Are you among those who have always dreamed of visiting the Châteaux of the Loire Valley, but don't quite know how to go about it, or where to start? And you are wondering whether there is a 'Châteaux of the Loire Valley Route'?
Well... there is and there isn't: no predefined route in any case. It's up to you to create your own itinerary and to choose which castles you want to visit. One thing's for sure - you won't see them all in one fell swoop (beware of the 'château overdose'!). So, what's the ideal approach? We suggest you visit one or two each time you come, and that you also take the time to enjoy the nearby towns, parks and gardens, and revel in a taste of the art of living, Loire Valley style. 'Living like God in France' as our cousins would say!
But a châteaux route does exist - it runs along the Loire, from the Giennois area to Anjou, via Orléans, Blois, Amboise, Tours and Saumur, covering a total of around 300km (±185 miles) over a perimeter that is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Yet, it stretches well beyond. For, contrary to popular belief, not all these châteaux are located along the banks of the Loire. Some of them are hidden amidst the forest, like the spectacular Château de Chambord, or the slightly less assuming Château de Chamerolles. Others overlook the Loire's tributaries, such as the fortresses of Loche and Chinon. And the Château de Chenonceau which crosses the River Cher, and not the Loire – despite the fact that is one of the most frequently visited 'Châteaux de la Loire'!
Château de Pont-Chevron © Christophe Lörsch
Château de La Ferté-Saint-Aubin © Steeve Harpon Comfuté
300km for 300 castles!
Why such a profusion? The great lords of these lands, such as the Counts of Blois and the Dukes of Anjou, built the very first fortresses to mark their respective territories across the Loire Valley. The Kings of France then took possession of them. They offered places of refuge during the Hundred Year's War, before being transformed into Renaissance residences. The Capetians were early to settle in Orléans (their royal castle has since disappeared but its name remains thanks to the Châtelet quarter). The royal powers then moved to Amboise, then to Blois under the Valois.
Naturally any ministers, courtiers or king's favourites worthy of their name were obliged to take up residence nearby, hence the great profusion of châteaux, manor houses and other stately residences!
The Loiret châteaux, off the beaten track
The most popular châteaux among visitors are grouped together in the central part of the valley, between Orléans and Tours. But if you are coming from Paris or eastern France, you will reach the Loire Valley via Loiret. We recommend you start your châteaux route in the Giennois area (with the Châteaux de Saint-Brisson, Gien and La Bussière), or around the Orléans Forest with the Château de Chamerolles. Its Perfume Walk offers an excellent introduction to your tour of the Châteaux of the Loire Valley for it approaches History from a rather narrow, yet peculiar, angle: here, you will become an expert on the art of washing, or not, over the centuries!
Not to be missed: the Château de Sully-sur-Loire. The minister to Henry IV indulged himself in this fine medieval fortress, to enjoy a well-deserved retirement and to write his memoirs. To the west of Orléans, on the road to Blois, the Bishops of Orléans enjoyed luxurious dwellings in Meung-sur-Loire (the incredible bishop's baths). You can also rub shoulders with Dunois, the 'Bastard of Orléans', one of Joan of Arc's companions in arms, in his Château de Beaugency. In a nutshell, you have enough to keep you busy for a week (for here, we don't only have castles to visit!) and to make you want to come back, to discover more!
How to get here, moving around
- Coming by train? Then allow for an hour between the Parisian Gare d'Austerlitz and Orléans, and the same again to reach Tours. And even if all the nearby châteaux cannot be reached by train, coach links are available.
- You can take your bike aboard the train (from Orléans to Nantes) and on certain coaches (from Gien to Orléans for example)... unless you're feeling fit enough to tour the 'Loire à Vélo' (over 800km of cycle routes from the Cher department to the Atlantic)!
- By car, you can alternate the north and south banks of the Loire to enjoy the most spectacular panoramic views over the towns and châteaux on the opposite bank. Stay on the levees, the dykes that protect from flooding, or meander your way through the vineyards, the sunflower fields or the orchards.
- Fancy a cruise along the Loire? Unfortunately, this portion of the Loire can no longer be sailed in large vessels; however you can enjoy a tour aboard a traditional boat from a range of different departure points... unless you prefer a totally immersive experience by heading downstream aboard a canoe!
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