Lovers of history and architecture will find the Loire Valley simply irresistible. Indeed, its bucolic lands are dotted with an impressive concentration of castles, manor houses and historic residences dating back to different historical periods, from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance.
You can admire incredible defensive fortresses but, above all, true jewels of elegance and refinement, surrounded by ponds and lush gardens to recreate a harmonious image perfectly immersed in nature.
There are more than 300 castles in the Loire Valley, so it goes without saying that seeing them all is almost impossible. We have therefore made a selection to simplify the organisation of your trip, highlighting those that in our opinion are‘not to be missed‘ and those that can perhaps be left for a second visit.
So have fun exploring them one by one between a glass of wine and a visit to one of the many picturesque villages in the area.
The sight of arriving in front of Chambord Castle is simply spectacular! Grandiose, imposing, elegant: these are the first impressions that spring to mind.
Built starting in 1519 by François I for his hunting parties in the forests of the Sologne, it retains a mediaeval layout enriched with wings and towers, so rich that the construction required 15 years of work and no less than 1,800 masons and craftsmen.
The incredible double spiral staircase is one of the castle’s most important attractions: the two staircases revolve around a central axis without ever meeting. You then climb to the top of the Italian-style terrace where you can admire the landscape of towers, domes, chimneys, lightning rods and mosaic roofs in a curious stone garden.
If you have time, you can explore the castle’s magnificent estate, the Domain National de Chambord. Its size is equivalent to half the city of Paris and it is now the largest enclosed woodland park in Europe. Awaiting you are hiking and cycling trails (bicycles can be hired on site) dotted with hunting turrets from which you can spot deer, fallow deer, wild boar, roe deer and foxes.
Considered one of the most famous and romantic castles in the Loire Valley, Chenonceau Castle is one of the greatest testimonies to the refinement and elegance of the Renaissance, thanks to the richness of its decorations, furnishings and above all its gardens.
Don’t miss the marvellous gallery built on the river Cher, which in wartime became a hospital. The interiors are also remarkable: we recommend the room of Diane de Poitiers, the room of Gabrielle d’Estrées, the room of François I where you can admire the largest fireplace in the château, one of the first straight staircases built in France on the Italian model, the room of the Five Queens, the room of Catherine de’ Medici, the room of Louise de Lorraine characterised by a disturbing dark panelling and macabre religious paintings recalling the mourning of Henry III’s wife, the incredible kitchens built into the pillars of the bridge and Catherine de’ Medici’s green-coloured study.
Finally, Catherine de’ Medici’s Italian garden, which shows its full splendour from May to September, boasts 130,000 flowering plants grown on the estate.
Another castle famous and legendary for its magnificent gardens is Villandry, one of the last great châteaux built along the course of the Loire. In fact, flower lovers will simply be speechless in front of one of the most beautiful and elaborate Italian gardens in France.
The particularity of the estate is concentrated in its 6 gardens on 4 levels, which are a re-enactment of a 14th century French garden based on ancient texts. You can wander around the 6 hectares of grounds with 1260 lime trees, hundreds of grape arbours and 52 km of beautifully arranged rows of plants and flowers.
Of the 6 marvellous gardens, the boxwood embroidery garden, also known as the garden of love, deserves special mention. It is divided into 4 portions that describe the emotional states of feeling: tender love, passionate love, capricious love and tragic love. From here you can climb up to the belvedere from which you can enjoy a magnificent view of the gardens as a whole
The residence of no fewer than 7 kings and 10 queens of France, the Château de Blois is undoubtedly one of the most important in the country and represents the synthesis of architecture and history of the Loire châteaux.
Its court offers a true panorama of French architecture from the Middle Ages to the 17th century, a fusion of Gothic and Renaissance styles. It is an evocative place of power and daily life at the Renaissance court, as demonstrated by the richly furnished interiors with beautiful polychrome decorations.
A stronghold of the powerful Counts of Blois and Charles Duke of Orleans, the favourite residence of the kings of France, after years of neglect at risk of demolition, in 1845 it was one of the first monuments to be restored and became a model for many other castles.
In summer, magnificent evening Sound and Light shows take place in the castle courtyard.
Perched on a rocky promontory in the heart of the town, Amboise Castle dominates the course of the Loire in all its magnificence.
Although medieval in origin, the castle owes its current appearance to the renovations and extensions made by Charles VIII in 1492 and by Frederick I, who made it his court of residence by bringing in artists and famous European personalities such as Leonardo da Vinci, who spent the last years of his life here.
Don’t miss the Chapelle de Saint-Humbert, built in flamboyant Gothic style and rich in hunting-themed decorations, and the magnificent terraces overlooking the river.
Nestling in the heart of the Turenna, the marvellous château of Azay-le-Rideau is one of the best examples of harmony and elegance of form: in fact, it was built on an island in the middle of the waters of a river and Honoré de Balzac himself described it as ‘a facetted diamond set on the Indre‘.
It is one of the greatest masterpieces of the early French Renaissance and owes its extraordinary beauty to its L-shape full of turrets reflected in the waters surrounded by an idyllic park.
The picture you will admire is also called ‘The Enchanted Mirror‘ and offers visitors a unique spectacle, which becomes exceptional during the nightly Sound and Light projections that take place in the summer months.
The less ostentatious interior preserves 14 rooms and an extraordinary staircase with laws decorated in the Italian style with columns, pillars, shells and medallions.
Although it is located on the Maine River, Angers Castle is part of the Loire circuit. You will be left speechless when admiring this imposing medieval fortress: 660 metres of massive walls interspersed with 17 50-metre-high towers made of white stone and slate, forming a horizontally alternating banded effect.
Especially striking is the contrast between the almost military austerity of the outer defensive fortress, which miraculously escaped the bombings of World War II, and the elegance of the Renaissance residence and gardens inside.
The castle houses the famous Apocalypse Tapestry, consisting of 70 scenes and 103 metres long, illustrating not only the Apocalypse of St. John but also the fall of Babylon, the fight of St. Michael against a 7-headed dragon and many scenes that provide a glimpse into 14th century life and customs.
Perched on a rocky promontory overlooking the Loire, the Royal Fortress of Chinon towers over the medieval village and is a true marvel.
Creeping up the hill along the cobbled lanes and reaching the castle with its black slate roofs contrasting with the whiteness of the old white travertine houses is a beautiful and picturesque experience.
This huge fortress became the prison for some members of theTemplar Order before they were judged and burnt at the stake in Paris and was the scene of the historic meeting between Charles VII and Joan of Arc.
The fortress consists of three distinct blocks: the Fort Saint-Georges, the Chateau du Milieu and the Fort de Coudra. Don’t miss a visit to the Clock Tower, from the top of which there is a magnificent view, the Throne Room and the Royal Residence.
The Château de Cheverny, a glittering period residence, is considered the most luxurious château in the Loire Valley thanks to its opulent interiors and gardens landscaped down to the last detail.
The most impressive rooms are undoubtedly the Chambre du Roi and the Grand Salon with 34 painted wood panels recounting the exploits of Don Quixote. The Orangerie is also worth a visit: this is where Leonardo’s Mona Lisa was hidden during the Nazi plundering.
The gardens are very atmospheric thanks to a perfect mix of styles ranging from classical to English and it is also possible to visit an exhibition of the cartoonist Hergé, the creator of Tintin, who used the castle as a backdrop for many adventures in the Belgian comic strip.
Finally, from April to November, it is possible to visit the Cheverny Castle park by boat along the canals surrounding it.
It is said that the fabulous Ussé Castle inspired the writer Charles Perrault to write the fairy tale ‘Sleeping Beauty in the Forest‘ back in 1697.
With its spires and turrets embellishing the view, this castle dates back to the 15th century but was remodelled several times by different owners. Among the many rooms to visit, we mention the ‘Galerie Centrale‘, which houses beautiful Flemish tapestries illustrating the traditions of the time and a bust of Louis XIV by Bernini.
Of dubious taste, on the other hand, is the reconstruction with wax statues of the Disney version of Sleeping Beauty that are kept in some of the rooms of the castle.
On the other hand, the French terraced gardens, which were created by the creator of the gardens of Versailles, are not to be missed: you can admire many varieties of plants and flowers, including very old citrus groves, dating back to the period before the French Revolution.
Despite its secluded location, bordering the Loire Valley, the Château de Sully Sur Loire is well worth a visit: the scenic view, reflected in the placid waters of the River Sange, and its magnificent fairy-tale appearance surrounded by nature enchant visitors.
This medieval fortress still retains its unique character, provided by the wide moats, the imposing donjon and the high towers with their cone-shaped roofs: thanks to the presence of water surrounding the castle, its charm is timeless.
Like almost all Loire manors, it has passed from owner to owner over the centuries, undergoing additions, changes and embellishments that make it so special today.
A visit to the interior will take you to the flats of the Duke of Sully and his wife: they are sumptuous and richly decorated with tapestries and portraits.
A relaxing break in its English-style gardens will be rejuvenating. Remember that every third weekend in May there is the medieval-style festival The Medieval Hours and a Classical Music Festival in June.
Finally, don’t miss a relaxing walk along the Sange, from where you can admire the best views of the castle.
Covering an area of 30 hectares, the Château de Chaumont Sur Loire offers corners of incredible beauty, thanks to the harmonious union of the defensive style of the Gothic era with the Renaissance style.
Owned by the Amboise family, the château also belonged to Catherine de Medici, who forced Diana de Poitiers, former mistress of King Henri II, to exchange it for the Château de Chenonceau.
Nostradamus also stayed here and under the direction of the Broglie family, the château experienced a golden age, with parties and receptions worthy of a royal residence.
When you arrive, you will be greeted by an unparalleled spectacle: you will feel as if you have been catapulted into a storybook, the moment you cross the drawbridge, surrounded by two mighty towers.
A picture-postcard image, a fairy-tale castle with its sharp-roofed towers and its marvellous 26 gardens, landscaped to the finest detail. Every year the gardens host the International Garden Festival , which takes place from the end of April to mid-October: green designers, planners and architects from all over France come to the castle for the occasion.
Also worth visiting are the stables, described as the most luxurious and refined in Europe, and the sumptuous interiors.
A visit to the castle of Loches will allow you to take an incredible plunge into history.
The fortress creates one of the most beautiful strongholds in France thanks to an imposing 36-metre-high keep, one of the best preserved of its era. It was built by the Count of Anjou, Foulques Nerra, at the beginning of the 11th century and was later converted into a prison by Louis XI.
Famous people have passed through this place so steeped in history, such as Joan of Arc on a visit to meet the Dauphin Charles, or Agnés Sorel, court maid and mistress of the king, who became the first noblewoman to be recognised as maitresse en titre, i.e. official favourite of the king and who was buried in the manor. Or Cardinal Balue and Ludovico Sforza known as Il Moro, who died here when the fortress was turned into a prison.
From the Tour du Martelet you can enjoy a magnificent panoramic view of the entire complex and visit the prison and torture chamber. Also not to be missed is a visit to the dungeons, the underground fortifications and the prisoners’ graffiti, which testify to the cruelty of imprisonment.
The royal lodge is a magnificent example of the French Renaissance: together with the gardens, rich in flowering pergolas, it mitigates the gloomy and oppressive prison atmosphere of the fortress.
The majestic castle of Saumur dominates the course of the Loire with its spectacular fairy-tale appearance.
In reality, over the centuries it has been used as a fortress, summer residence, prison, barracks and even a weapons and ammunition depot.
Its current appearance can be attributed to the Anjou family, who turned the castle into a real residence with polygonal towers, richly decorated interiors and frescoes by Flemish painter Jan Van Eyck.
Inside, you can visit the Municipal Museum with its rich collection of paintings, archaeological pieces and sculptures and the Horse Museum.
The imposing Langeais Castle is astonishing for its duplicity: it consists of two parts, the tower of Foulques Nerra, classified as the oldest keep in France, and the Castle of Louis XI, which in turn has a double aspect, in medieval style on the side facing the city and in Renaissance style on the courtyard side.
You can thus see the architecture of two different historical periods in one place: ramparts, drawbridges, loopholes and males on one side, skylights, gardens, windows and many decorative elements in perfect Renaissance style.
The interiors are also interesting due to the presence of period furniture and beautiful tapestries that provide the original appearance of the castle and life inside. In one room, wax statues reconstruct the wedding between King Charles VIII and Duchess Anne of Brittany, which sanctioned the definitive union of the two countries.
The writer George Sand wrote: ‘this place is one of the most beautiful on earth and no king has a more picturesque park’.
How could he be wrong: an imposing building, magnificent, perfectly manicured French and English gardens, fountains and two styles of architecture, Renaissance and Classical, perfectly blended together.
Built on the site of an old feudal fortress, the Château de Valençay was built in the time of Louis XIII. In 1803, it was bought by Napoleon to give it to the Prince of Talleyrand, Minister of Foreign Relations, who used it to receive the dignitaries of the Empire with pomp and circumstance. It thus reached its peak among the artists, ambassadors, musicians and painters who frequented the small court.
Don’t miss a bucolic stroll through the magnificent French-style gardens that contain a floral chessboard and a labyrinth.
Also called ‘the giant of the Loire‘, the Château de Brissac is the tallest in France and its charm lies in the juxtaposition of the elegant 17th-century main body with the mighty, massive medieval towers.
Its refined line is emphasised by the shapes, the profile of the windows and the statues peeping out of the niches.
The interiors are worth a visit for the ceilings decorated with gold leaf and the tapestries that adorn the large sumptuous rooms. There is also a theatre used by the family at the time and wine cellars where you can taste the estate’s wines.
Don’t miss the large park full of cedars: you can follow different paths among ponds, magnificent flower beds, bucolic little bridges and small temples hidden by the trees. The focal point of the park is Le Pavillon des Cedres, a magnificent terrace where you can stop for a snack in the shade of the cedars.
One of the Loire’s most fairy-tale châteaux, its white stone reflected in the water and its pointed, romantic profile concealing an elegant residence.
Despite its imposing bulk with a double drawbridge, four angular towers and several moats, the Château de Plessis Bourré conceals a delightful courtyard with a portico and turrets on either side, a harmonious stylistic uniformity that has survived the centuries and made it the perfect location for many films and TV series.
The interiors are also worth a visit, with magnificent coffered ceilings such as in the Sala delle Guardie with impressive allegorical paintings.
Exquisitely Renaissance, Serrant Castle is a jewel of elegance and refinement, not only in its form but also in its richly decorated interior.
From the Renaissance staircase to the coffered ceilings, from the wonderful Flemish tapestries to the original furnishings with many works by Italian painters such as Canova.
The Reception Hall is a stunning room that will leave you breathless, but the Library is also impressive with its 12,000 volumes lining all the walls.
Don’t forget to stroll through the delightful park surrounding the castle, where daily life performances are organised during visits.
Surrounded by beautiful vineyards, this castle seems to be the image of bucolic serenity and instead in its depths are ditches 18 metres deep, a kind of underground fortress enclosing cellars, garrison quarters, ravines and wine presses.
The complexity of the structure derives from the various architectural changes that saw the castle first as a fortress with the large towers still standing and then as a residence with a beautiful flowered terrace.
More than visiting the interior, we recommend you admire La Roche de Brezé, the underground fortress built around the well and entirely dug into the rock. You will be left speechless as you visit the underground patrol path overlooking the deep moats and built to make the castle impregnable, or the soldiers’ quarters, the cellars with wine-making tools, a silkworm cellar and even a huge underground oven.
This massive and imposing castle dominates the town of the same name high above the Loir and offers beautiful views.
If the exterior, with its large pointed tower, is reminiscent of a feudal manor, the interior is transformed into a luxurious residence with Gothic forms: staircases, vaults and arcades of rare finesse.
And it is no coincidence that the residence is so refined: it belonged to John Dunois, companion in arms of Joan of Arc and a great admirer of the arts and literature. It was he who had the Gothic wing and the Sainte Chapelle built, which houses collections of statues and tapestries.
Also worth admiring is the medieval garden where medicinal, aromatic and food herbs typical of that historical period are cultivated.
Little known to most tourists, the Chateau du Lude is one of the most sumptuous and fabulous castles in the Loire Valley. Built on an earlier medieval fortress, of which it retains the corner towers, the Renaissance chateau has been transformed into an imposing yet elegant and finely decorated residence.
Don’t miss the Duchess’s studiolo, richly painted with cycles from the Raphael school, the large library containing over 2000 volumes, and the delicate, well-kept geometric gardens.
Nearby, we recommend the delightful village of Vaas, which overlooks the Loir and preserves ancient mills, and the small town of La Flèche with its beautiful castle overlooking the river.
For those travelling with children, a visit to the La Flèche zoo may be worthwhile: 7 hectares of forest enriched with a wide variety of animal species.
A beautiful Renaissance castle overlooking the water, it is asymmetrical thanks to a detached part.
The visit here is decidedly unusual and fun compared to other Loire châteaux: after admiring the interiors, don’t miss discovering the 40 hectares of English-style park with an enchanted island with children’s games, the reconstruction of a 1930s Orient Express station with a locomotive, or you can go to the kitchens to taste the famous honey madeleines biscuits and discover the recipe live with the château cook, in the orangery barn admire an exhibition of antique toys or visit the farm in the stables.
If you want to discover all the natural beauty of the Sologne, you can choose to admire it from a historical little train, the Blanc-Argent, which departs from Salbris and arrives at Lucay-le-Male via 15 stations.
In nearby Lamotte-Beuvron, you can discover the origins of the famous Tarte T atin invented here by the Tatin sisters.
This delightful château in the heart of the Loire Valley has a strong Gothic character but has undergone alternating phases of abandonment and renovation over the centuries.
It is one of the area’s minor castles but is an interesting point to admire its structure with its keep, corner tower and part of the walls dating back to the 13th century.
This delightful castle overlooking the river will enchant you at first glance with its romantic and bucolic views.
Reflected on the waters of the Indrois, bordered by weeping willows and ancient historical residences, the Château de Montresor is one of the most beautiful châteaux of the Loire, completely furnished and untouched for the past 150 years.
In 1848, a Pole, Count Xavier Branicki, councillor and friend of Prince Louis Bonaparte, the future Napoleon III, bought the château and renovated the building and park in a romantic style typical of the time. He kept its interior intact, however, preserving the decorations, paintings and furniture, which today represent a precious testimony to the past.
This magnificent castle, elegant and set in a beautiful natural landscape, is striking for the great stylistic difference between its southern, cold, austere and typically feudal façade and its eastern façade, with a profusion of late Gothic components, projecting bodies, sculpted statues and compositional variety.
Also worth a visit are the interiors where you can admire the royal throne and richly furnished great halls.
Only a 20-minute drive from Meillant Castle, this imposing but little-known château offers visitors a splendid view thanks to its massive structure and the magnificent panorama that surrounds it.
Indeed, in addition to the elegant interiors with splendid coffered ceilings, you can admire themed gardens, English-style parks and colourful rose gardens.
The castle is also called the little Carcassonne because of its imposing walls enclosing a courtyard now used as a garden.
This magnificent, austere but at the same time elegant and refined castle was built on an earlier fortress and is accessed via a drawbridge.
Unfortunately, it cannot be visited as it has been converted into a hotel, but if you happen to be in the area, drop in to admire the view.
This spectacular and imposing castle reflected on a body of water dates back to 1480, when it was built by a loyal leader of Charles VIII.
Although it can no longer be visited for a few years, Moulin Castle offers a beautiful view, so it is definitely worth a stop if only to take a few photos.
Its particularity lies in its mighty character, thanks to its walls and round towers, but at the same time delicate due to its reddish cladding and decorations.
A magnificent example of a Renaissance castle that has remained intact since 1526, it features a splendid Italian Carrara marble basin.
The castle houses a splendid collection of costumes and artefacts tracing the history of marriage since 1840 and the unusual museum of horse-drawn carriages and buggies.
There are horses and donkeys in the park to delight children.
Overlooking the Thouet River with its lovely gardens, this charming castle consists of an older fortified part and the 15th-century main building. Don’t miss the large medieval kitchen with its huge fireplace and seven-burner cooker.
To gain an insight into life in the past, we recommend a visit to the canons’ house and the cellar where the local wine was made.
In the following map you can see the location of the main places of interest mentioned in this article