7 CASTLES YOU should SEE IN FRANCE
Last Updated: 8/9/20 | August 9th, 2020
Did you really click on that clickbaity title? आउनुहोस्! I guess these cheesy headlines do work! maybe I ought to title all my messages like Buzzfeed?
No, I’m just kidding. म त्यो गर्दिन। That’s terrible. I just wanted to see what would happen this one time.
But, seriously, let’s talk châteaux (large country houses or castles in France, plural of château). I went to France for my birthday with the goal to finally get our of Paris and explore the famed Loire Valley, with its rolling hills, exquisite wineries, broad rivers, and grandiose castles.
This region of fertile land was the seat of royal power during early French history. Kings, queens, and other royalty built grand palaces here as they cemented their guideline of this important trade region. But, by the middle of the 16th century, the power of the state shifted to Paris as kings spent less time wandering the kingdom and much more time there.
However, loving the region, French royalty still expended considerable money building stunning châteaux. The Loire Valley has over eighty and it would take a lot much more of my limited time to see them all.
But I did manage to check out a bunch (and find out ways to do so on a budget)! here are the highlights:
This castle is one of the most popular in the region, thanks to its grandeur, comprehensive façade, elaborate decorations, and large gardens. It was originally built by Francis I in 1519 as a hunting retreat. However, he died in 1547, and the castle remained half built. It fell into disrepair for nearly 80 years until Louis XIV went to in 1639. He purchased it finished based on the original plans. (Note: This is a running theme for a lot of châteaux in the region.)
Entering the castle grounds and seeing this enormous ornate structure elicited an audible “wow” from my mouth. I marveled at the building’s elaborate masonry and spires. The interior’s enormous double-helix staircase inspired by Leonardo da Vinci creates a focal point that draws your attention as you relocation through the house. I loved the symmetry of the large halls and old paintings of royalty.
This place was enormous and took hours to see. There are amazing views from the roof, but my favorite moments were mostly in the gardens, just staring at every inch of this palace.
Tip: I highly recommend the audio tour. It’s given on an iPad that allows you to zoom in on paintings and artifacts, offers an overlay of what the room would have looked in the 17th and 18th centuries (even including images of what it looked like being built), and gives tons of comprehensive information. worth every euro!
How to get there – You can take a 25 minute shuttle or taxi from the nearby city of Bloise.
Built into the side of a hill, this château was originally a keep (fortified tower) constructed in the 14th century for King Philip Augustus. When the place was acquired by a local nobleman in the early 16th century, the original keep was preserved, the rest of the structure was razed, and a fortress was erected (with a amazing moat!).
During the French Revolution, the home was confiscated by the state, and in the early 19th century, Emperor Napoleon gave it to his brother, Jérôme Bonaparte. In 1906, the Carvallo family (the current owners) purchased the home and poured an huge amount of time and money into it to make it what it is today.
However, despite the grand exterior of the castle, I found the interior lacking, and I moved through it pretty quickly. other than the ornately decorated first rooms, the interior is very bland (and kind of worth skipping all together).
The main draw of this château is its well-known Renaissance gardens, which include a water garden, ornamental flower gardens, and vegetable gardens, altogether including over 60,000 vegetables and 45,000 bedding plants! These are laid out in formal, geometric patterns separated with low box hedges. It’s a peaceful place to wander and relax, with a stream running through it and numerous spots to sit and contemplate. There’s also an adjacent woods with a few trails that not numerous people wander around, so you have them all to yourself. Overall, the gardens and woods are the best part of this castle, and that’s where your time ought to be spent.
How to get there – There’s a bus from trips on Wednesday and Saturday. If you go any other day of the week, you’ll need a car.
Since you have to stop in Blois to see Chambord, the town castle makes an easy addition. originally a medieval fortress built in the 9th century, it was taken over by Louis XII in 1498 and transformed into a palace in the Gothic style that was a center of power for centuries. (Fun fact: In 1429, Joan of Arc was blessed here before going to fight the British in Orléans.)
There’s not much left of the medieval fortress. The main part of the castle was built in 1515 by François I in Renaissance style and includes a well-known buttressed circular staircase leading to the private sleeping rooms and ballrooms.
While this castle is small and the exterior less ornate than others in the region, I found the interior to be second to none, with intricately restored rooms, comprehensive information plaques, and spectacular period furniture. Outside, you get sweeping views of the town and river. It was a really beautiful castle.
How to get there – From Paris, you can take a two-hour train. From Tours, it’s about 45 minutes.
This was my overall favorite castle. It may not be as ornate or large as the others, but it’s the total package: a fairy-tale-like structure with spectacular interiors, manicured gardens, and spectacular views of the Loire River. Confiscated by the monarchy in the 15th century, it became a favored royal residence and was extensively rebuilt by King Charles VIII (who died here in 1498 after hitting his head on a door (seriously). It was built into a luxurious Renaissance palace by his successors but eventually fell into decline in the second half of the 16th century. It was greatly damaged in the French revolution before being renovated in the 19th century.
That is what I really loved about the palace: the mix of architectural styles. You had the Gothic portion with its vaulted roofs, the Renaissance sleeping chambers and exteriors, and the grandly developed rooms from the 19th century. You can see the mark of history throughout the palace. I also loved the large, winding carriage ramp that descended from the castle into the town and the terraced gardens filled with oak trees. There’s also the church that contains the remains of Leonardo da Vinci! Really, this place is top-notch!
How to get there – You can take a thirty minute train ride from Tours. The castle is a 10 minute walk from the station.
Built by Hugues d’Amboise in the middle of the 15th century, this château was acquired in 1490 by Charles VIII. There aren’t numerous rooms to explore, but they do keep that Renaissance charm. What makes it well-known was that Leonardo da Vinci lived here from 1516 to 1519. Today, the castle is a testament to him, with marvelously restored rooms and a basement filled with replicas of his well-known inventions.
Additionally, be sure to go outside and look up, as the exterior has tons of Italian influences. The grounds are spectacular and include a restaurant, mill, and several ponds. The comprehensive gardens, complete with geese, streams, and numerous walking trails and places to escape and reflect, were an outstanding addition, and it’s easy to think of Leonardo walking around, searching for inspiration.
How to get there – You can take a thirty minute train ride from Tours. The castle is a 30 minute walk from the station.
Azay le Rideau
Originally built in the 12th century, the castle was burned to the ground in 1418 by Charles VII. It remained in ruins until 1518 when it was rebuilt by a local noble. However, the French king Francis I confiscated the unfinished château in 1535 and gave it to one of his knights as a reward for his service, who then left it half built. The castle’s condition deteriorated through the centuries until, in the 1820s, the new owner undertook comprehensive alteration work to make it the charm it is today.
A lot of the place was (still) under construction when I was there, so not all the rooms were open. The interior was easy and well explained by signs but lacked any ornate furniture, paintings, or fixtures. This place had my favorite exterior, though. I loved the square configuration, with its turrets overlooking the garden; the fact that it’s built on a pond; and the long cobblestone driveway leading in from town. It’s easy to think of royalty trotting down in their carriages to the wrought-iron gates on their way to attend a ball.
How to get there – You can take a thirty minute train ride from Tours. The castle is a 20-minute walk from the station.
Chenonceau is one of the best-known châteaux in the Loire Valley. It was built in 1514 on the foundations of an old mill. In 1535, it was seized by King Francis I for unpaid debts. then in 1547, Henry II gave it as a gift to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers (now one of the most well-known women in French history). Diane oversaw the planting of comprehensive flower and vegetable gardens. In fact, the gardens are still laid out in her original design.
After Henry died, his widow Catherine de’ Medici (also one of the most well-known women in French history) forced Diane out of the castle and made Chenonceau her residence. (Fun fact: In 1560, the first-ever fireworks display seen in France took place here.) In 1577, she extended the grand gallery across the entire river, making the château what it is today. After she died, the castle bounced around various royalty and their mistresses, was fortunately spared destruction in the Revolution, and then was renovated and sold a bunch much more times before it became state property.
Walking through a forest that opens up on two gardens (still maintained in their old style), you see this beautiful, thin castle that spans a river. The interior is quite small (it’s longer than it is wide), and while the rooms are well preserved, they are typically very crowded because they are so small. The gardens are marvelous to see in bloom, and there’s even a little maze on the grounds (though it’s easy to get out). (Another fun fact: This castle divided Vichy and German-controlled France and was typically used to smuggle Jews to safety.)
How to get there – The castle is a 35 minute train ride from Tours.
Tips for going to the Châteaux
So how do you check out all these castles (and the 70+ not noted here)? They are pretty easy to check out — all but a handful are available by bus or train, and those that aren’t are typically only about a 20-30-minute bike ride from the nearest town. but admission fees of 10-15 EUR a pop can really add up and make castle-hopping a really un-budget activity. However, there are a few ways to save money on the castle experience:
The tourism office in trips sells discounted tickets, so it’s best to purchase numerous of your tickets there. They are 1-2 EUR off the price at the castles.
Most of the castles are near train stations (the farthest I walked was 20 minutes to the Azay castle), so there is no need to take one of the expensive trips that whisk you to a bunch of châteaux in a short period of time. plan your check out around the trains and buses.
For castles not near the train station, you can rent bikes near the tourism offices. A bike is around 15 EUR for the day.
If you want to drive, this region is best explored by automobile so you can see everything. automobile rentals cost about 30-40 EUR per day.
Most of the castles sell food that’s overpriced, even by French standards. However, you can bring your own food and water, so take a little picnic to eat on the grounds and save yourself a ton of money!
My only regret is that I didn’t have much more time to see even much more castles. It can be crazy spending 20-30 EUR a day just on castles, but I found each one gorgeous, majestic, unique, and filled with history that gave me a greater understanding of the region. even if you’re not as castle-hungry as I am, be sure to check out some of these majestic places. even the popular ones are worth the crowds.
You can check out numerous on a day trip from Paris, but I suggest roaming the region for at least a few days, taking in the castles, drinking an obscene amount of red wine at an outdoor café, and soaking up some of the history, charm, and culture that makes France the special place that is.
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Book Your trip to Paris: Logistical suggestions and Tricks
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Use Skyscanner or Momondo to find a low-cost flight. They are my two favorite search engines because they search sites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned. start with Skyscanner first though because they have the most significant reach!
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You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the most significant inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the most affordable rates for guesthouses and low-cost hotels.
If you’re searching for much more places to stay, here for my favorite hostels in Paris. and if you’re wondering what part of town to stay in, here’s my neighborhood breakdown of the city!
Here’s a list of my favorite hostels in Paris in case you want much more options than what is noted here!