Published on September 14th, 2014 | by Amy Lynne Hayes2
Fairytale Castles of the Loire Valley
“Once upon a time there lived a king and queen…”
Tales of knights and princesses, fairy queens and evil godmothers create the stories so beloved by each generation. The escape to a far away kingdom delights the imagination. And in so many of these tales, the action centers around a castle.
Castles provide a real life link to the fantasy world. Their utilitarian purpose has been transformed into a whimsical backdrop for myths and legends of the most romantic nature. This aura draws modern day visitors like a moth to a flame, and France boasts some of the most beautiful castles in all of Europe.
The Loire Valley is home to scores of castles, earning itself the title of “Valley of a Thousand Châteaux.” Each has its own unique place in French history, and each offers visitors a glimpse into the life of the nobility of a bygone era. But unless time is unlimited, it would be impossible to see every one of these beauties in one trip. So how do you choose?
Below is a selection of Loire Valley châteaux – the perfect locations to relive those fairytale dreams in a single weekend.
Imagine trumpets sounding, making their grand entrance… the following four châteaux in all their glory.
The fairest of them all.
The Château d’Ussé, located near the town of Chinon, has a personal connection to the fairytale culture. It is commonly known as “The Sleeping Beauty” castle, and tradition claims that Christopher Perrault used this castle as inspiration when penning his story “The Sleeping Beauty.” The original structure dates back to the 11th century, as it occupied a strategic location near the woods of Chinon. The dilapidated fortress regained its glory in the 15th century when it was bought by Jean V de Bueil and rebuilding began. It changed ownership multiple times throughout the following centuries, finally landing in the hands of the Comte de Blacas in 1885. The château remains under the name of that family today.
Visitors to the property can explore the château, gardens, cellars, stables, chapel and dungeon. Wander through the exhibit of historic costumes and see what inhabitants might have worn in their time. And, special note, see why Walt Disney used the Château d’Ussé as inspiration for Disney castles.
This French Renaissance masterpiece was a true royal residence. King Francis I of France built the Château de Chambord as a hunting lodge in the mid-16th century. The massive building, the largest in the Loire, took 28 years to build. At the end of the French Revolution, much of the royal residence was stripped bare and the château was abandoned. It played a key role during World War II when valuable pieces of art were stored there for safety.
Today, Château de Chambord is one of the most popular châteaux in the region. As one of the “big three,” this castle receives hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. The Domain of Chambord is comprised of the château, a village, farms and a forest, all of which cover an area comparable to the size of Paris. The Chambord Hunting Horn School was also formed in 2001.
The Château de Chenonceau is the second most-visited château in France, behind Versailles. It’s nestled near the tiny town of Chenonceau and spans the River Cher. It was originally owned by the Marques family in the 13th century, but is better known for its more famous residents: Catherine de Medici and Diane de Poitiers. and Catherine was Henry II’s wife and Diane de Poitiers was his mistress. Naturally this created some tension between the women, and it’s reflected in the castle’s history. Catherine de Medici was responsible for much of the château’s expansion after she forced Diane de Poitiers out.
The grounds and architecture of this Gothic and early Renaissance château impresses over 800,000 visitors each year. The property boasts a gourmet restaurant, a tea house with picnic area, multiple gardens, a maze and even a wax museum in addition to the castle. They even provide they own app, called “Discover Chenonceau,” for iPhone and iPod Touch users.
Though not as well-known as Chambord and Chenonceau, the Château de Villandry does not have a less fascinating story. The original fortress was located outside the village of Villandry, and was the location where King Philip II of France met Kind Richard I (aka the Lionhearted) to discuss peace. The château that now stands on the property was built in the 16th century. The Emperor Napoleon favored the Château de Villandry, acquiring it for his brother in the 19th century.
This castle was one of the last built in the Loire Valley during the Renaissance. It is famous for its beautiful gardens, which are some of the finest in the valley. This is a property that has undergone multiple renovations and restorations throughout its existence, and its ties to major historical figures add to its atmosphere.
+33 2 47 95 54 05
Feb 16 – Mar 31 from 10 am to 6 pm
Apr 1 – Sept 30 from 10 am to 7 pm
Oct 1 – Nov 11 from 10 am to 6 pm
Adults (16+) 14 euros
Children (8-16) 4 euros
Group rates available
Château de Chambord
+33 2 54 50 40 00
Jan 2 – Mar 30 from 10 am to 5 pm
Apr 1 – Sept 30 from 9 am to 6 pm
Oct 1 – Dec 31 from 10 am to 5 pm
Full price 11 euros
Reduced price 9 euros
Free for individuals up to age 25 from EU
and primary and secondary teachers from France
Château de Chenonceau
+33 2 47 23 90 07
Open all year, check website for hours
according to time of year
Adults 11 euros (castle only)
Children 8,50 euros (castle only)
Students 8,50 euros (castle only)
Guided tours, wax museum additional cost
Château de Villandry
3 rue Principale 37510 Villandry
+33 2 47 50 02 09
Open all year, check website for hours
according to time of year
Adults 10 euros (Château and Gardens)
Concessionary rate 6,50 euros (Château and Gardens)
Groups 8 euros (Château and Gardens)
Audioguide 4 euros (Château and Gardens)
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