The fairy-tale châteaux which were built or renovated during the Renaissance era between Gien and Angers welcome millions of visitors each summer. With their lanterns, turrets, gables, dormer windows and elaborated chimneys, they represent major tourist sites in France with well-known names such as Chambord or Azay-le-Rideau. Most of the châteaux are found along the Loire river or one of its tributaries (such as the Cher, Indre, Loir, Maine and Vienne). Some of them can be reach within two hours from Paris.
Since 2000, the castles of the Loire Valley from Sully-sur-Loire to Chalonnes have been added to the World Heritage list of Unesco. Here is a subjective list of our Top 10 most beautiful châteaux of the Loire Valley.
Prestigious, majestic, colossal, extravagant… these adjectives may not be enough to fully describe the splendour of Chambord. The largest chateau of the Loire Valley is indeed full of surprises for those who are lucky enough to explore its domain. This remarkable piece of architecture is certainly more than just a castle: it is the dream of a King, transformed into reality.
Find out more about Chambord.
Of all the Royal Châteaux in France, Blois is certainly not to be missed when visiting the Valley of the Loire. Blois Castle, organised around the main courtyard, is a fabulous palace with several wings totaling 564 rooms and 75 staircases, 100 bedrooms and a fireplace in each room!
Find out more about Blois Castle.
Cheverny Castle was built in the first half of the 17th century in a perfect symmetrical design. The façade is made up of gleaming white stones from the local quarries of the Cher Valley. The castle is surrounded by a beautiful English-style garden.
Cheverny lent its traits to the fictional “Château de Moulinsart” (Marlinspike Hall) in Hergé’s Tintin comic books.
Amboise lies on the eastern borders of the Touraine province which symbolises for many a “douceur de vivre” and the Garden of France. The chateau is located on a high rocky promontory which dominates the city and the River Loire.
Find out more about Amboise Castle.
The castle of Chenonceau is arguably one of the Loire Valley’s most famous and romantic châteaux, with its arches spanning the River Cher. The château was inhabited by great women such as Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de’ Medici who added the famous wing spanning the river.
Villandry is a Renaissance estate and castle best known for its beautiful formal gardens made up of endless geometric parterres edged in carefully manicured and clipped boxwood.
Villandry contains one of the last of the great Renaissance chateaux built in the Loire Valley and today attracts more than 350,000 visitors per year who come here to admire the beautiful, diverse and harmonious estate’s fine setting.
Find out more about Villandry.
The château of Ussé is also locally known as Sleeping Beauty’s castle for it was this fortress Charles Perrault had in mind when writing the classic fairytale. In the 15th century, the medieval fortress was partly rebuilt to incorporate some Renaissance features. With its medieval towers, dormant windows, the roofs pierced with elegant chimneys and its Renaissance courtyard, Ussé will definitely leave an unforgettable souvenir to its visitors.
Azay-le-Rideau certainly stands in one the most romantic places of the Loire Valley, set on an island of the Indre River whose water reflects its fine façade. This masterpiece of Renaissance architecture features all the refinement, elegance and grace expected of a Loire château. The surrounding garden has been landscaped in the English style.
Find out more about Azay-le-Rideau.
The medieval castle of Chinon was built from the 12th century on a rocky outcrop above the Vienne River. Chinon is closely associated with French history, particularly from the 12th to the 15th centuries. This is where Joan of Arc claimed to have heard heavenly voices and met the French king.
Although not a typical Renaissance château of the Loire Valley, Chinon Castle is nevertheless one of the greatest fortresses in France and is being restored to its former glory.
The château of Saumur overlooks the confluence of the Loire and the Thouet Rivers, as well as the town of Saumur which lies at its foot. It was originally built in the 10th century which makes it one of France’s oldest castles. The fortress was depicted in the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry as it appeared in 1410. Saumur Castle was one of the few fairytale castles in Europe to inspire Walt Disney for his Sleeping Beauty castle.