The Loire Valley of France is famous for its many romantic chateaux and its wines. Here are five excellent venues to be found east of the city of Tours. They are in relatively close proximity and can be visited in a quick two days or a leisurely three by car. One can visit these sites in the order listed going in a generally easterly direction. These are all top-notch attractions, and a visit to the Loire Valley is not complete without seeing them all.
Each of these chateaux have regularly scheduled guided tours.Amboise The impressive chateau which overlooks the Loire river from the top of a cliff was a royal residence in the 15th and 16th centuries. Famous French kings and royalty were raised here, including Francois I, who later as king invited Leonardo da Vinci to live in Amboise. Leonardo spent the last few years of his life living and working close by at Clos Luce. He is buried in the small chapel of Saint-Hubert, just outside the chateau walls. At Clos Luce an interesting museum has been built.
Using plans drawn by Leonardo da Vinci, a number of his machines and inventions have been constructed in modern times and are displayed. They attest to the genius of this man who was hundreds of years ahead of his time. In the 17th and 18th century the chateau fell upon hard times and was a prison at one point. Numerous restoration projects took place over time, and these continue today under the direction of a foundation managed by descendants of the former king Louis-Philippe, who also spent time in Amboise during his reign.
Chenonceau Perhaps the most famous of the Loire chateaux, Chenonceau spans the Cher river. It is an amazing sensation to be touring the chateau and see the rushing waters of the river pass underneath. The grounds boast two magnificent gardens, each one built by a famous lady in French history. One was Diane de Poitiers who was a mistress of king Henri II and was given the chateau by her admirer. The king's wife, Catherine de Medici, was not happy about this and took back the chateau after Henri II died accidentally in a tournament. Not to be outdone, Catherine had the de Medici gardens constructed, and these were of course larger than the garden of Diane de Poitiers.
The property has a winery as well, and one can do some wine tasting as part of a visit.Chateau de Chaumont This was Catherine de Medici's residence during the time that Diane de Poitiers lived at Chenonceau. After Catherine used her power to claim Chenonceau upon the death of her husband, Henri II, Diane de Poitiers did live at Chaumont for a brief period. This chateau is smaller than some of the other famous Loire chateaux, but its architectural design makes it look as if it emetged from a fairy tale. This chateau is now the property of the French government.Chateau de Cheverny A personal favorite of this author, the Chateau de Cheverny is unique in many ways.
It is newer than some of the other famous properties, having been built in the early 17th century. Amazingly, the same family that built the chateau lives in it today. One sees many beautiful pieces of furniture, tapestries, and works of art in the magnificent rooms on the chateau tour.
The property, unlike many others in the region, was not ransacked during the French revolution. According to our tour guide there, the nearby townspeople actually helped to protect the building from destruction since the family was always kind to the local inhabitants. Of course visitors are not allowed into the residential section of the chateau, but the grounds can be visited as well. There one will find the kennel which houses about 90 hunting dogs, and they are taken out on hunts twice per week in order to keep up the old deer hunting tradition in the region.Chateau de Chinon The Chateau de Chinon is the largest of the chateaux in the Loire region, and it contains more than 400 rooms.
In contrast to the warmth of Cheverny, however, there is little furniture and most of the rooms are empty, as the building was ransacked during the French revolution. One does get a sense of the opulence that was here, however, since both king Louis XIII and his son, king Louis IV (the "Sun King") stayed here on many occasions. Prior to that the chateau was the residence of Charles VII, the dauphin of France in the early 15th century.
The legendary Joan of Arc came here to pledge her allegiance to him and urged him to declare himself king and fight to liberate France from the English. In recent years Chinon has become well known for its cabernet franc based wines and there are numerous opportunities nearby to sample some of these wines.The Chateaux of the Loire are among the most popular destinations in France. Don't miss any of these great venues if you go there. If you have additional time to spend in the area, there are other smaller and less famous chateaux nearby which can be visited, and these are impressive as well..Walt Ballenberger is founder of Beaux Voyages, which provides active tours in France including Tour de France bike tours. He has lived and worked in France and speaks the language fluently.
By: Walt Ballenberger