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A Royal Renaissance Adventure to the Magnificent Chateaux of France's Loire Valley

The ancient and magnificent chateaux ("castles") of the Loire Valley can be found just a couple hours from Paris. There are over 300 castles located along the 175 mile stretch of the Loire River. Many of the castles were built during the French Renaissance, when the Royal Court was established in the valley, and thus it became the destination where royalty and the powerful built famous castles during the 15th and 16th centuries that include Château de Chenonceau, Château Royal de Blois, Château de Chambord, Château Royal d'Amboise, and Château de Chaumont. In order to visit these magnificent chateaux of the Loire Valley on your royal renaissance adventure, Bubbly Tourist recommends taking multiple days to explore many castles and to see the entire countryside if you can. It is close enough to Paris, however, that you could pick just a few castles to visit in just a day trip from Paris.

Chateau de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley, France; Bubbly Tourist what to see and what to do in France
The Château de Chenonceau is just one stunning example of a royal castle in the Loire Valley

A Renaissance Adventure to Five Must See Castles ("Chateaux") of the Loire Valley

There are so many beautiful castles to see in the Loire Valley. To help you choose, Bubbly Tourist has put together our list of our favorite chateaux to see while visiting.

1. Château de Chenonceau

A personal favorite of Bubbly Tourist! This chateau is gorgeous and the historical intrigue of Château de Chenonceau helps make this castle so fascinating. Due of its stunning beauty, it was a highly desirable castle and was gifted from King Henry II to his favorite mistress, Diane de Poitier, in the mid-sixteenth century. She created beautiful gardens now known in her name. In 1559, Queen Catherine de Medici, now a widow of King Henry II, quickly deposed Diane de Poitier and claimed Chenonceau for herself from where she ruled France. Not to be outdone, she created her own gardens now known as the Catherine de Medici Garden. Both it and the Diane de Poitier Garden are still visible and highly recommended to see as part of your visit. Fast forward past many ill-fated owners to the Second World War, the Grand Gallery that Catherine de Medici built over the bridge became the sole point of access to the free zone which was used to help smuggle out people fleeing Nazi tyranny prompting the US president, Harry Truman, to visit the château on his first trip to France. Tickets available online or on-site get you in to see the castle, stables, gardens, restaurants and an active 16th century wine cellar that sells wines and does wine tastings. Give yourself a half day to explore.

A view of Château de Chenonceau from within the Catherine de Medici garden; Bubbly Tourist beautiful chateaux castles of the Loire Valley
A view of Château de Chenonceau from within the Catherine de Medici garden

2. Château Royal de Blois

The Royal Castle of Blois is located in the city center of Blois, in the Loir-et-Cher Department only 1.5 hours from Paris. If you're thinking of a day trip from Paris and want to minimize travel, this castle is your best and closest option to Paris. It was originally built as a fortress in 854 and housed the Counts of Blois. Joan of Arc came here in 1429 to be blessed by the Archbishop of Reims before departing with her army to drive against the English, who conquered Orléans the previous year. Later, it became the residence of many kings starting with King Louis XII of France in 1498. The château is fully furnished, contains over 35,000 works of art, and has incredible views over the Loire River and the town of Blois. Owned and operated by the town of Blois, the town also created the terraced gardens of the château with ancient flowers in tribute to Anne of Brittany and Gaston of Orleans who were both passionate about botany. Plan your visit to include the evening light show that takes place almost every evening in Spring and Summer.

3. Château de Chambord

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Château de Chambord is the largest and most visited castle in the Loire Valley. It is located in Chambord, France and is over 2.5 hours from Paris. The grounds of the castle are nearly 14,000 acres (about the size of Paris), and the castle itself was once the largest in the entire French kingdom. Built in 1519 and finished in 1547, the design evolved during its build into its finished form that is distinctively French Renaissance architecture, beautifully blending both medieval and classical Renaissance structures. Buy your tickets online or at the château and visit the incredible castle itself, the formal gardens, the nature reserve, the stables, vineyard and vegetable gardens.

The Château de Chambord in the Loire Valley of France; Bubbly Tourist beautiful chateaux of the Loire Valley things to do and see
The magnificent Château de Chambord (taken from Les Châteaux de la Loire book)

4. Château Royal d'Amboise

The Château d'Amboise, so named because of its location in the town of Amboise and because it served the court of France, is a beautiful castle perched above the town along the Loire River. It was one of the favorite sites for the kings of France and is the final resting place of Leonardo da Vinci. His tomb is located in the Saint-Hubert Chapel which is one of the architectural jewels of the castle. Another jewel is the cavalier ramp that allowed the cavalry to ride two wide from the ground to the upper level gardens. The beautiful gardens are over two hectares (5 acres) of manicured space in both Italian and English style that allow the visitor to picnic or just relax as you stroll through an area that includes Mulberry trees and boxwood balls. The views of the town and of the Loire from the gardens are incredible.

The Château d'Amboise in the Loire Valley of France; Bubbly Tourist beautiful chateaux of the Loire Valley things to do and see
The Château d'Amboise aglow at night

5. Château de Chaumont-sur-Loire

Located between Blois and Amboise along the Loire River, the castle commonly known as Château de Chaumont, was originally a fortress from the 10th century then rebuilt in 1510, and later acquired by Catherine de Medici in 1550. Here she entertained numerous astrologers, among them Nostradamus. When her husband, King Henry II, died in a tournament accident, Catherine forced Diane de Poitiers to give up the jewel of the Loire Valley, Chateau de Chenonceau, in exchange for Chateau de Chaumont. Every year on the grounds of the Chateau de Chaumont, the castle hosts the International Garden Festival of Chaumont, and every year there is a different theme. The irony of this is that Chaumont did not even have manicured gardens until the late 1800's. That is when they bought up the adjoining village homes and moved them down to the water's edge and proceeded with the architect's plans to build more formal gardens that still stand. Plan your visit to walk the gardens, the stables and the entire chateau including its beautiful indoor courtyard with views over the Loire.

Chateau Chaumont-sur-Loire in the Loire Valley, France; Bubbly Tourist beautiful and favorite chateaux castles Loire Valley, day trip from Paris
The entrance of Chateau Chaumont along the Loire River

Additional Must Do Activities of the Loire Valley

1. The Clos Lucé

This castle was the final home of Leonardo da Vinci between 1516 and 1519. King Francis I, passionate of Leonardo da Vinci’s talent, named da Vinci “Premier Painter and Engineer and Architect of the King" and offers him residence in the Château of Clos Lucé. It is located close enough to the Château d’Amboise that an underground passage was built between the two castles that allowed the King and Leonardo to meet frequently (it's no longer open). Today, you can visit Clos Lucé, its gardens and museum and see the paintings and projects that Leonardo envisioned and built during his stay at Clos Lucé. It is quite incredible that the infamous Leonardo da Vinci spent his final working years in France, so don't miss the opportunity to visit. FYI, Leonardo da Vinci's tomb can be seen at the Château d'Amboise.

Clos Lucé in Amboise, France in the Loire Valley; Bubbly Tourist things to see and do in Loire Valley
Visit the château of Clos Lucé where Leonardo da Vinci worked and stayed in his final years

2. The Rare Fortified Royal City of Loches

Perched high above the city of Loches (technically in the Indre Valley), the walled medieval fortress is an architectural gem from the end of the Middle Ages. It went through different phases of construction over 500 years from the 11th to the 16th century. It offers a Keep with its dungeons on one end, the royal residence on the other end and cobblestone streets connecting the two. King Charles VII regularly visited it and made it his second fortress after Chinon. Here is where Anne of Brittany and his favorite mistress, Agnès Sorel, lived and where he also welcomed Joan of Arc. The 37 meter (120 feet) high keep is a masterpiece of 11th century military architecture and one of the most well preserved in Europe.

Dungeon and Keep and Royal Residence of the Royal City of Loches, France; Bubbly Tourist chateaux of the Loire Valley
Inside the dungeon of the Royal City of Loches

3. Wine Tasting

The wine region of the Loire Valley more or less follows the Loire River from Nantes by the Atlantic coast all the way to Pouilly Fumé and the Cher River from Vouvray to Quincy. Because the geographical footprint of the Loire Valley is so huge, there are several subregions within it (from West to East): Pays Nantais, Anjou - Saumur, Touraine, and Centre Loire. These all vary in climate, soil type and of course, grape production. The most famous appellation of the Loire Valley and one of the most famous in the world is Sancerre with its world renowned Sauvignon Blanc wines. If you have the opportunity to go to the town of Sancerre for a tasting ("dégustation") of this this delicious wine, you will not regret it. Additionally, you can head to other wine producing villages sprinkled across the Loire to do tastings at the winery or in village wine bars. The other primary grapes of the region include Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc, and Gamay. And of course Bubbly Tourist also advises not to miss out on the Crémant de la Loire! This sparkling wine is crisp yet creamy, and criminally undervalued.

The 16th century wine cellar of Chateau de Chenonceau ioffers tastings ("dégustation") or the purchase of wines; Bubbly Tourist chateaux of the Loire Valley; day trip from paris
The 16th century wine cellar of Chateau de Chenonceau offers tastings ("dégustation") or the purchase of wines

4. Indulge in Exquisite Cuisine

The cheese, the baguettes, and the pastries! These simple pleasures can be found anywhere and everywhere in France. It's what makes going to France so much more fun. Maybe it's the butter they use in everything that makes all the food so darn good and as a result has us watching our waistlines? Head to the local grocery or specialty food shop and find an amazing and sometimes exotic selection of cheeses and meats. Now take these pleasures and amplify them into culinary delights by heading either to a bistro for the local fare or a Michelin rated restaurant for even more mouth-watering goodness. There's no doubt the French know how to cook and the Loire Valley is no exception. Throw in some of the affordable wine from the Loire Valley and you've got yourself a delicious meal that doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. Do yourself a favor and plan for lunch and/or dinner out. Savor and enjoy!

Scrumptious dessert at L'Ecluse in Amboise, France; Bubbly Tourist Loire Valley chateaux
Scrumptious dessert at L'Ecluse in Amboise

Bubbly Tip: If you've had a nice meal, you can add a few euros to round up the amount to show your appreciation for efficient or excellent service, but a tip is never expected as a service charge is already included in the bill. However, if you had an excellent experience, in particular at a fine restaurant, then feel free to add an additional 5% to 10% as gratuity.

5. Explore the Churches ("Églises")

We think it's some sort of unwritten rule that every town in France, no matter how small, has a church. Just follow the signs to city center and voilà, there it is! But then the amazing thing is the church is likely ancient and magnificent to boot. You never know how gorgeous it will be until you go in. Don't be afraid to walk in, the doors are always open. Take in the stained glass windows and the high vaulted ceilings and imagine the time and effort required to build each of these majestic structures. It never ceases to amaze Bubbly Tourist! Perhaps the grandest church in the region is the Chartres Cathedral. The gothic cathedral was built in 1220 and is a UNESCO designated World Heritage site. It is conveniently located only 90 km (54 miles) southwest of Paris in the city of Chartres.

Église Saint-Denis in Amboise, France; Bubbly Tourist beautiful chateaux of the Loire Valley
The beautiful Église Saint-Denis in Amboise off the beaten track

6. Explore the streets of one of the beautiful towns in the Loire Valley

There are some large cities like Tours, Órleans, and Nantes in the Loire Valley with much to see and do. There are also some smaller cities like Amboise, Blois, Angers, Chinon, Saumur and others that also offer much to do. Explore the streets and you might even end up at a chateau or find yourself at an off-the-beaten-track church. Bubbly Tourist loves Amboise. Not only does it have the Chateau d'Amboise and the Clos Lucé, but it is just large enough to offer plenty of restaurants, lodging and sights conveniently located on the Loire river. We explored many of the backstreets of Amboise, crossed the bridge, visited the outdoor market, shopped the shops, and met the locals.

Clock Tower of Amboise, France; Bubbly Tourist beautiful chateaux of the Loire Valley
The Clock Tower of Amboise

Where to stay in the Loire Valley

Bubbly Tourist recommends staying in one of the towns of the Loire Valley with its own chateau. Some excellent options are Amboise, Blois, Saumur, and Chinon. Blois is located closer to Paris and is on the eastern edge of the Loire Valley. Amboise is centrally located in the Loire Valley and is perfect in size to make the town and the surrounding countryside easily accessible for visiting many of the châteaux. Head an hour west along the Loire river for Chinon and Saumur as both towns are also excellent options for visiting the surrounding chateaux as well as proximity to the vineyards.

On our last trip to France, Bubbly Tourist stayed in Amboise and made it our home in the Loire Valley for three nights. Upon arrival at Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, we picked up our rental car and drove the 3+ hours straight to Amboise. We arrived at the hotel, Le Manoir Saint Thomas, around 11am, parked the car in its private lot and thankfully were able to check directly into our room. The service was excellent, the rooms were large, comfy and clean, and it was only a five minute walk to the chateau. As a reminder, Bubbly Tourist is not compensated for any recommendations we make.

Hotel Le Manoir Saint Thomas in Amboise, France; Bubbly Tourist beautiful chateaux of the Loire Valley
The highly rated Le Manoir Saint Thomas is only five minutes from Chateau d'Amboise

Bubbly Tip: We highly recommend you check out the Bubbly Tourist's process for choosing a hotel. It will help you quickly narrow down choices, and ensure that you a high quality hotel that meets your specific needs.

In Search of Bubbly

In an ongoing segment by Bubbly Tourist, we always search for a location - if not the best location - to have some champagne wherever we go.

As mentioned above, "crémant" or bubbly from the Loire Valley is ridiculously affordable. It's available everywhere. We had it at lunch, dinner, wine tastings, and on breaks. When in Rome (or shall we say France), right?

We found a cute little wine bar, La Cave Amboise, at the base of the Chateau d'Amboise, right as you exit the grounds. They have a good selection of local wine to purchase for take-away or out on the street. Relax outside with a beautiful view of the royal chateau.

La Cave Amboise in the Loire Valley of France; Bubbly Tourist beautiful chateau of the Loire Valley
Taking a bubbly break at the base of the chateau d'Amboise

Bubbly Tourist Bon Voyage!


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