The Valley of Loire, home to a few hundred castles, is a fascinating destination for a Western history and architecture buff, who I make pretenses to be. We’ve been to the area more than once, visited all major points of interest and a fair number of minor ones, and definitely marked a few of the castles as our favorites.
Our top favorite is Château de Chenonceau.
Frequently dubbed a “Castle of Ladies” on account of being associated with a number of important women in French history, it is an exquisite piece of architecture. With a long wooded alley leading up to it and majestic formal gardens fronting it, it is as fairy-tale-like castle as they come. It also spans a river – albeit a small one, called Cher.
Our second favorite is Azay-le-Rideau.
This castle is smaller, more intimate, maybe not as regally serene, but still awfully picturesque.
The largest of them all – and an obligatory stop on practically any castle-viewing itinerary – is Château de Chambord.
Built as an official royal residence in 16th century, it has several famous architectural details, among them the double-helix staircase rumored to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci, and the elaborate masonry of its roof, with a fantastic assemblage of towers, cupolas, gables, lanterns, and chimneys. A few of the castle and roof details.
While the main attraction of Loire Valley is undoubtedly its castles, there are hundreds of quaint, charming, vivid and photogenic corners all over the area. Places where I feel inclined to linger and take in the serene beauty.
A significant portion of “lesser” castles (not châteaux, but rather domaines) exist nowadays as hotels. We stayed at a couple during our visits to the Valley. Here is a view of one of those, Hotel Domaine de la Tortinière, near Tours, which attempts to blend historic magnificence with modern facilities.
One other of our favorites is Château de Villandry. What it lacks in presentation from a castle standpoint, it compensates for with its incomparable gardens.
Those are just a few favorite castles. I am omitting Chaumont, Cheverny, Langeais, Blois, Amboise, Usse, and dozens of others, each with its own unique and fascinating features. Loire Valley is the land of the castles like no other.