Travelers are drawn to the Loire Valley for its picturesque scenery and beautiful chateaux. There are over 300 chateaux in the Loire Valley, where starting in the 15th century the French kings began building large, elaborately landscaped castles. The nobility soon followed suit, luring the best architects (including Leonardo da Vinci) and landscape designers to the area to design their country castles.
Of the many famous buildings that were constructed in the centuries that followed, many of the most beautiful remain, and are open to tourists.
Chateau of Chambord
This was the first chateau in the Loire to be named a UNESCO world heritage site. It is thought that Leonardo da Vinci participated in its conception, and it is considered one of the most magnificent chateaux of the Loire.
Chateau of Cheverny
The first example of the 17th-century classical style, it is famous for its rich interiors, which have been preserved by its owners, the Hurault family. You can experience the aesthetics of the wealthy nobility in the collection of paintings and furniture. It is also known for its impressive pack of hunting dogs!
Chateau of Blois
This royal chateau is known for the fact that it combines many different architectural styles, most notably the Gothic, Flamboyant, Renaissance, and Classic. In this sense it is like a lesson in the history of architecture of the region.
Chateau of Chenonceau
The Chateau of Chenonceau is one of the most iconic Chateaux of the Loire. It is also famously known as the “Chateau des Dames” for the historical female figures who lived there, including Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici.
Royal Chateau of Amboise
Formerly the residence of Charles VIII and of the young François d’Angouleme (who would become François I), Amboise is probably most famous for the Saint Hubert Chapel, which holds the grave of Leonardo da Vinci. (The nearby Chateau of Clos-Lucé, which was da Vinci’s residence for the last few years of his life, is also worth seeing).
Chateau of Chaumont
One of the oldest chateaux of the region, it was originally built in the 10th century but subsequently destroyed. Charles I of Amboise rebuilt it in the 15th Century, and among its famous owners were, again, Catherine de Medici and Diane de Poitiers, as well as, much later, Madame de Staël.
Chateau of Villandry
Villandry is known for its elaborate gardens, 15 acres worth! Although the formal gardens are the most photographed, the estate also includes the many different types of gardens of the era, including a kitchen garden, medicine plant garden, water garden, sun garden, and even a love garden.
* * *
By Peg Kern
Sign up to receive our newsletter, which includes travel tips, recipes, promotions, and information on our best cooking vacations.
Originally published March 25, 2013.