3 French castles to visit at the Unesco-listed Loire Valley

Known as the Garden of France, the region is home to enchanting châteaus surrounded by woodlands and rivers.

Perched on the banks of the Loire River, Château de Chambord is perhaps the most famous fortress in the Loire Valley (Photo: Château de Chambord)

There are hundreds of castles sprawled across the majestic Loire Valley, and while each posses their own charms and history, it would probably take too long to explore each one. If you are paying the region a visit, consider our top three château picks, which offer a good mix of history, architecture, art and of course, exquisite gardens.


Château de Chenonceau

The history of the Château de Chenonceau is defined by an almost uninterrupted succession of women who built, embellished, protected, restored and saved it. King Henry II’s mistress, Diane de Poitiers, expanded and beautified the castle; Queen Catherine de’ Medici ruled France from its rooms; and in the 18th century, Louise Dupin welcomed the greatest scholars, philosophers and academicians in the country to her famous literary salon in Chenonceau. The exceptional woman was the first to draft a Code of Women’s Rights. During the Great War, the chateau was converted into a military hospital with a highly efficient operating room equipped with one of the first X-ray machines. Simone Menier, the daughter-in-law of Gaston Menier, who was the owner of Chenonceau at the time, administered the hospital, treating the wounded and actively collaborating with doctors and surgeons working on site.


Château de Chambord

Perched on the banks of the Loire River, Château de Chambord is perhaps the most famous fortress in the Loire Valley and undeniably one of France’s most emblematic Renaissance monuments. Imagined by King François I, the opulent castle was built as a hunting lodge with over 400 rooms, even though François was only in residence for about two months. Its sumptuous hunting grounds are enclosed by an uninterrupted 32km wall to keep his prey of deer and wild boar within. Château de Chambord’s famous double spiral staircase — said to have been influenced by Leonardo da Vinci — features a fascinating intertwining design where if two people use the opposing staircases at the same time, they can see each other through the window openings but never cross paths.


Château de Villandry

Renowned for its gorgeous grounds and breathtaking landscape, Château de Villandry is home to the garden of the Loire Valley and is the last of the great châteaux erected during the Renaissance. In line with King François I’s plans, his finance secretary Jean Breton transformed the feudal fortress of Colombiers into an elegant castle symbolic of avant-garde architectural design. The splendid gardens we see today are courtesy of Dr Joachim Carvallo, who redesigned the landscape in the early 20th century. Keep an eye out for special events held at the gardens, including European Heritage Days on Sept 17 to 18, where artistic craftsmen demonstrate their trades and expertise; and Vegetable Garden Days on Sept 24 to 25, where Villandry’s own gardeners will share their tips and tricks to the public.


This article first appeared on Aug 1, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.


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