Our Top 5 Loire Valley Chateaux
Why do some people say “Castle” and others say “Chateau”?
It’s actually quite simple.
A CASTLE determines a defensive structure built during the Medieval ages, meant to defend the feudal lord’s territory and to be seen from afar in order to impress.
A CHATEAU, on the other hand, embodies a residential dwelling whose sole purpose is to display a certain lifestyle, to show wealth, and impose a “soft power” illustrated by the richness of the decor.
Another major chateau in the region is the Château de Chenonceau, whose construction began in 1513. It is unique because it is built directly on the river, on the foundations of an old mill and a former Loire Valley castle. Theater of the famous rivalry between Queen Catherine de Medici and the king’s favorite, his mistress Diane de Poitiers, because in 1547 upon his accession to the throne, King Henry II of France gave this chateau to Diane! She then commissioned the best architect of the moment, Philibert de l’Orme, to build a bridge connecting the two banks of the river and create this masterpiece.
From the rooms of the Castle, you can admire the magnificent Diane de Poitiers garden, 120000 sqft, a witness of the Italian gardens in vogue at that time, very square, with trimmed boxwood surrounding the flowerbeds. In 1559 after the death of King Henry II, his wife the widow Catherine took over the Château from Diane out of jealousy.
She finished what Diane had not had time to do, namely the galleries above this bridge. Queen Catherine inaugurated the main gallery, which was a ballroom, in 1577. A notorious and infamous ball where all the waitresses were half naked!
The Château de Villandry is an old 12th century Loire Valley castle famous for having united the kings of France and England during a peace treaty: the peace of Colombiers. In the 16th century, the defensive castle became a leisure Chateau, and the Minister of Finance of King François I, Jean Le Breton, transformed this place into a Renaissance residence. In the 18th century, the Marquis de Castellane, ambassador to the Middle East to King Louis XV, took over and added his oriental touch, visible in particular on the staircase (registered in the list of Historic Monuments) and the ceiling of one of the rooms.
Finally, in 1906, Dr Joachim Carvalho took over the premises with his wife Ann Coleman, to retire and exhibit his art collection.
The Chateau is nothing without its Gardens: the 350,000 annual visitors come above all for the latter. The gardens are divided into 4 levels of terraces with a closed water circuit recovering the precipitation and distributing it to the different plants. On one level, the mirror-shaped pond is where swans swim majestically; on another level, the owner created a garden of the Sun and a garden of the Clouds so that the visitors can rise and let themselves go to their imagination. Closer to the town church, one can wander in a herbal garden, where all kinds of plants with medicinal values are displayed. To the south of the castle, directly in front of the bedroom windows, is the Love Garden with boxwood in the shape of hearts.
Last but not least, next to the chateau and the main Keep is the main vegetable garden inspired by medieval gardens which contain vegetables and seasonal fruits and which must be changed every 3 months. All the coexisting gardens live in perfect harmony next to the large forest to the east which was the promise of a fun and lucrative hunt!
Did you know ? Doctors during the medieval ages thought that plants would heal the human body according to their forms: nuts look like the human brain, so they would be used for headaches; borage looks like lungs, so it would be used in case of lung diseases, etc.
The Château Royal de Blois is an incredible example of architecture: it contains four different periods of French architecture in a single building! The first part which was built in the 13th century is a medieval or classical Gothic period; the walls are quite simple and not decorated. The next era is late Gothic or flamboyant Gothic commissioned by King Louis XII who was born in this same castle in something very modern for the time (1498-1508) with white tufa stone alternating with red brick. His nephew, King François I, modified a wing of this Loire Valley Castle in his typical Renaissance style, which can also be found at the Château de Chambord.
Finally, a century later, in 1634, the little brother of King Louis XIII, whose name was Gaston of Orleans, had major plans for the entire castle. He wanted to show the full extent of his power, and that is why he destroyed one of the wings to make it a typical building of the classical era with many references to Antiquity. He wanted to do the same throughout the building but unfortunately, in 1638, a major event occurred which prevented him from finishing what he had designed: his sister-in-law, Anne of Austria, gave birth to a son, who became the future Louis XIV!
Which meant that Gaston would no longer be the heir to the throne. Overnight, all the workers left the chateau and it remained unfinished. Thanks to these historical events, we have such an eclectic building that testifies to the 250 years of existence of kings in this city.
Amboise was already a city mapped during the Roman Empire 2000 years ago. Located on the Loire, its place is essential not only for navigation but also for its climate. Indeed, to the west of Amboise we find a maritime climate, warmer and more moderate, and to the east a continental climate with hot summers and long and cold winters, with a very large amplitude of temperature between day and night. Being in the middle of this area allows you to make the most of both regions.
This Loire Valley castle was sabotaged in 854 by the Vikings (or the Normans, they are the same!) and rebuilt just afterwards into a real fortress. At the end of the 15th century, King Charles VIII made important modifications to this fortress to make it look more like a leisure chateau, a residential dwelling than a pure defensive building. It is also the alleged burial place of the great Leonardo da Vinci; and for the anecdote, it is also the place where king Charles VIII died after having wanted to go to watch a game of tennis (jeu de paume), because he hit his head on the lintel of a door.
Did you know? The word TENNIS comes from the French “Tenez!” which was the word with which the serving player engaged the point. When the British started playing the game, they changed the word to the word “Tennis” we know today!