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Five Chateaux in France

Fulfilling any childhood fantasy of being royalty might be easier than you think with a trip to a few spectacular Chateaux in France.

Chateau Chambord

Hidden in the center of a forest is the Chateau Chambord. If you close your eyes for a moment and envision what your idea might be for a house only occupied for the occasional nights stay or whose primary use would be as a hunting lodge – a castle with 440 rooms, 84 staircases, and 365 fireplaces would certainly not be what most people would have in mind. Yet, this was the structure that filled the desires of King Francois I. For a hunting lodge, it is the largest Chateau in the Loire Valley.

At its center you will find a double spiral staircase that was said to be designed by Leonardo da Vinci. It has passed through a variety of owners ending with the Count of Paris before it was eventually purchased by the French government and turned into the attraction it is for visitors today.

Chateau d’ Usse

Another notable chateau, found in the beautiful Loire Valley, has served as the inspiration for more than one princess story. This castle is literally a fairytale come to life. Its image served as inspiration and sparked an idea for the writer Charles Perrault. The basis for his story Sleeping Beauty can be linked back to the blue slate roof and gothic turrets of the Chateau d’ Usse.

It has been appropriately nicknamed the castle of dreams. It was originally intended to serve as a fortress, but for many it has become the ultimate symbol of a fairytale. It is even said to be one of many castles that inspired Walt Disney when he was creating his famous Cinderella Castle.

Chateau Villandry

Here it is not the beauty of the chateau’s design that draws people to what is known as one of the most visited castles in France, but the gardens surrounding it. Villandry was built in the 16th century near the Cher River. While the chateau itself is certainly impressive, its French mosaic gardens are the main draw. You can experience what is truly the finest example of formal Renaissance gardens in France. This is a place that anyone with even the slightest tinge of a green thumb could admire and appreciate.

Chateau Chaumont

Chaumont holds the title of being one of the oldest chateau’s in the Loire Valley. Built in the 10th century, it was the one-time home to Catherine de Medici, the queen of France and wife of Henry II. Eventually she was able to switch residences with his mistress in favor of a grander style, but this castle certainly has its charm. It is now owned by the French government and serves primarily as a museum.

Its English style gardens play host to the Festival des Jardins, which lasts from June to mid-October. This unique festival allows for the true creativity of individuals to come alive as they are challenged by a unique theme each year. This past year it was “gardens of color” and previous years it has been “at play in the garden” and even “movement”. Since the gardens are constantly changing, the festival provides just another reason to return annually for a visit.

Chateau Versailles

Any list of chateaux in France would not be complete without including the palace at Versailles. I realize that most people are aware of Versailles and its beauty, but there could be no justification in creating a list without including it. It is easily one of the most widely known palaces in the world. This was a residence literally created for the Gods. Much like Chateau Chambord it began as a hunting lodge for Louis XIII.

Over the years it has been updated and expanded upon to achieve the splendor we recognize it for today. Within the palace walls you will find 700 rooms, 67 staircases, and over 2,000 windows. Visiting this national museum of history, a true testament to what architecture, wealth, and design can achieve, would be the perfect conclusion to any French Chateaux traveling experience.

Have you visted a French Chateau? Share your experiences in the comments!

Written by Molly. Photo Credits : MACSURACK / ell brown / cookipediachef / aschaf / CpaKmoi

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  • User Gravatar
    Alison
    February 25th, 2010

    I visited Chateau Chenanceau and Villandry in 2008 and they were both stunning. You can see some of my photos from Villandry here http://www.acmphotography.com/.....villandry/ I’ve been to Versailles a few times too. It’s amazing but the crowds are a bit impossible. Not an experience for the clausterphobic! I am hoping to get back to the Loire and the rest of these chateaux are definitely on my must see list!
    .-= Alison´s last blog ..Musée Magritte Museum Brussels =-.

  • User Gravatar
    Lindastamps
    February 25th, 2010

    In 1977 I went to France with my parents (I was very young – of course haha). We visited all the chateaux you mention. What I remember is the double staircase at Chambord and the fact that Usee was inspiration for Sleeping Beauty. I also remember Versailles being huge (I think by then I’d been “castled-out”). Funny what we take away from these things as a teenager.

  • User Gravatar
    kathleen howard
    February 25th, 2010

    On a trip to the Loire Valley in 2007 we stayed in a campsite quite close to Chateau Chambord. I thought it was beautiful and the surrounding grounds were lovely too. The day we were there a fresh food market was on in the grounds also.We also visited Chateau Chenonceau which has a magnificent long driveway to it and the setting over the river Loire is fantastic, as is the interior.

  • User Gravatar
    Amy @ The Q Family
    February 25th, 2010

    I have only been to Versailles probably about 10 years ago. I would love to go back again. Thos other chateaux look gorgeous. Definitely will have to put on my list for our next visit. :)
    .-= Amy @ The Q Family´s last blog ..Flying With Kids – Things to Know Before You Board That Flight =-.

  • User Gravatar
    Robin @ My Melange
    February 25th, 2010

    @Alison Thanks for sharing a link to those photos!

    @Linda It is funny, I would think you would be castled out after all of those ;)

    @Kathleen Sounds lovely. That driveway sounds like great anticipation.

    @Amy I hope you make it to all of them – they all seem worth a visit ;)

  • User Gravatar
    Frenchholiday
    February 25th, 2010

    Lovely pictures and a nice article.

    It’s easy to get château’d out in the Loire Valley. We have 18 châteaux within 1 hours of us here at Les Mortiers. They are just beautiful!

  • User Gravatar
    Gray
    February 25th, 2010

    Gorgeous. The fact that some of these places were used as mere “hunting lodges” cracks me up. Wow, they really had to rough it, huh?
    .-= Gray´s last blog ..Catching a Ride in San Juan =-.

  • User Gravatar
    Thomas
    February 25th, 2010

    A great collection, and I have visited each one. But, I would definitely have château de Chenonceau in my top 5

  • User Gravatar
    Robin @ My Melange
    February 25th, 2010

    @ French Holiday – Sounds like everyone could find a favorite with 18 to choose from ;)

    @ Gray – I know. Can you imagine. I imagine hunters dressed in camo perched up in a tree- lot living in oppulance ;)

    @ Thomas – Thanks for the nice words. We had just mentioned Chenonceau in another Loire Valley post, so we wanted to highlight some others. But I hope readers will take your advice and visit that one as well. So many to visit, so little time :)

  • User Gravatar
    Fiona
    February 27th, 2010

    I visited Villandry many many years ago – absolutely beautiful gardens. Actually the whole Loire Valley is gorgeous. Must go back some time.

  • User Gravatar
    Tom Greenwood
    March 2nd, 2010

    We visited Chateau de Chenanceau and found it absolutely magical. Great place for a walk by the river too.
    .-= Tom Greenwood´s last blog ..Medieval Towns in France =-.

    They all look so beautiful Tom…I don’t know how I would choose. Or perhaps I wouldn’t have to – just visit them all ;)

  • User Gravatar
    Jen Laceda
    March 3rd, 2010

    Sigh…I haven’t visited this part of France yet. It would be a nice trip for me and the family. Perhaps, so biking in the countryside…Lovely collection of chateaux.

    I think that would be a great way to visit, Jen. Let me know when you are going ;)

    .-= Jen Laceda´s last blog ..How To Eat Like A(n) _____ Locally =-.

  • User Gravatar
    Rachel
    March 29th, 2010

    I visited a number of these chateaux years ago and now that I live in France, am hoping to get back to the Loir Valley to share them with my daughters. They are half French and I’ve wondered if they’ll experience the same awe I experienced at first seeing these castles.

    I‘ll just bet they will. Every little girl likes to dream of living in a big castle!

    .-= Rachel´s last blog ..Warming butts and beds =-.

  • User Gravatar
    Julia
    April 4th, 2010

    This is really funny you know because I live in la vallée de la Loire (I am french, in live in Tours) and through my childhood I got so (how do you say ?) “castled out” (meaning I got sick just at the idea of visiting a new castle, right ? :D), I never really enjoyed this. But I guess architecture is not a thing you’re fond of when you’re a kid.

    I started enjoying these castles last year, when my friends and I started making bike rides by the Loire (when I turned 18). Let me tell you the nicest one to see from the outside is le château de Chenonceau, which is à cheval (like a bridge) on each side of the river :)

    It is quite cool to know you guys liked these pieces of culture. I have never visited le château d’Usse but it seems cool, maybe I’ll go. I agree with someone who said Versailles is just too full of people. Big crowds and long queues, arrhh. But the inside is dreamy : the furniture is still at its place, each room made me daydream about my previous princess life for a few seconds.

    Beautiful pics, especially the one of the château d’Usse, you made me want to go there. (Sorry if I made mistakes I tried really hard no to ahah)

    Thanks for popping by to comment. You’re lucky to live so close to these wondferul castles.

  • User Gravatar
    Vera Marie Badertscher
    September 29th, 2010

    Now you’ve done it. I just got back from France, and you’ve made me want to go again. We didn’t get to the Loire, and skipped Versailles on purpose–trying not to go to places packed with tourists.

    Not for the beauty, but for the history, we visited Chateau Gaillard, the castle of of Richard Lionheart north of Giverney. Turns out it is being restored and is a beauty, as well (in its hulky, medieval way). And relatively few people discover it.

    Sounds like you discovered a real treasure Vera!

  • User Gravatar
    lara dunston
    September 29th, 2010

    Loved this post! We almost stayed in the Loire this year for Grantourismo but sadly those plans didn’t come together. Next year hopefully. Thanks for this – you’ve inspired me to get there next trip.

    My work is done here then Lara! ;)

  • User Gravatar
    food lover kathy
    September 29th, 2010

    I lived in Paris for two years and had a friend in Orleans, so I’ve visited “a few” castles. You have a great list. I also loved Chateau Chenanceau and its kitchen! One of my favorites near Paris, with a gorgeous garden and fountains, is the Chateau Vaux le Vicomte–much overlooked because of Versailles and its vicinity to Paris. It is, supposedly, where the Man in the Iron Mask was imprisoned.
    http://www.vaux-le-vicomte.com/en/index.php

    Thanks for sharing that – I’ll have to check it out Kathy!

  • User Gravatar
    Ms. Pearl
    September 30th, 2010

    Hi…your blog is beautiful and the tips are great.

    I’ve been to Chambord, which was fabulous; Blois (esp. lovely at night) and Versailles, my favorite. Way back in 1999, you could purchase a museum pass which allowed going to the head of a very long line at Versailles. Lots of tourists–yes–but sooooooo worth it.
    I really want to see Chenonceau and Villandry someday.

    Thanks Ms. Pearl – I am sure you will get back there someday….

  • User Gravatar
    andygirl
    March 29th, 2011

    when I studied in Paris, I visited so many chateaux that it’s hard to remember. obviously Versailles was the top of the list, also Chenonceau, and Beauville I believe. we spent quite a bit of time in the Loire, but the names escape me now.
    :)

    How lovely. Perhaps you had so much delicious Loire Valley wine, that you don’t quite remember now. And that is perfectly fine ;)

  • User Gravatar
    Don
    April 7th, 2011

    I visited Carcasonne in 1973 when it was undeveloped for tourists and simply sat open and unattended. People could roam the grounds, castle, courtyards, anywhere without restriction. I made love with my girlfriend in one of the towers of one of the curtain walls. Sweet times.

  • User Gravatar
    stephanie
    May 19th, 2011

    We lived in the South of France for 7 amazing years but never made it to the Loire Valley region. We got so hooked on Provence and than discovered the island of Corsica and could never get enough…we still live in Europe so the next time we are back in France we will go to the Loire Valley. For me France will always be my home even though I am American by birth.

    I feel the same way about Italy when I visit. Hopefully I’ll be lucky enough to live there one day.

  • User Gravatar
    Megan
    June 11th, 2012

    Enjoyed this post and it back good memories of my excursions to the Loire. Chenonceau was always my favorite. I’ve always had a persistent desire to purchase one of those smaller chateaux littering the french countryside, and given how affordable some of them are (at least to purchase…maybe not to maintain)….It could always be rented out to tourists, right? ;)

    Sounds like a good plan to me Megan!

  • User Gravatar
    Chad @RoadDogTravel
    October 20th, 2012

    Wow, I’ve never seen a hunting lodge with 365 fireplaces! I planned to visit some of the Loire Chateau while in France, but ran out of time. I did get to see Le Mont Saint Michel in Normandy though, pretty impressive too.

    Indeed it is Chad. You’ll get to the Loire next time!
    Chad @RoadDogTravel recently posted..The Arc de Triomphe in Paris, FranceMy Profile

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    J Wilson
    January 12th, 2013

    Thanks for this – we are hoping to maybe try the Loire this summer although I’d love to see Versailles too. It features in the excellent film Le Roi Danse (The King Dances) about the composer to Louis XIV Jean Baptiste Lully – a good film to show the sheer opulence that went into designing Versailles!

    Versailles is amazing! I can’t even imagine what it would have been like to live there. Thanks for the movie tip :)

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