19 Apr The Best Châteaux In The Loire Valley
When the kings of France started to build their châteaux in the Loire Valley several centuries ago, it started something of a craze which saw many other noblemen aspire to make their grand architectural plans into a reality, and position themselves close to the seat of power.
As a result, you’ll find more than 300 spectacular castles lining a 280km stretch of the River Loire. With natural beauty and a warm climate, it’s no surprise the region was a popular location for the French aristocracy. The Loire Valley is also known as the Garden of France, home to countless vineyards as well as fields as far as the eye can see growing cherries, artichokes and asparagus.
With over 100 châteaux open to the public, knowing which ones to visit can be quite a challenge, so we’ve worked with Hertz to choose a few of the very best for you, as well as a few more must-sees.
Château de Chambord
Head down the A10 and take the Blois turn-off to discover the largest of the region’s châteaux. It was started by King Francois in 1519 and was eventually completed by Louis XIV in the mid-17th century. Built in the French Renaissance style using white limestone, it’s an undeniably imposing sight, even though its original purpose was only to be a hunting lodge.
Today it’s not just the château that’s open to visitors, you can also enjoy boat trips on the lake and horse and carriage rides through the grounds. There are also a number of gîtes you can rent on site which can sleep up to six people.
One of the most romantic and fairytale castles of the region, Château d’Azay-le-Rideauis is easily reached via the N10 from Poitiers. It sits on the island of another of the area’s rivers, the Indre, and its reflection in the water that surrounds it makes it an even more enchanting vision.
Nearby, there is one of the area’s many affordable restaurants, L’Aigle d’Or, which serves local cuisine and offers a very reasonable ‘prix fixe’ menu for around 30 euros.
Château de Villandry
Many of the castles have stunning formal gardens and perhaps the most impressive are at Château de Villandry, just a short drive down the D952 from Tours. The gardens were extensively re-designed after 1906 when de Villandry was restored, and today there is a maze, ornamental gardens, parterres as well as a spectacular area dedicated to growing vegetables.
Along with many other of the region’s chateaux, there are stunning son et lumière displays on evenings throughout the summer.
Great cities too…
Visit Nantes, the original capital of Brittany, and you’ll find that this former shipbuilding city is an exciting cultural hub, while Orléans has a brilliant art museum and a spectacular cathedral too.
Then there are all the vineyards to visit which produce predominantly white wines including Muscadet, Sancerre and Vouvray – and just driving from one to another will give you plenty of opportunities to enjoy some of France’s most beautiful scenery.
Don’t forget, if you’re an AA customer, you get to up to 10% off and add an additional driver for free with Enterprise, Alamo and National Car Rental, our AA Rewards partner. To get a quote or book click here.
And don’t forget to take out travel insurance, available with the AA from just €24.99.