The Loire Valley is a living laboratory: Leonardo da Vinci designed his wackiest inventions here, and kings made it the crucible of the French Renaissance. Clinging to the riverbanks, the Chateau de Chambord and its neighbours great and small tell the fabulous story of this artistic effervescence – also expressed by gardens such as those at Chaumont-sur-Loire, which is both a chateau and the landscape laboratory of the future.
The Loire chateaux: must-sees in the Loire Valley
To visit the Loire Valley is to explore a unique heritage: that of its chateaux! With its mass of turrets and chimneys, the Chateau de Chambord – commissioned by Francis I and conceived by Leonardo da Vinci – is perhaps the most iconic. To admire its magnificence you need to take your time: 60 of the 426 rooms are open to visitors. In Amboise, chateaux go hand in hand: on one side the royal chateau with its dazzling collection of Gothic and Renaissance furniture, and on the other the Chateau du Clos-Lucé, former residence of kings. While the chapel and its oratory, a gem of Gothic architecture, recall the memory of Anne of Brittany, it’s the soul of Leonardo da Vinci that permeates this elegant home – the Mona Lisa painter spent his last three years here. Painstakingly restored, the Chateau du Clos-Lucé offers a real journey into the artist’s world, whose decorations have been faithfully reconstructed. In the grounds, you can even experience the inventions of this visionary engineer by walking on a paddle steamer or crossing a swing bridge!
But did you know? Not all the chateaux of the Loire are built on the Loire itself. The Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau is built in the middle of the Indre, its southern façade rising above a mirror of water. And the photogenic Chateau de Chenonceau sees its gallery in the waters of the Cher. Given by Henry II to Diane de Poitiers, his favourite, the chateau was later taken over by his widow, Catherine de Medici. The sumptuously decorated rooms propagate the memory of these women: from the ‘green cabinet’ to Catherine de Medici’s room crowned with a gilded ceiling. And the gardens restore the spirit of an era during which refinement was also expressed in the landscape.
Because when you talk about the chateaux of the Loire, you talk about the art of gardens. The Chateau de Villandry is well worth a visit for its magnificent terraced gardens. As for the Domaine de Chaumont-sur-Loire, it stands out with its international garden festival, which gives a carte blanche to landscape designers from around the world.
Coming to the Loire Valley means extending the adventure to Nantes. Beyond its Chateau of the Dukes of Brittany, Nantes is also bursting with unique modern creativity. On the Île de Nantes at the Galerie des Machines, for example, weird and wonderful inventions recall those of Leonardo da Vinci and Jules Verne.
Discover the Loire’s cuisine and wines
You’ll always be well fed and watered in the Loire Valley, with rillettes (pork pâté), andouillette (sausage) and kidney stew, local cheeses (including goat’s cheese Selles-sur-Cher) and Cormery macarons, which are the oldest in France. Numerous tasty dishes are accompanied by a rich choice of wines. Muscadet-Sèvre-et-Maine from the Nantes-Sancerre vineyards, through to Chinon, Saumur and Bourgueil, not to mention the sparkling Crémant de Loire… the Valley of the Kings is also all about wine!
South of Orléans, Sancerre calls for a detour for its medieval village, but also its 3,000 hectares of vineyards. To taste its world-famous wine, head to the cellars for a gourmet tour: it’s also where Crottin de Chavignol goat’s cheese comes from.
Chateau life in the Loire Valley
And what if you could have a taster of chateau life in the Loire Valley? Just step into one of the chateau hotels, some of which are classified Relais & Châteaux, such as the Domaine de Haute-Loire. And enjoy exceptional events: the Scénoféerie de Semblançay charting the history of Touraine, or the international garden festival in Chaumont-sur-Loire.