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