Practically every little girl (and quite a few little boys) dream of living in a fairy tale complete with castles, knights, princesses and the occasional dragon. The castles of the Loire Valley are the stuff of fairy tales. With their gleaming pale stone turrets and domineering position in the landscape, the castles in the Loire Valley France have been feeding the imagination for centuries. For example, Charles Perrault supposedly came up with the fairy tale of Sleeping Beauty while a host at Château d’Ussé. Some of the more fantastical stories are actually from true life – such as for example the Queen of France being held captive at Château de Blois from which she made a daring escape and the Château De Valençay having an owner who conned the French government nearly into bankruptcy.
Fairy Tale Castles of the Loire Valley
The fairy tale castles of the Loire Valley are an easy trip from Paris. You can easily book a Loire Valley castles tour so visiting them is highly recommended on any trip to Paris,
These beautiful castles of the Loire Valley make up part of the Loire Valley UNESCO World heritage site. The Chateau du Chambord was the original UNESCO world heritage site listing in 1981. In 2000, the UNESCO listing was extended to the entire Loire Valley between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes partly because of the social and political significance of the area, as embodied by these castles of the Loire Valley.
According to legend, Château d’Ussé is the inspiration for the castle behind the story of Sleeping Beauty written by Charles Perrault in 1697.
The Château d’Ussé has been the family home of the Duke of Blacas for the last couple of centuries. The Chateau Usse, however, dates back even further. Built as a fortress around 1000 AD, Château d’Ussé was gradually remodelled and enlarged until you have the romantic Renaissance castle you see today.
Château d’Ussé also has one of the most famous gardens in the Loire Valley which were designed by famed garden designer Le Notre, the head gardener of Louis XIV, the Sun King himself. Over 10,000 pansies are planted every year in the Chateau Usse gardens adding whimsy and color to the landscape.
One of the best castles in Loire Valley to visit, Château D’azay-Le-Rideau is located on an island in the middle of the Indre River. An example of early French Renaissance architecture, the Château D’azay-Le-Rideau was built between 1515-1527 making it one of the earliest castles in the area. The Château D’azay-Le-Rideau faced destruction time and time again but luckily escaped. It underwent a major facelift in the 19th century before it was acquired by the French government in the 20th century.
Containing another one of the fine gardens of the Loire Valley, the gardens at the Château D’azay-Le-Rideau are created in the English style which was trendy in the 19th century.
Château D’azay-Le-Rideau’s fairytale aspect is only enhanced by the combination of the beautiful lush greenery in the garden and the handsome castle surrounded by its water setting. The Château D’azay-Le-Rideau has just emerged spotless and gleaming after a multi-year renovation that finished in 2017.
Unlike the Italianate castle next door, Château D’azay-Le-Rideau, Château Villandry is very French. The finance minister to Francois I (who built so many of the famous castles of the Loire Valley) did a total gut and remodel of Château Villandry. The minister knew exactly what he wanted because he had been in charge of Chateau du Chambord.
The only part of the original fortress which remains is the 14th century keep which has historical significance for a peace treaty signed between the French and English kings. As part of these extensive 16th century renovations, elaborate gardens were designed.
Among the gardens of the Loire valley, the gardens of the Château Villandry are regarded as exceptional. Among the 6 hectares of garden there is a labyrinth, formal boxwood hedging, ornamental garden, water garden and a kitchen garden.
The Château Villandry is yet another one of the popular fairytale castles in Loire Valley that is a must-visit especially if you are a garden lover. One of the most visited castles in the Loire Valley France, Château Villandry is still under private ownership.
Château de Valençay
The Château De Valençay was first built in the 15th century and then extensively remodelled in the 16th century. This chateau is another one that resembles the famous Chateau du Chambord.
The Château De Valençay has seen a fair bit of history:
- Scottish economist, John Law, one of its owners in the 18th century was, the architect of the Mississippi Bubble, This financial disaster plunged France into an economic crises which eventually lead to the French Revolution.
- In the 19th century, Château De Valençay was the home of French diplomat, Prince Talleyrand. Talleyrand is famous for having survived France during the royal years, the French Revolution, Napoleon and the Republic.
- Talleyrand held the king of Spain and his family as ’special guests’ at Château De Valençay at the request of Napoleon.
- During World War 2, Château De Valençay was spared by the Germans though its owners connections. Some of the famous treasures of the Louvre (such as the Venus de Milo) were secreted here during that time.
Château De Valençay is surrounded by 130 acres of gardens, forest and deer park. Among the gardens of the Loire Valley, you have either the European formal style or the more natural English style of parkland. Château De Valençay is lucky to have both styles!
Château de Blois
Built during the 15th and 16th centuries, the Royal Château de Blois is considered one of the must-see castles of the Loire Valley. Architectural styles, however, were changing quickly so the Château de Blois has different wings – Gothic, Gothic Flamboyant, Renaissance and Classical. When you stand in the interior courtyard to see them together, the Château de Blois comes across as having split personalities.
Massive among the castles in the Loire Valley, the Château de Blois contains hundreds of rooms and 75 staircases.
In terms of history, Joan of Arc received her blessing at the Château de Blois from the Archbishop of Reims before she marched the French army off to fight the English in 1429.In the 15th and 16th centuries, the Château de Blois was the favoured royal residence for several French kings including the builder of the Gothic Flamboyant wing, Louis XII who was born at this chateau.
During the 17th century, Château de Blois was the house arrest option for several prince and princesses, including Marie d’Medici. During the French Revolution, the Château de Blois was spared destruction because it was used as army barracks. The Château de Blois is today owned by the town of Blois.
Château de Loches
The Château de Loches towers over the town of Loches in France. Built in the 9th century, the original keep was enlarged into the fortress that became the Château de Loches by King Henry II of England. The Norman Plantagenets fought to keep a foothold in both countries – for example, King Henry’s son, Richard the Lionheart spent only about 6 months of his reign in England. The French kings eventually wrested Château de Loches from the English.
Joan of Arc also made an a appearance at the Château de Loches in the ongoing French-English tussle. On her way back from defeating the English at Orleans, she convinced the uncrowned French king to go to Reims to be crowned.
The domineering fortress has also served as a prison in its history. For example, the Château de Loches held British soldiers captured by the French during the American Revolution.
Today the Château de Loches is owned by the town of Loches and it also houses a collection on medieval armour.
The Château d’Amboise is a French palace which reflects an Italianate style. Leonardo da Vinci was a frequent visitor to the the Château d’Amboise and purportedly buried in the castle as well.
The Château d’Amboise also has a fascinating history. A Royal residence, the Château d’Amboise was the home of the French kings from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Henry II and his wife Catherine d’Medici resided here (conveniently close to Chateau du Chenonceau where his mistress lived).
Occupied by the Germans during World War 2, the Château d’Amboise was rescued by the Allies but only after suffering bomb damage. The Château d’Amboise is now owned by a foundation run by an offshoot of the old French royal family.
Among the gardens of the Loire Valley, the gardens of the Château d’Amboise stand out for its Italianate gardens which reflects the love of all things Italian in the 15th century. The same garden designer from the 15th century did the gardens for both the Château d’Amboise and Château de Blois.
Castles of the Loire Valley Map
Fairytale castles aren’t just reserved for Disneyland! Some of the castles of the Loire Valley France are exactly what you would imagine a fairy tale castle to look like. This castles of the Loire Valley map shows you where you can step into a dreamscape when you visit the Loire Valley:
As you can see, these castles of the Loire Valley are relatively near each other which makes it convenient to visit more than one when you visit the Loire Valley.
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