Loire Valley & Chateaux of the Loire Attractions

The beauty of the Loire valley, its mild climate and the former importance of the river as a navigable waterway led many French kings and noble families to build fortified castles and later magnificent Châteaux in this area, particularly in the most beautiful middle section of the valley, and as a result the Loire valley is now one of the most popular tourist regions in France.

Orleans, France

OrleansOrleans

Bourges, France

BourgesBourges

Nantes, France

Nantes CathedralNantes Cathedral

Tours, France

ToursTours

Angers, France

AngersAngers

Blois, France

BloisBlois

Amboise, France

AmboiseAmboise

Le Mans, France

Le MansLe Mans

Chateau de Chenonceau, Chenonceaux, France

The little village of Chenonceaux (pop. 325) lies on the north bank of the Cher. The Château de Chenonceau (without the x) was built from 1513 onwards on the site of an earlier building by Charles VII's treasurer, but was later surrendered to the crown. In 1547 Henry II presented it to his favorite Diane de Poitiers, who was later forced by Henry's widow Catherine de Médicis to exchange it for Chaumont. Thereafter it was the scene of splendid entertainments. In the 18th C. the château became the property of a tax-farmer named Dupin, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau lived here for some time as tutor to his son.
The château is still in private ownership, but it is open to the public. It is approached by a fine avenue of plane-trees, at the end of which a drawbridge leads on to a terrace in front of the entrance. The central structure of the château, the Corps de Logis, with four corner towers, is built over the Cher. Beyond this is a two-story gallery built by Catherine de Médicis, also built over the river. The two lower floors, which are shown to visitors, contain pictures and tapestries. On both sides of the château are gardens laid out by Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Médicis.
This garden is divided into three sections, the first with a raised path, the second with clipped santolina and yew, and the third with roses and pools. Beyond this is an ancient woodland of oak and chestnut.

Azay-le-Rideau, France

Azay-le-Rideau (pop. 2,905) has a magnificent Renaissance château, partly surrounded by a moat. It is a building of great charm and elegance, erected between 1518 and 1529 by a financier who later had to flee the country and died in exile. It is now the property of the State.
The most notable features on the ground floor are the rib-vaulted kitchen and the dining room, which has a richly decorated chimneypiece and contains a number of tapestries. The reception rooms, on the first floor, have fine Renaissance furniture and pictures.
The church of St-Symphorien is partly Romanesque and partly Gothic. On the facade of the south aisle are the remains of Carolingian reliefs.
In the nearby Château of Saché, Honoré de Balzac (1799-1850) wrote some of his novels. The room in which he worked has been preserved as it was.

Chateau d'Azay-le-Rideau

The Château d'Azay-le-Rideau is surrounded by calm waters and built in the style of the Renaissance period. The architecture was greatly influenced by Italian architecture with beautiful grounds that can be viewed through the large bay windows.
Address: Box 5, F-37190 Azay-le-Rideau, France

Loches, France

Loches (pop. 6,329) is picturesquely situated above the Indre, a left-bank tributary of the Loire. On the hill above the town is the Cité Médiévale, surrounded by a circuit of walls 2km/1.5mi long. This town within a town is entered through the Porte Royale (13th and 15th C.), a fortified gate which was once approached by a drawbridge.
Within the Cité is the church of St-Ours, originally founded in 962 but mostly dating in its present form from the 12th C.
In the adjoining little town of Beaulieu are the ruins of an abbey founded about the year 1000, the Romanesque church of which has been preserved.
The main features of interest in the lower town are a number of gates, the 16th C. watch-tower of St- Antoine and the Town Hall, also 16th C.
To the south, at the end of the upper town, is the 11th C. keep, from the top of which there are fine views.

Château de Loches

The château (15th-16th C.), once the residence of Charles VII, has a richly decorated interior. Its most notable features are the Salle Charles VII, the Salle Jeanne d'Arc (which contains a small collection of weapons and a number of tapestries), the Chapelle d'Anne de Bretagne and a room containing the alabaster tomb of Charles VII's mistress Agnès Sorel.

St Benoit sur Loire, France

St-Benoît-sur-Loire (pop. 1,895) is famed for its great Benedictine abbey, the origins of which go back to the seventh C. The large Romanesque church, one of the finest in France, was built between 1067 and 1218. Originally the towers were higher than they now are. The outstanding feature of the church is the porch tower (originally free- standing) with its richly carved capitals. The interior is light and beautifully proportioned. The crypt (12th C.), on the same ground- plan as the apse, contains the relics of St Benedict, brought here from the abbey of Monte Cassino in the late seventh C.

Chinon, France

Chinon (pop. 8,712) lies on the right bank of the Vienne, with its ruined castle looming over it on a ridge of hill which was already fortified in Roman times. The most important event in the history of Chinon was the meeting between Charles VII and Joan of Arc on March 9 1429 which marked the beginning of the reconquest of French territory from the English.
François Rabelais (1494-1553) was born near Chinon and spent his childhood here.
In the atomic reactor of Avoine-Chinon (now closed down), 11km/7mi northwest of Chinon, is France's first Atomic Museum.

Joan of Arc Museum

The castle ward contains three separate strongholds - from east to west Fort St-Georges, the Château du Milieu and the Château du Coudray - with moats between them. It is entered under a 35 m/115ft high clock tower which houses a Joan of Arc Museum.

Old Town

The old part of Chinon lies between the castle and the river. Particularly worth seeing is Rue Voltaire with its 15th and 16th C. houses. In the main square, the Place du Grand Carroi, is the House of the States General. The church of St-Maurice is 12th C., St-Etienne 15th C. There is an interesting museum of local history, the Musée du Vieux Chinon.

Château of Ussé

The Château of Ussé, the most romantic and fanciful of all the Loire Châteaux, is said to have given Charles Perrault, the 17th C writer of fairytales, the idea of the castle of the Sleeping Beauty. The Château (which is in private ownership) was built in stages between the 15th and 17th centuries, and shows a mingling of Late Gothic and Renaissance features. The rooms open to the public contain old furniture, tapestries and weapons. In the park is a chapel in pure Renaissance style, built between 1520 and 1583.

Chateau de Langeais, France

Langeais (pop. 3,868) has one of the fastest-built châteaux in the Loire valley: its construction took only four years. It has remained unchanged down the centuries; the medieval rooms with their original decoration and fine wall-hangings are particularly worth seeing. Within the castle ward is what is believed to be the oldest keep in France (10th C.). The present Château was built by Louis XI in 1465-1469. Charles VIII was married here to Anne de Bretagne in 1491.

Chateau de Rochecotte, St Patrice

Chateau de Rochecotte is the former residence of Prince de Talleyrand and Duchesse de Dino. This magnificent chateau and accompanying French gardens is now a first class hotel. Its cuisine is highly respected throughout the region.
Highlights of Chateau de Rochecotte include an Italian terrace, 20 hectare wooded park, heated swimming pool and children's play area.

Anjou

The delightful region of Anjou in western France, lying on both sides of the Loire, is now the département of Maine-et-Loire, with Angers as its chief town. It bears the name of an old county which in 1360 became a duchy. This region offers excellent conditions for the growth of flowers and fruit. Along the banks of the Loire and the other rivers in the region (the Mayenne, the Sarthe, the Loir, the Layon) and in the surrounding area are the numerous Châteaux and churches which give Anjou its special charm.
The most important town after Angers is Saumur, farther up the Loire valley. The Route du Vin d'Anjou runs from Angers to Chalonnes, Thouarcé, Doué, Montreuil-Bellay, Saumur, Gennes, Brissac and back to Angers. The varied character of Anjou's scenery was expressed by René Bazin in the words: "Anjou is not made all of a piece - it is composed of a hundred different landscapes." Haut-Anjou (Upper Anjou) is the area north of Angers centered on Le Lion d'Angers.
In the Middle Ages, under the Foulques dynasty, Anjou developed into one of the most important French feudal states, which considerably extended its territories by conquest and dynastic marriage, acquiring in this way Touraine, Maine and parts of Aquitaine. Geoffroy V (1128-1151), Count of Anjou, the first of his line to bear the name Plantagenet, conquered Normandy for his son Henry, later Henry II of England, and he in turn acquired Aquitaine by his marriage with Eleanor of Aquitaine. With the destruction of the Angevin kingdom by Philip II of Spain Anjou passed to the French crown (1204). Thereafter the title of Duc d'Anjou was borne by princes of the French royal house. At the end of the 18th century Anjou was the scene of the Vendée rising against the French Revolution.

Bauge

In the 15th C Baugé was the favorite residence of Yolande of Aragon, mother of the future Roi René, who also liked to hold court here. The Château of Baugé, which has an elegant spiral staircase, now houses the Town Hall and a small museum (china, weapons, old coins). In the Chapelle des Filles du Côur de Marie is the Croix d'Anjou (Cross of Anjou), a precious relic brought from Constantinople in the 13th century. In 1421 a joint French and Scottish army defeated the English in the battle of Baugé.
Rebuilt in the 15th C. by the Duchesses d'Anjou and added on to at tremendous cost by King Rene, who made it his principal residence. The interior has been greatly modified by the addition of the town hall, a theater, a museum and the main station for the local firebrigade.

Fontevraud Abbey

The little town of Fontevraud or Fontevrault (pop. 1,189), famed for its abbey, lies half-way between Chinon and Saumur a few kilometers south of the Loire.
The great abbey of Fontevraud was founded in 1099 by a preacher named Robert d'Arbrissel. It was occupied by monks and nuns who lived under the strict rule of the Benedictine order. The abbey was dissolved during the French Revolution, and from 1804 to 1963 served as a prison. It is now a conference center.
The church dates from the first half of the 12th C. It contains the tombs of members of the Plantagenet house (which favored the Benedictine order), in particular of Henry II of England, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine and Richard Coeur-de-Lion - fine examples of 13th C sculpture.
On the south side of the church is the Cloître Ste-Marie, off which opens the Chapterhouse; both were rebuilt in the 16th century in typical Renaissance style. Adjoining is the Cloître St-Benoît, which is open on one side; it was partly restored in the late 17th and early 18th C. The best known of the conventual buildings is perhaps the kitchen, with its striking conical roof. Round the octagonal interior are five apses (before the refectory adjoining the kitchen was built there were eight), each with its own chimney hood, which join in the middle in a single large chimney. A low door (usually closed) leads into the rib-vaulted refectory.
The village church of St-Michel (13th-15th C) has a fine high altar and contains art treasures from the abbey.
The garden features a magnificent herb collection used in Medieval times for medicine, dyeing and other interesting purposes.

Saumur, France

The medieval town of Saumur, halfway between Angers and Tours, lies on the left bank of the Loire amid the smiling countryside of Anjou. On the outskirts of the town are numbers of cellars hewn from the limestone rock. This is also an important mushroom growing center: three-quarters of all the champignons de Paris produced in France come from the cellars of Saumur. In 1763 Saumur became the depot of the French cavalry, and the National Cavalry School is still based here.

Château

Saumur has one of the finest of the Loire Châteaux, built in the 14th C on a hill high above the Loire. King René called it the "castle of love". At the end of the 16th C it was converted by its Protestant owners into a fortress, and it still retains its defensive character. The Château, laid out round three sides of a courtyard open on the northwest, is entered through a large and imposing doorway. Obliquely opposite the entrance is a Late Gothic staircase tower housing a spiral staircase. The Tour du Guet, which towers over the southwest wing of the Château, can be climbed by way of a series of spiral staircases and passages, and affords fine views of the Château courtyard, the roofs of Saumur and the Loire valley. The Château contains two museums, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (decorative arts) and the Musée International du Cheval (the horse).

Hôtel de Ville

On the south side of the Place de la République, which lies on the bank of the Loire, are the two buildings of the Hôtel de Ville; the one on the left dates from the 16th C, while the one on the right-hand side of the square is the neo-classical Theater.

Cavalry and Armored Forces Museum

Northwest of the square, in the complex of buildings occupied by the Cavalry School, is the Cavalry and Armored Forces Museum.

Notre-Dame de Nantilly

In the south of the town, west of the Jardin des Plantes (Botanic Garden), is the beautiful Romanesque church of Notre-Dame de Nantilly (12th century; rebuilt in 17th century), with an aisle in Flamboyant (Late Gothic) style and fine capitals.

Villandry

The village of Villandry (pop. 920) is noted not so much for its 16th C château (which contains a museum with a collection of pictures) as for the beautiful Renaissance gardens. The French-style gardens as we see them today were first laid out in the 16th C.; in the 19th C. they were altered to the English style then fashionable; and in our own century they have been restored by a style-conscious owner to their original form.
From the upper floor of the Château a flight of steps leads down to the higher part of the gardens, which cover an area of some 5 hectares/12,5 acres. To the left are the ornamental gardens, with the Garden of Love in the foreground, beyond which, on a lower level, are the vegetable gardens, also laid out in ornamental form.
The state apartments of the château contain 18th C. furniture and tapestries, together with pictures by Italian and Spanish painters of the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Particularly fine is the Hispano-Mauresque wooden ceiling, originally from a 13th C. mosque, which was bought by the owner of the château at an auction and then fitted together again in its new position - a task which took more than 15 years.

Valencay, France

The Château of Valençay, set in a large park, lies to the southwest of the little town of that name (pop. 2,900). It was built in 1540 by Philibert Delorme, architect of the Palace of Fontainebleau. It was acquired by Talleyrand, Napoleon's foreign minister, in 1805. It shows a variety of styles: the main wing is influenced by the Italian Renaissance, while the two-story side wing is Baroque. Only this wing is open to the public; it contains a gallery of portraits of Talleyrand's ancestors, Empire furniture, a small collection of porcelain and a Talleyrand Museum. West of the château is an Automobile Museum.
Vast grounds make place for splendid royal gardens, and many visitors of great esteem have traveled here, thus making the château more of a royal court than a country manor.

Gien, France

Gien (pop. 15,332) is for many visitors the beginning of the real Loire valley. In spite of heavy destruction during the Second World War it is an attractive little town. The Château, an unpretentious building of 1494- 1500, now houses a Museum of Hunting and Falconry and displays a selection of the characteristic Gien earthenware. Northwest of the Château is the church of Ste-Jeanne- d'Arc (19th C., rebuilt after the Second World War), which has a 15th C. tower. In the northwest of the town, near the river, is a ceramic factory founded in 1821 which is open to visitors.
12km/7-1/2mi northeast of Gien is the moated Château of La Bussière (originally 13th C., later rebuilt). It contains a small Fishing Museum.

Beaugency, France

The old-world little town of Beaugency (pop. 7,106) lies on the right bank of the Loire. The church of Notre-Dame (12th C) originally belonged to an abbey. The triangular Tour St-Firmin is all that remains of a church built in the 16th C. A drama festival is held here in July.
Northwest of the Château Dunois is the old part of the town, with a number of handsome buildings - the Maison des Templiers, the 17th C Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) and the Tour de l'Horloge (Clock-Tower), once part of the town's circuit of walls.

Château Dunois (Regional Museum)

The Château Dunois, built by the Comte de Dunois, the "Bastard of Orléans", in the 15th C. now houses the Regional Museum (folk art and traditions, agricultural history, toys). Adjoining is a massive keep 36 m/120ft high, a relic of an earlier fortified castle.
Address: 2 place Dunois, F-45190 Beaugency, France

Chateaudun, France

Châteaudun, southwest of Paris on the banks of the Loire, is dominated by its Château (10th-16th C.). Of interest in the old town are the church of the Madeleine and a number of old houses (mainly in Rue St-Lubin and Rue des Huiteries). The newer part of the town was laid out in 1723, after a fire, to the design of Jules Hardouin-Mansart. The principal features of interest are the Museum (prehistoric, Egyptian and medieval antiquities; ornithological collection) and the cemetery, with a fine doorway from the chapel of Notre-Dame-du-Champdé, destroyed at the end of the 19th C.

Chateau de Chateaudun, Chateaudun

The Château (10th-16th C.), which dominates the village, is known for is stained glass windows and it's gothic architecture. Most of the structures was built during the 12th and 13th centuries. The most notable interior features are two staircases and the chapel (1464), richly decorated with sculptures and wall paintings. There are fine views from the terrace.

Foulon Caves

The 800m Foulon cave is located near the château Châteaudun, at the mouth of the Loir Valley. There are numerous quarts and silex geodes in the cave, which was opened to the public in 1982.
Tours are held regularly and include a light and sound show retelling the history of the region and the caves themselves.
Address: 35 rue des Fouleries, F-28200 Châteaudun, France

Chartres, France

Chartres, situated on a hill above the river Eure 100km/60mi southwest of Paris, is the chief town of the département of Eure-et-Loir, the see of a bishop and the center of the rich agricultural region of Beauce. Its magnificent cathedral is one of the great glories of French architecture. Apart from tourism the main contributions to its economy are made by the foodstuffs and animal feed industries, engineering and the manufacture of perfume. Known in antiquity as Autricum, it was the capital of a Gallic tribe, the Carnutes, and became the see of a bishop in the fourth century The Frankish county of Chartrain fell into the hands of the house of Blois in the 10th century and in the late 13th century passed to the French crown by purchase. In 1528 it was erected into a duchy.

Notre Dame

In an elevated position in the center of the city of Chartres stands the Cathedral of Notre-Dame, one of the finest and best preserved Gothic buildings in France, with a three-aisled nave, transepts, a five-aisled choir and a ring of chapels round the ambulatory. After a series of devastating fires (743, 858, 1020, 1194), the original church, which is believed to have occupied the site of a Gallo-Roman temple, was almost completely rebuilt in its present form between 1195 and 1220 and consecrated in 1260. The west front, built about 1140-1160 in the severe style of Early Gothic, survived the 1194 fire, and is flanked by two fine towers of differing height and form. The south tower (Clocher Vieux), a superb example of the purest Gothic style, was completed in 1170; the north tower (Clocher Neuf) has a spire which was added in 1507- 1513. Between the towers is the richly decorated Portail Royal (Royal Doorway), with statues which became models for the further development of Gothic sculpture. Above the three tall 12th century windows is a 13th century rose window 14 m/45ft in diameter, and above this again is the Gallery of Kings, with 16 large statues of kings of Judah. The richly articulated doorways in the transepts (13th century) also have magnificent sculptural decoration: on the south doorway the Last Judgment, on the north doorway the Virgin and Old Testament figures. Between two buttresses on the south side is the Chapel Vendôme, with Late Gothic stained glass (15th century). Adjoining the apse is the Chapelle St-Piat (14th century).
In the very impressive interior the windows, mostly dating from 1210-1260, form the most magnificent collection of medieval stained glass in existence, with a total area of more than 2,000 sq. m/21,500 sq. ft. Particularly beautiful are the three rose windows, over 11.5 m/38ft high. Other notable features are the Late Gothic choir screens (1514-1529), already showing Renaissance forms, with scenes from the life of the Virgin and the Gospels, and the 41 groups of statues (16th-18th century). On the north side of the choir is the Vierge du Pilier, a much revered figure of Notre-Dame de Chartres (c. 1510).
Below the choir and the lateral aisles are extensive crypts dating from Carolingian times and from 1024.
From the terrace to the east of the choir there is a fine view of the lower town.
Address: Place de la Cathédrale, F-28000 Chartres, France
Chartres Cathedral - Floor plan map Chartres Cathedral Map

Organ Festival

This annual two-month festival runs through July and August and includes dozen free organ concerts. All the events take place in the Chartres Cathedral, and feature the grand organ located in the twelfth-century building.
The festival begins with a competition entitled the "Grand Prix du Chartres." The winners, along with other internationally acclaimed organists take part in a non-competitive atmosphere for the remainder of the festival.
Address: Association des Grandes Orgues de Chartres, 75 rue de Grenelle, F-75007 Paris, France

Musée des Beaux-Arts

In Chartres, north of the Catherdral is the former Bishop's Palace (17th-18th century), now housing the Musée des Beaux-Arts (fine tapestries, pictures).
Address: 29 cloîtes Notre-Dame, F-28000 Chartres, France

Enclos de Loëns

The Enclos de Loëns, which formerly belonged to the cathedral chapter in Chartres, has a beautiful three-aisled crypt with Gothic vaulting (13th C) and a handsome half- timbered facade. It is now an International Stained Glass Center.
Southeast of the cathedral are a number of fine old houses, among them the 15th C Maison du Saumon. Lower down is the Escalier de la Reine Berthe, in a 16th century turret, which leads down to the Gothic church of St-Pierre (12th-14th C), with fine 14th C stained glass.

Maintenon, France

Maintenon (pop. 4,472), situated on the right bank of the Eure, has a handsome Château which Louis XIV acquired for Madame d'Aubigné, later the Marquise de Maintenon. In the park, which was designed by Le Nôtre, are the ruins of an unfinished aqueduct designed by Vauban to convey water to the gardens of Versailles.

Popular Pages

Destinations
popular right now