Project Description

The Loire is full of ancient villages and castles straight from storybooks and was coveted by the Gauls, Romans, Visigoths and even Attila the Hun. From Paris, you can join a tour featuring a visit to the most famous sites, such as Cheverny, Chenonceau or Chambord.

So here we are, leaving Paris early in the morning for a two-day trip in the Loire Valley. We will visit few of the most famous castles of the region. Of course, it is impossible to do a complete overview in such a short time, so don’t blame me if I don’t write a lot about this trip, because it would take far too long. I will write a small words with a few pictures. As usual, the gallery at the end of this article contains all the pictures I took during this trip. For more information, you can also click on the names of castles in titles to be redirected to their official websites.

SAUMUR CASTLE AND THE LOIRE RIVER

Our first stop is on the banks of the Loire River, just off the town of Saumur. For centuries, this city lives below the majestic silhouette of the castle on the historic Route of Kings Valley, in the heart of the Loire region. Castle-palace of the Dukes of Anjou in the 14th and 15th centuries, in which resided King René, the castle of Saumur is the latest example of the princely palaces built by the Valois dynasty. First residence of the governors of the City, then a prison, an armory and ammunition, it was bought by the city in 1906 to house the main museum, nowadays being a Museum of France. Visible for miles away on a rocky outcrop overlooking the old town and the Loire from the top of a hill, the fortress has the ideal figure of medieval castles in history books. After admiring the city and its castle from the other side of the river, we continue our journey.

We arrive a little later in Langeais, where we visite our first castle. In 1465, Louis XI decided to build a new castle in Langeais. Its architecture reflects the changes taking place at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries: on the city side, the facade has all the attributes of a castle: turrets, drawbridge walkway on battlements. Yet however, the building is no longer a fortress. On the courtyard side, the facade responds to what expected a king or a nobleman of his residence: being a nice place to stay, open to the outside by beautiful windows.

This castle includes five rooms furnished and decorated including the “Hall of Preux” and its unique collection of tapestries from the 15th and 16th centuries. Are exposed seven pieces (out of nine) of the famous hanging “the Preux” (1525-1540), which would have been realized for Pierre Payen or Pagan, Chauray Protestant lord in Poitou.

It is in one of the great halls of the castle that takes place, in the presence of a small audience, the marriage of Charles VIII and Anne of Brittany, on the eve of December 6, 1491. This marriage then marks the early attachment of the duchy to the French monarchy. The contract stipulates that spouses make a mutual donation of their rights over the duchy. In addition, Anne agrees to marry the new ruler if the king dies without a male child. And this is exactly what happens: children of the royal couple die at birth or in infancy and Charles VIII died in 1498 at Amboise Castle. Anne of Brittany then married Charles VIII’s cousin, Louis of Orleans, who will rule in the name of Louis XII.

Very well preserved, the castle of Langeais is a fine example of architecture from the late medieval period, characterized by its drawbridge, high roofs, battlements, walk paths and monumental finely carved fireplaces. Langeais is actually at the crossroads between the Middle Ages and Renaissance, its western side, on the garden area, offers a different face marked by Renaissance decorations. This was a great first visit, as the castle is beautiful and can be easily explored only if climbing doesn’t bother you!

We arrived around noon in Amboise, where we are “released” just enough time to grab a bite and why not to visit Amboise Castle. This iconic monument and landscaped gardens offer one of the finest views of the Loire Valley. Finally I didn’t visit the castle for two reasons: the prohibitive entry price of € 11 (not included in the tour) and the fact that I wanted to eat in peace without having to rush the visit of the castle. After a quick tour of the city center, I sat on the terrace of a Breton creperie where I tasted salty and sweet crepes with a good glass of cider. An ice cream and some pictures later (no pictures of the pancakes, unfortunately), we are ready to leave for our next destination.

The castle of Villandry is the last of the great castles of the Loire erected during the Renaissance period. The simple elegance of its architecture combined with the charm of its remarkable gardens make this building one of the jewels of the region.

The castle gardens are a rebuilding based on old French texts dating from the 14th century. The gardens are divided into four terraces; an upper terrace with the sun garden, a terrace with a water garden surrounded by a cloister of lime trees, a terrace welcoming the ornamental garden or garden embroidery trimmed box and yew topiary and finally a lower terrace with the vegetable garden, also forming an embroidery design.

The ornamental garden situated above the vegetable garden extends the rooms of the castle. Climb to the lookout gives a magnificent view of the whole set. It consists of love gardens divided into 4 groups:

  • Tender love symbolized by hearts separated by small flames
  • Passionate love with hearts broken by passion, engraved in a move reminiscent of a dance
  • Fickle love with 4 angles to represent the lightness of feelings
  • Tragic love with dagger blades and swords to represent the love rivalry

The water garden at the southern end of the set is a classic creation around a large pond representing a Louis XV mirror and surrounded by a cloister of lime plant. The set also includes a maze planted with hedges, which aims to raise spiritually to the central platform, a herb garden, that is to say, traditional herbs and medicinal plants in the Middle Ages.

Let’s face it, Villandry is more visited for its splendid gardens than for the castle itself. So, I decided to walk calmly in the various gardens and wander around without going inside the castle. According to other tourists in my group, it was a good idea as the castle itself is not worth a visit compared to the gardens. I even have the luxury of having a refreshment on the outdoor terrace overlooking the gardens. This place is beautiful and I had a great time there.

We then leave towards Angers, where we spend the night in a local Mercure Hotel.

New day, new castle! Today, we leave early Angers towards Chenonceau.

Property of the Crown and then royal residence, the castle of Chenonceau is an exceptional site by its original design, the richness of its collections, its furnishings and decor, but also by his destiny, as he was loved, administered and protected by women. Known as the “Ladies Castle” for the history of France, it was built in 1513 by Katherine Briçonnet, embellished by Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici and was saved from the rigors of the Revolution by Mrs Dupin. This feminine imprint is everywhere, preserving the castle from the conflicts and wars to make it a place of peace.

The castle of Chenonceau has outstanding collections of paintings by the great masters: Murillo, Tintoretto, Nicolas Poussin, Correggio, Rubens, Primatice Van Loo, etc. And a rare selection of Flanders Tapestries from the 16th century. Throughout its history, this iconic castle has always attracted talent and inspired the greatest artists. At the castle, setting flowers in each sumptuously furnished room adds to the refinement. House of Five Queens, Louis XIV living room, large gallery on the Cher, amazing kitchens built into the bridge piers, Green Office of Catherine de Medici etc. Step by step, Chenonceau takes us through the history.

The castle is like sitting on a sea of grass, surrounded by a landscaped garden. Planted between 1820 and 1860 by Paul Vibraye, magnificent redwoods, cedars and limes constitute the woodland species.

The castle features pieces of furniture and interiors remarkably preserved. The apartments on the 1st floor demonstrate the French art of living: birth room, children’s room, dining room, etc. But Cheverny has many other treasures such as the Gobelins tapestry from the 17th century presented in the Weapons Room or the Boulle style chest of Louis XIV. Facing the trophy room, the kitchen garden designed by the Marchioness of Vibraye offers a mulicolore vision through the mixture of flowers and vegetables and the use of different materials.

The area currently houses a pack of a hundred hunting dogs which can be seen at any time of the day during your visit. The castle holds regular hunts. Finally, note that the castle of Cheverny inspired Hergé to create Marlinspike Castle in the “Tintin” comics, who is amputated of its two outdoor pavilions. We continue our journey to our final destination of the day.

Built in the heart of the largest enclosed forest park in Europe (approximately 50 square km surrounded by a wall of 32 km long), it is the largest of the Loire castles. It has a garden and a hunting park classified as historical monuments. The site first hosted a motte and the old castle of the Counts of Blois. The origin of the current castle dates back to the 16th century and the reign of King Francis I of France who supervises its construction in 1519. Although it has a reputation of being “empty”, the castle houses a rich collection of paintings, tapestries, furniture and art objects. This last visit put an end to this tour of the castles of the Loire.

It’s with a head full of memories that I fall asleep on the bus that takes us back to Paris; I must say that these visits are quite tiring! Despite the high cost, I think this 2 day trip was worth it because I could admire a few of the most famous castles in France. Each of them was a real work of art in itself and it was a pleasure to visit them!