The Loire Valley Castles
May 31st 2012 - Bernard Prince
Sometimes we invite guest blogger to write about their passions. Marie-Ève Vallières regularly blogs on her European whereabouts, expat experiences and discoveries. She visited over 17 countries and lived in both the UK and France. A travel addict with a sweet tooth, she can be found here : http://www.eurotriptips.com
If there is one thing France is known for, it’s the thousands of castles spread across the country. And no other region can boast having as much as the Loire Valley, located 2 hours south-west of Paris. Ideal for a daytrip outside the big city!
Any trip in the valley starts with its “capital”, Tours. The city is definitely worth spending an exploratory afternoon, and not just use it as a base. The old part of town is particularly lovely, especially around Place Plumereau, the Town Hall and the banks of the Loire River. Tours will leave you enchanted!
The main castle of the region is Chambord Castle. Well known throughout the world for being amazingly large (over 400 rooms!), for its intricately carved roof-terrace and the gigantic domain that surrounds it (as big as Paris). Whatever aspect is your favourite, Chambord does not disappoint. Also worth noting: the double-axis staircase designed by none other than Da Vinci, and the magnificent view from the rooftop, from which we can even observe the occasional deer. Although it is today one of the most prestigious castles of France, it was not meant to be anything else than a vulgar hunting shack in its preliminary days. Not exactly everyone’s idea of a hunting shack, right?
Just as impressive but more modest in size, Chenonceau Castle is the most popular one of the gang. Its romantic side is due to the many ladies who once resided in it, namely Catherine de Médicis and Diane de Poitiers. The castle has unique architectural features like the gallery that crosses the Cher River, which was once used as a hospital during WWI. The only negative side? Its popularity. Crowds are massive, compact and constant at Chenonceau, and one better be loaded with patience before getting there.
Further in the Valley, you’ll find Villandry Castle, mostly known for its superb gardens, which have often been awarded prestigious prizes. Whether you prefer trees, flowers, vegetables or herbs, you will not be disappointed. There is even a maze for the pleasure of both kids and grown-up kids. And while you’re in the area, why not pay a visit to Azay-le-Rideau, also known as the “enchanted mirror” because of its constant reflection on the river that surrounds it. Probably one of the most interesting castles of the Valley, if you ask me – its architecture was revolutionary architecture at the time it was built, and the state rooms are very nicely furnished. But perhaps most importantly, maybe you’ll even get to meet the King… a furry, four-legged and long mustached King!
Last but not least, Amboise Castle – my absolute favourite, for many reasons. Firstly because of the beautiful village around it, where patisseries, local brews and smiles abound. Secondly because of the unique views on the castle itself, which not only is a wonder on its own – its chapel is also the eternal home of Leonardo Da Vinci, who is buried there. The gardens are not as extravagant as other castles, but do have a calm atmosphere to it, perfect for chilling out while observing the castle.
Whichever castles you decide to visit, you will be experiencing the trip of a lifetime, trying to imagine the Renaissance stories of these French kings and queens, and marvel at the luxury they lived in. Although this era was a long time ago, it still fascinates the masses, and the Loire Valley is the ideal place to learn more about it.
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