The Loire Valley traverses two
Centre [Region 6] and
Pays-de-la Loire [Western Loire, Region 18]. The Region of Centre
[Centre-Val-de-Loire] is so named for its central location in France.
It is comprised of the
To Centre's west is the Region of the
Pays-de-la-Loire; it consists of the départements of Loire-Atlantique,
Maine-et-Loire, Mayenne, Sarthe and Vendee.
The Loire Valley is also known as the
Châteaux de la Loire [the Castles of the Loire]. Its' fairytale castles are
rich in the renaissance architecture that was in vogue during the period
that saw the castles renovated and expanded. The renaissance also
influenced the magnificent courtly gardens that abound in the area. The
Loire Valley entered its renaissance period in the 16th century. As
elsewhere in Europe, the period brought with it new, artistic ideas in
Because of its beautiful and game rich
forests, the kings and nobility made this area the preferred habitat for
their castles. Their fairytale castles were nestled in the forests
surrounded by their splendid garden type settings that bordered the winding
Loire river and her tributaries, the Cher, Indrois and Indre.
The history, the grandeur and the beauty, of these architectural wonders is
beyond anything that one can imagine. A visit to a château or two, will
leave you awe stricken, actually feeling as though you are a part of the
history that occurred there.
A trip to the Loire Valley is an absolute must. It is quickly accessible,
from any part of France, by train, bus or car. The trains in France are
wonderfully comfortable and fast.
twenty-five percent of the Châteaux de la Loire remain intact, and of
these, Amboise is quite extraordinary.
The 15th-century château
Amboise [photos] is located on the Promontoire des Chatelliers that
overlooks the town of Amboise in the region of
Centre, département of
Indre-et Loire. Amboise is to the west of Tours, on the south bank
of the Loire River. This is a grand fortress perched on a cliff
overlooking the Loire River on one side and the arched gateway and
cobble stone streets of the village on its other side. This same site
has been fortified since the Celtic tribe, the Turones, inhabited the
area of the future Touraine.
As early as 503 Clovis, King of the Francs, and Alaric, King of the
Visigoths, met here. From before the Dark Ages through the Middle Ages,
wooden and stone fortifications were in place on this rocky spur. In
1214, Philippe-Auguste, King of France, took control of the area, making
the Amboise-Chaumont family his vassals.
Amboise was originally known for its many festive gatherings and
happenings. In 1516, Leonardo da Vinci traveled to Amboise in the
service of François I. He lived the last years of his life there, at
the Château de Cloux, where he died in 1519. The Amboise Conspiracy in
1560, and the Wars of Religion, diminished the festive association with
the château. These were sinister times for the château, due to the
slaughter of hundreds of Protestants that took place there. Today,
Amboise is a site that is used for the many festive-like events that act
as a beacon for tourists.
It was through Amboise that the Italian style of architecture was
introduced into the Loire Valley. Charles VIII devoted most of his
efforts to transforming the mediaeval fortress into a sumptuous gothic
palace for himself and Anne of Brittany. Its St. Hubert chapel houses
the tomb of Leonardo da Vinci.
The massive early
13th-century Château d'Angers
[photos], is not really beautiful, when compared to Chenonceau, but it
is impressive. It is located in the beautiful town of Angers which is
in the region of
Western Loire [Pays de la Loire], département of Maine-et-Loire.
The town is the former capital of the historic province of Anjou,
sitting on the banks of the River Maine.
The château dates back to the first century BC. It has known both Roman
and Viking rule and has suffered vast physical ruin, together with the
loss of much of its land holdings during those turbulent times
terminating in the Religious Wars. For the duration of the later epoch,
the château suffered even more devastation than Amboise. Continuing
confrontations, between the Protestants and Catholics, were
unrelenting. In an effort to abate the turmoil,
Henri IV, in 1598, promised the marriage of his son to the daughter
of the Duc de Mercoeur [the leader of the Catholic Party]; the marriage
contract was signed in April when the children were three and six years
The construction of the Moorish looking Angers began in 1228 and was
finished about ten years later. It was originally encircled by wide
moats that have been converted into today’s gardens. Initially, the
towers were one to two stories taller, but were ordered demolished by
the King during the Wars of Religion. Instead, the castle’s governor
merely had the towers reduced in height. The King died, during the first
part of the demolition, which saved the château from being totally
If you are an admirer of fine tapestry, the famous ‘Apocalypse’ tapestry
can be viewed here. In 1373, Charles V, the King of France, loaned a
copy of the manuscript the Apocalypse to his brother, Louis I, the Duke
of Anjou. The Duke was inspired by the tomb to commission tapestries to
be made of the Apocalypse. The tapestry, which is 140 meters long, is
housed in the 600-year-old building that was designed for it. This
building is the oldest and largest, of the castle’s structures, to
survive in such a grand state. The surviving tapestry itself contains
over 76 scenes that depict the book of John (the last book of the New
Testament), and the coming of a New Jerusalem.
Azay-le-Rideau [photos] is a smaller castle of exceptional
architectural beauty, built on an island in the Indre River. The
château has robust turrets and luxurious furnished rooms. It is also
considered to be one of the most beautiful of the châteaux in the
Valley. Named after one of it’s lords, Rideau d’Azay, it sits on the
Indre river, in the region of
Centre, département of
Indre-et-Loire, about 15 miles [24 km] southwest of Tours. This
famous early Renaissance château is situated in a beautiful park in the
ancient province of Touraine. Balzac called it "A many-faceted diamond
with the Indre as its setting".
Azay has its horrific past as well. In 1418, while passing through Azay,
a Burgundy guard insulted
Charles the VII. The King retaliated immediately by having the
guard and 350 other soldiers executed. He had the town taken over and
burned; for the next 100 years, the town, which is a maze of narrow,
twisting streets, was known as Azay-le-Brûlé ['Azay the Burnt'].
Financier Filles Berthelot, and his wife Phillippa rebuilt the château,
in the early 16th Century [1518 - 1529]. Phillippa oversaw the
reconstruction of this lovely château, which is partially built upon
pilings, allowing it to project out into the Indre River. When the
monarchy’s financier fell into disfavor with the King, he fled the
country and died in exile.
François I confiscated Azay-le-Rideau and gave it to one of his
companions in arms, Antoine Raffin. It now houses a Renaissance
furniture and art museum.
The château, which began as a feudal castle,
is located in the city of Blois, the capital
of the region of
Centre, département of
Loir-et-Cher. located in north-central France between Orléans
and Tours. The Loire River bisects the town. In 1429, Joan of Arc set
out from Blois to besiege Orléans.
The town of Blois, though of ancient origin, was first distinctly
mentioned by Gregory of Tours in the 6th-century. It did not become a
powerful countship until the 9th-century. The oldest parts of the
château were built by the counts of Châtillon during the 13th-century.
The history of the
Blois [photos] is interesting. It seems that the Count of Blois
married the daughter of William the Conqueror, and Stephen, their son,
became the King of England, in 1135, while Blois was still in its
prime. It was not until 1498 that Louis XII became King of France,
ruling his domain from the château, that Blois became a royal town and
capital of the Kingdom.
The château is one of the most prestigious Renaissance monuments in
France. It is a brilliant study of the progression of French
architecture from the Middle Ages into the 17th-century. Certainly some
of the earliest applications of the early French Renaissance style were
the additions that François I [1515 - 1547] made to the Château de Blois.
The Château de Blois’s exterior is one of the most beautiful of all the
châteaux in the region. The
François I spiral staircase, with it open stonework tower, is a
noted architectural masterpiece; Leonardo da Vinci, who died in 1519 at
nearby Amboise, may have designed it. In 1635 - 1638, Nicolas François
Mansart, the Paris born architect, designed and built the Orléans wing
of the château.
The Château de
Chambord [photos] is located in
the region of
Centre, département of
Loir-et-Cher, 9 miles [15 km] northeast of Blois on the Cosson
River.. It is, of course, the most glorious of the châteaux de la
Loire, built from 1519 to 1547.
King François I already owned
Chenonceaux Castles, but felt the need for a more elegant hunting
lodge than the one that originally occupied the setting. Thus the King
acquired over 10,000 more acres to build this architectural jewel.
Chambord, which was constructed as a châteaux
de plaisance in a style somewhere between fortified Gothic castle,
Renaissance palace and fairyland stands in a park surrounded by a 22
mile [35 km] long wall. Construction began in 1519 and was completed in
1547, boasting of 440 rooms, and just about as many fireplaces (that you
could walk into), 13 great staircases and stables for 1200 horses. It
was constructed with its magnificent, Italian style double staircase
that is believed to have been designed by Leonardo de Vinci. A person
going up or down one staircase would not meet another going the opposite
direction on the other staircase. The staircase was designed to allow
the simultaneous up and down passage, of both soldiers and horses, in
times of siege.
Chambord was quite an undertaking; the treasury was broke, and there was
no money to pay the ransom demanded for the release of François’ two
sons being held hostage in Spain. But, the construction continued.
Only François’ imprisonment, after losing the battle of Pavia, halted
the activity for about a year.
The King was so enthusiastic about his project that he wanted to change
the course of the Loire River to run by Chambord. But, even the King
agreed that the cost was prohibitive. Instead, he had the Cosson River
redirected to flow past the castle.
The park, which is enclosed by a wall, has been a national hunting
reserve since 1948. The barrier is reportedly the longest in France.
Chambord is an absolute must to visit. Tours to Chambord
The château de Chaumont [photos] was originally
constructed by the counts of Blois, during the 10th century, as a
fortress. It then became the property of the Chaumont-Amboise family
and was partially torn down on the orders of Louis XI in 1465. It was
rebuilt in 1510 by the family pursuant to their victories during the
Italian wars. By the 18th-century, the château had, in part, lost its
military look, taking on a Renaissance air. Upon the death of François
I, Catherine de Médicis forced Diane de Poitiers, François' mistress, to
exchange Chenonceaux for Chaumont-sur-Loire.
The château of
Chenonceaux [photos], is located in the region of
Centre, département of
Indre-et-Loire, on the right [north] bank of the Cher River east of
Tours. It is a smaller and privately owned château, but is generally
considered to be the most beautiful in the Loire Valley. It represents
a type of transitional architecture between Gothic and Renaissance.
Chenonceaux spans the Cher River in magnificent grandeur.
This is the Château that was designed, and added to, by several women.
It has come to be known as ‘The Castle Designed, Built, and Added To by
the Women of Chenonceaux’. The several women, during the course of some
400 years, were: Catherine Briconnet, Diane de Potiers, and
Catherine de Medici, among others.
Chenonceaux however had quite a racy history! Thomas Bohier, a finance
minister of Normandy, originally built the château in 1521. He was a
tax collector under
Louis XII and
François I. Bohier had originally bought the Chenenceau estate that
consisted of a manor and mill. Out of a property dispute, with an
heiress to Chenonceaux, Bohier finally acquired all the adjoining
fiefs. Bohier then raised the old buildings with the exception of the
manor. Since he could not personally supervise the construction of his
new château, due to his duties with the army near Milan, his wife
Catherine Briconnet, took charge and creatively designed and oversaw the
The Bohiers only enjoyed the château a few years before their deaths.
Their son, Antoine, ceded the château to François I in payment of his
father’s large debt to the Treasury. François I used it as a hunting
François I bequeathed Chenonceaux to his successor,
Henri II, who in turn gave it to his mistress Diane de Poitiers (his
senior by some 20 years). Diane turned Chenonceaux into a profitable
estate through development of its agriculture, the sale of its wine and
its tax income. Diane also had the bridge constructed that spans the
Cher, and generally enlarged the château. When
Henri II was killed in a tournament, in 1599, his wife
Catherine de Medici, forced Diane to exchange Chenonceaux for
Chaumont. Catherine then added the two-story bridge gallery, where
magnificent galas were held, and a park that she created because of her
love for the arts.
The saga of the women of Chenonceaux continued on; check your history
books for more details! The château is now the property of
the French Nation.
This is considered the most favorite of the Loire
Chateaux, you can visit this beautful castle on one of our
tours to Chenonceaux.
Cheverny [photos] is located in a clearing in the Sologne Forest in
the region of
Centre, département of
Loire-et-Cher. Its design is supposedly a to be a reproduction of a
Luxembourg Castle in the true French style favored by both
Henri IV and
Cheverny’s construction, by Count Hurault de Cheverny, began in 1604 and
was completed in 1634. The château, and its beautiful furnishings, is
still owned by Count Hurault’s descendents.
Tours to Cheverny
A 15th-century château built near the Indre
River near its joining with the Loire River. It is said to be the
'Sleeping Beauty Castle'.
The Château de
Villandry [photos] is located along the Cher River, southwest of
Tours, in the region of
Centre, département of
Indre-et-Loire. It was built in 1532 by Jean Le Breton, secretary
of state for François I, and was known as a beautiful Renaissance
Château (only the keep remains). It is renowned for its marvelous
gardens, which were restored in the 20th century, and are considered to
be one of the most highly acclaimed in France. Even the potager
[vegetable garden] is laid out in a formal, decorative manner. Be sure
to make Villandry one of your stops!
The Châteaux of Île-de-France
The château de Chantilly is located in the
ancient town of Chantilly, Oise département, Picardie region, some 23
miles [37 km] north of Paris. The town derives it name from a
Gallo-Roman, by the name of Cantilius, who built the first villa there.
It was once noted for Chantilly lace; today, it is principally noted for
the château, as a resort, for horse breeding and for its famous
racetrack. The town of Chantilly was previously known for its porcelain
and silk lace.
Le Nôtre, the designer of the world famous French gardens at Versailles
and Fontainebleau, also designed Chantilly's garden.
The château was built in the 14th-century on a small rocky island in an
artificial lake. In 1886, the château, together with the Musée Condé and
the surrounding park, was left to the Institut de France by the Duc
The town of Fontainebleau is located in north
central France, in the Seine-et-Marne département, in the region of
Île-de-France just southeast of Paris. The town, which is situated near
the Seine River, is best known for the château de Fontainebleau
[photos], a Renaissance château surrounded by a large forest, landscaped
grounds and huge formal gardens.
The château was originally built in the 13th-century, but was
reconstructed and decorated, in the Renaissance style, by François I.
He assembled a large number of well-known Italian and French artists, at
Fontainebleau [known as the School of Fontainebleau], to carry out the
works. Other French rulers also dispensed considerable wealth in
further beautifying the château. Among them were Henry IV [who doubled
it size and improved the gardens], Louis XIII [who installed the great
double staircase], Louis XIV [who employed André Le Nôtre to enhance the
gardens], Napoleon I, Louis XVIII, Louis Philippe and Napoleon III.
The château's galleries of François I and Henri II illustrate the
increasing elaboration of the French Renaissance style, as influenced by
Italian design, with increasing elaboration of applied decoration and
color. By contrast, Marie-Antoinette's rooms exemplify a more sober
style of straight lines, subdued coloring and simple ornamentation that
is referred to as Neoclassicism.
During the French Revolution, 1789 - 1799, the château was ransacked.
It was restored by Napoleon who favored it over Versailles. He had the
King's bedroom converted into a Throne Room. King Louis Philippe did
additional interior restorations in the mid-1800s.
The history of Fontainebleau would not be complete without
mentioning that it was the venues for the signing of the revocation of
the Edict of Nantes, in 1685, and of Napoleon I's signing of his decree
of abdication, in 1814. During the Second World War, the Germans used
the château as their headquarters. After the war, the North Atlantic
Treaty Organization [NATO] used it until 1965. It is now a public
In 1564, Catherine de Médicis began
construction of this royal palace along the Seine River in Paris,
adjoining the Louvre. 74 acres [30 hectors], that were adjacent to the
palace, were converted into gardens. It was here that Louis XVI and
Marie Antoinette were held prior to their removal to prison and
ultimately the guillotine. It was virtually destroyed during the period
of the Paris Commune in 1871. However, the Jardin des Tuileries is
still intact as a public park.
The château, which was designed in 1656 by the
architect Louis Le Vau, is located near Melun, France, southeast of
Paris. It was designed for Nicolas Fouquet and was completed, in the
French Baroque residential style in 1661. André Le Nôtre, who
formulated French neoclassicism, designed the château's French gardens.
These gardens, predicated upon highly formal arrangements, became the
prototype of the gardens he would later design for Louis XIV at
Versailles. They were designed around canals, fountains, statues and
ornamental urns. Great expanses of clipped trees and geometric flower
terraces, that seemed to stretch for miles, were used.
On August 17, 1661, Nicolas Fouquet, the French superintendent of
finance, hosted a large party in honor of Louis XIV at his newly
completed château of Vaux-le-Vicomté. When the
Sun King encountered the luxurious splendor of Vaux-le-Vicomté, he was
outraged that one of his ministers could have more palatial digs than
he. He had Fouquet thrown into the local Bastille and then set about to
hire those responsible for the design and building of this marvelous
château to design and build an even bigger, more elaborate palace for
him at Versailles.
Tours to Vaux-le-Vicomté
The Palace of Versailles, the largest palace
in France, is one of France's national monuments. It is the capital of
Yvelines département, located about 13 miles [21 km] southwest of
Paris. It is part of the French national heritage and one of the most
visited historic sites in Europe.
In 1624, Louis XIII had a hunting lodge built at Versailles. The Sun
King, Louis XIV, still smarting from the jolt he received at Fouquet's
get-together, hired Louis Le Vau as architect, Charles Le Brun, the
painter and decorator and André Le Nôtre, the landscape architect; all
having become famous from the building of Vaux-le-Vicomté.
Some 37,000 acres [15,000 hectares] of land were converted into
tree-lined terraces and walks and thousands of flowering plants. A
Grand Canal was excavated some 1,737 yards [1,588m] long and 67 yards
[61m] wide and 1,400 fountains and 400 pieces of new sculpture were
constructed. The old hunting lodge was renovated, giving it the
appearance of a small palace. The 1669 beginning of the palace was
fairly humble. In 1676, another architect, Jules Hardouin-Mansart
enlarged upon Vau's plans, adding a second story, the magnificent 240
foot [73 m] Hall of Mirrors, with painted ceilings done by Le Brun and
his assistants, and the North and south wings. The Treaty of
Versailles, which ended World War I, was signed in the Hall of Mirrors.
Over the next century, more than 36,000 workers were employed on the
project which, when completed, could accommodate up to 5,000 people.
Throughout the reign of Louis XV, the work that had begun by his
predecessor was continued, making the palace a symbol of royal
extravagances. The first episodes of the French Revolution took place
here. In 1837, Louis-Philippe restored the palace, converting it into a
museum consecrated to "all the glories of France". Today, it is
entirely surrounded by the city of Versailles, which did not come into
being until the construction of the palace.
The palace at Versailles became the envy of all of Europe's rulers;
three of the most grandiose of the imitations are the Herrenchiemsee in
Bavaria, the Schonbrunn in Vienna and the Winter Palace in St.
In 1870, the German army used the palace as its headquarters during the
siege of Paris. The next year, the German emperor was crowned there.
Subsequently, the palace was used as the seat of the French Parliament
until 1879. In 1875, the Third Republic's constitution was proclaimed
there. It was at Versailles, that the presidents of both the Third and
Fourth Republics were elected.