The French Châteaux of the Loire Valley by Ray Raposo

Châteaux de Chambord is the largest chateaux of of the Loire Valley

After a few days in Paris, four of us, our friends Rick and Marilyn, my wife Peg and I rented a car and drove southwest to visit the historic Châteaux of the Loire Valley. 

There are 42 Châteaux mostly located in the historic towns of Amboise, Angers, Blois, Chinon, Montsoreau, Nantes, Orléans, Saumur, and Tours along the Loire River in France, just a couple hours southwest of Paris. Chateaux is a term used to describe anything from a hunting lodge to a residence, we might say mansion or palace, of important people. 

Approaching Amboise from across the Loire River

The Loire River flows through a gorgeous green landscape and these marvelous Renaissance palaces, castles and fortresses. They are the real jewels of the area located mostly between the towns of Tours and Blois. Besides the numerous chateaux, the surrounding deep forests with deer and wild boars, plus area’s wine regions, add to the large tourist interest in the Loire Valley.

The sun sets on beautiful Amboise, the Chateau is high in the distance
We visited three of these towns starting with the picturesque village of Amboise. The Royal Château d’Amboise sits on a hill overlooking the whole countryside, the town below and the Loire River. The Renaissance designed building and gardens were rebuilt in 1492 by Charles III.
Château d’Amboise
Château d’Amboise
Village and St. Hubert
View of village
The lovely Amboise streets with the chapel in background
Rick in Amboise
Amboise night falls
Walking at night
Nighttime Amboise

The current chateau d’Amboise is but a quarter of the original size of this palace. Tapestries and royal furnishings are still displayed inside the now smaller palace. The town below is quite charming with lovely shops and restaurants lining the narrow cobblestone sidewalks. King Francois I brought an older Leonardo da Vinci, the Italian Renaissance master, and had him stay at the nearby Chateau Clos-Lucé where he lived for 3 years. Some like Clos-Lucé, the stone and brick building built in the 1470s, even more than the royal residence. It also has a secret underground entrance used by the King when visiting da Vinci to see his many inventions, some of which now sit in the park grounds surrounding the chateau.

Chapelle de St. Hubert
Leonardo da Vinci’s tomb
A monument to da Vinci
Chateau Close-Luce

It might surprise you to hear, but Leonardo da Vinci, who died in 1519, is actually buried in a tomb in the small Chapelle de St. Hubert on the Château d’Amboise grounds. We used the town of Amboise as our base camp, staying in a nice hotel, enjoying the town’s many restaurants, with outdoor sitting, while visiting the surrounding area.

Rick, Marily, Peg and Ray with the Chateaux de Chenonceau arching across the River Cher.
About a twenty minute drive from Amboise is the Chateaux de Chenonceau. Of all these incredible chateau, I had always wanted to see the beautiful Chateaux de Chenonceau most of all. The Chateaux de Chenonceau arches across the River Cher. Known as the ladies’ Chateau as it was the only one built by a woman, Katherine Briconnet, and lived in by the Dames de Chenonceau. King Henri II originally purchased it for his mistress, Diane de Poitiers in 1547. At that point the chateaux did not cross the river, originally the back part was just a wooden bridge. It was when Catherine de Medici, the King’s wife, took it over after his death in 1559 and built the two story gallery over the river. It is said that with memories of her native Florence and perhaps the Ponte Vecchio that the present form took hold.
Chateaux de Chenonceau
Chateaux de Chenonceau
Chateaux de Chenonceau
Chateaux de Chenonceau


Chateau de Chenonceau and gardens

The inside the chateau Chenonceau there are tapestries and paintings by Rubens and Poussin adorning the various rooms and the long grand gallery. The large gardens on either side are lovely as well with many flowering plants and walkways for you to enjoy.

Chenonceau gardens
Chenonceau gardens
Chenonceau gardens
Chenonceau gardens
Looking out a balcony of the Chateaux de Chenonceau
You can tour both the inside of the chateaux, peer out the balconies and wander the walkways of the extensive flower filled gardens. A smaller tower sits by the chateau.
Châteaux de Chambord building is colossally massive building
Just under an hour drive from Amboise is the Châteaux de Chambord. It is indeed the largest chateaux of them all with over 400 rooms and perhaps the second most beautiful. The chateau is the biggest attraction in the whole region. The Renaissance inspired architecture with Leonardo da Vinci’s influence, shows perfect symmetry with fairy tale towers topping the large fortress-like main structure. The construction took 20 years, finishing the chateau around 1539. It was originally a hunting lodge for King Francois I, although he never lived in the chateau. Other kings after him stayed there including Louis XIV, the sun King of Versailles fame.
Inside Chambord
Inside Chambord
Inside Chambord
Atop Chambord

Make no mistake when you hear hunting lodge, this Châteaux de Chambord building is colossally massive and deceives the eye from a distance seeming smaller than it really is.

The very large Châteaux de Chambord in the distance with dry fall leaves on the ground
Last year, after months of work, they have added some lovely formal gardens to the large front grassy area as you approach the chateau improving the overall beauty of Chambord.
A stone bridge approaching Chambord 
While there are over 300 chateaux in the area, other popular Loire Valley Chateaux you might want to visit include Chaumont, Villandry, Beauregard, Blois, Cheverny, d’Ussé, d’Azay-le-Rideau and Sully-sur-Loire. Some of these chateaux have wonderful water surroundings.  Although I recommend driving, you can visit the area from Paris via train perhaps staying in Tours or Bois then finding a ride to each site, Chenonceau has a train station right near the main entrance. 
A church sits near Chateaux de Chambord
Having been fortunate enough to visit this area and these chateaux, it certainly makes one want to visit again to see more of these marvelous French treasures of the lovely Loire Valley. 
Le Labyrinthe, an English Garden hedge maze outside Chateaux de Chenonceau

After our time in the Loire Valley area, we drove south, first to Lyon then on to the towns of Avignon and Arles before continuing to the French Riviera and further east into Italy. But that’s a story for another time. Hope you get to enjoy this beautiful historic area of France.