t have a second to be bored!   So let’s start our journey on the castles I’d visited on this area. Unfortunately I didn’t see all of them, but at least have been in the most famous ones. I’ll talk about them one by one. There are lots of private and group tours organized from Paris, when you don’t need to care about anything like how to reach, where to eat, where to stay… Everything is already decided and planned by tour organizers. You just need to pay.. quite a lot of money. The other option is to rent a car, set up the GPS and start driving. In about 2,5 hours of drive from Paris you’ll see the first castle on the way, castle from 16th century, Chambord, or as locals say, Cahteau de Chambord. This is one of the most recognizable castles in the world because of its distinctive French Renaissance architecture. The castle was built by king of France Francis I. It used to be also a hunting lodge of the King Francis I, whose royal residences were castles of Blois and Amboise. Even now there are guided tours organized to the near forests where you can hear and see the deers. 

The chateau of Chambord was included on the first historical monuments list in France in 1840; the forest and wall were listed in 1997. In was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981.

The massive chateau features 440 rooms, 282 fireplaces and 84 staircases. One of the architectural highlights is the double-helix staircase, which ascend the three floors without ever meeting. There are suggestions that Leonardi da Vinci may have designed that staircase. The interior was quite impressive. All the walls of the rooms were decorated with paintings and French king’s symbols. But there was also a room, which walls were covered with deers’ horns, that were killed by the king. Behind the castle there was a big garden, with some trees surrounding it. On the other side of the garden there was already the forest, where the king was hunting.  I will not go into the historical details. You better go and see all with your eyes. If you’ll stay long, here is a nice cafe right in front of the castle, where you can sit to have a coffee or a tasty lunch. There is also a small market near the cafe, where you can buy everything, starting from the booklets containing historical details of the castle (flyers with general info are given free of charge) or even cloths. This will be an unforgettable experience.

Not very far from Chambord, in the center of cute medieval style city of Blois, there is another Royal castle standing, the residence of 7 kings and 10 queens, Blois Castle, known as Chateau Royal de Blois. One of those kings was already known Francis I. The castle is also rich with rooms and staircases. The castle considers to be from 15th century, but in fact it contains buildings from 13th to 17th centuries. It’s classified as a Museum of France and has around 35.000 works of art. Time to time there are also a temporary exhibitions organized. The interior was awesome. Each room was decorated with paintings, sculptures, old artifacts. There were also ceramic vases decorated in Renaissance motifs. Except the main rooms, there were also rooms where the ruined parts of the castle were kept, like parts of the fallen ceilings or sculptures of people or chimeras. In front of the entrance you may see a coach with horses, that you can take a ride and feel the spirit of medieval life, near the great historical place. Oh, almost forgot to mention, that periodically there are sound and light shows organized. It’s really a great illustration. For the light show you should stay here until the dark. But the sound shows can also happen during the day time, even when you don’t expect that. When I was there, the sound show had also a visual part. We were outside the building, walking around, when heard some kind of roars. We turn around and saw a big “dragon” moving in and out from one of the windows behind us. That was ridiculous 🙂

Let’s move forward to the next wonder of this area, one of the most incredible castles of Loire Valley, Chateu Chenonceau. For me this was the most spectacular place, built right on the Cher river, with amazing gardens and additional buildings. Let’s have more details about this castle. The castle is well known because of its impressive design, rich collections, furniture and collections. But it’s also famous because it was administrated and protected by women, 5 queens of France. The castle was built in the beginning of the 16th century with elegant Renaissance architecture. It has very unique collection of old masters’ paintings. Each room is unique itself: the room of Five Queens, the living room of Louis XIV, fabulous kitchens, the green cabinet of Catherine de Medici.. step by step the castle will take you back in history and show all the secrets of that times.  What can I say about the whole area of the castle? It’s impossible to describe how incredible it is, how well is all organized. The complex included not only the castle, but also a big area for growing vegetables, majestic alley of  countless flowers, a XVI century farm for some animals, a maze, play area. There are two separate gardens of Queens Catherine de Medici and Diane de Poitiers. In the very center of Diane’s Garden there is an original small fountain constructed. All the gardens are well kept, designed and decorated with tree walls and flower areas. Around the castle you can meet some squirrels and pigeons, coypus and ducks, as well as donkeys and sometimes salamanders… The area is so big, so many things to discover, that even one day can be not enough for all. This castle is worth to visit without hurry, enjoying every part of it, every room, every corridor, every alley in gardens, every tree and flower… Whatever you plan, this adorable castle is a must to see… 

Oh.. memories, memories…

Let’s go down from all the Royal castles and see what can we find on the same place, built for usual people but not less interesting and inspiring.  In the city of Amboise, where another Royal castle called as a city Amboise is standing, in one of the narrow streets you can see a simple, modest house, that would attract your attention with its original cozy design. But once you enter the house, you will appear in another world, in the time when all the incredible discoveries were made by one of the most legendary person of the world, the great architecture, painter and scientist Leonardo da Vinci. His house museum become a castle and called Chateau du Clos Luce. At the time the castle belonged to Amboise family and was called Chateau du Cloux. In the 15th century the castle becomes the summer residence of the Kings of France. At the end of the XVII century the castle was renamed and called Chateau du Clos Luce. But before that, in the beginning of 16th century, King Francis I invited Leonardo da Vinci to Amboise and named him as a “Premier Painter and Engineer and Architect of the King” and offered him to stay in this place. Leonardo spent the last 3 years of his life in this castle and worked on some projects for the King of France. Nowadays the castle with its surrounding gardens is a house-museum of this genius. In the rooms of the castle you can see the models of all his discoveries, the automobile, the aerial screw, the wide flying machine. But da Vinci was also a military engineer of the King, and some of his war machine models are also demonstrated in the castle, such as catapult, crossbow, machine gun and even the wheel-lock musket and the helicopter. There are also some models demonstrated in the relaxing garden of the castle, which is not that big as gardens of Royal Castles, but still very nice, full of trees and flowers, a small river and bridges over it. Some of these bridges are also constructed by da Vinci, which are the revolved bridge and double span bridge. Both are crafted in original way. The garden could seem as a miniature park, but here everything is made in their original size, as the genius designed, and the park is more like an open-air museum, where you can touch all the models, go back by time and feel the impression. The castle with its amazing gardens is classified as World Heritage by UNESCO. If you’ll be in this area, don’t miss a chance to feel the spirit of the great Man.

But the castles are not only the residences of famous people, but also an old prison from 14th century, built in a Gothic style and called Conciergerie. The building itself is quite big, with high towers, from which 2 twin towers are named in honor of the Roman emperors. The lower parts of the Conciergerie were used by the Royal Guard and staff member who worked for the King and his family. This is a giant hall dividing the room with lots of columns. The building had a dining room for the 2000 staff members. Initially this was also a Royal residence, but during the French revolution it became a prison hosting around 1200 people at once. Famous prisoners include Marie Antoinette, who had her own cell with all furniture, carpets. Later on her cell was converted into the chapel dedicated to her memory. There are also another prisoners’ cells shown for visitors, so they can see how people were living inside this small cells.  What I’d like to mention in general about all the castles is that how well they are preserved. Which castle you’d enter, you’ll have a feeling, that there are some people still living there. They are all well kept, all clean and restored, every kind of comfort is made for visitors. Every castle has clean toilets, nearby cafes or restaurants, shops and markets, when you can buy some information books & booklets or gifts and souvenirs and much more that you’d need. This is awesome.   Keep your historical places in a good shape, show your treasures to visitors, teach them your history and don’t let world forget about your country. France is doing this right. And France is calling us to see all the beauty of the country.. and it’s really a great country, where you have a lot to see, a lot to feel, a lot to enjoy… 

3 thoughts on “Loire Valley Castles, France

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