Traveling by car on the European routes is definitely one of the best plans to do on the continent. The Castles of the Loire, mean that, in addition to the incredible landscapes seen in central France, can be combined with castles from the French Renaissance, World Heritage Site, located near the Loire Valley (hence its name), not only considered one of the best routes by car in France, but also a great opportunity to get to know historical, magical and fairy tale sites. ”.
There is no official list of how many are the Loire castles, but it is estimated that there are more than 50 main ones, and in this post we will list the most important ones, the most accessible by car from the main French cities and why it is worth renting a car or hiring an excursion and embarking on a route through a fairy tale, postcard landscapes and of French culture, standing, for hundreds of years.
- Traveler fact: the routes through the Loire Valley and its castles depend on each traveler, some choose to do some of them in a single day; others, staying in small charming towns in the middle of them and, others, spending weeks directly visiting them all, visiting the magic of this place that seems literally taken from a story.
The 12 essential Loire castles to visit on your driving routes through France
Most of the Castles of the Loire (rather, the Loire Valley) are located between the cities of Angers and Orleans, the latter, located just over an hour and a half from Paris. Is this one of the best plans to do near Paris? Probably.
Did you know that it is one of the best destinations to fly in a hot-air balloon? From the heights it is possible to admire the castles that make up the green valley and the course of the river.
What are the Castles of the Loire?
The history of the Castles of the Loire dates back to the year 1515, when the French monarchy was victorious in the battle of Marignano against, at the time called, the Republic of Venice. From the year 1519 and seeking to materialize the power of the Kingdom of France, the king began to build a series of castles worthy of a royalty like that of France on the banks of the river over the well-known Loire Valley.
In addition to parties, banquets and famous guests, such as Leonardo da Vinci himself, the castles of the Loire were scenes of the very life of the nobility and royalty of France, even when they were almost abandoned by the kings and sold or given to acquaintances of their social status.
As the years went by, the castles became part of the French heritage, which led to the creation of a 400-kilometer route along the valley, known as the Route des Castles de la Loire.
Between castles, abbeys and French heritage sites, travelers can rent cars, bicycles (one of the best routes in Europe for cycling), motorhomes or hire excursions to enjoy the French culture outside of Paris, almost like an addiction., entering and leaving through its doors, knowing their stories and recreating situations with the furnishings that are still preserved.
Did you know that the Castles of the Loire are known as “the garden of France”? Its neatness, its green spaces, its abbeys and the history that they entail, are perfect examples of the Renaissance that are combined with charming vineyards, wineries and wide valleys, not for nothing, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2000.
What are the best Loire castles?
It is difficult (and quite subjective) to be able to decide which is the best, this is disputed between different opinions according to its size, or its views, its neatly decorated gardens, the conservation of its furniture, works of art or even characters who have passed under its gigantic doors. Without further ado, we are going to discover which are the essentials to visit, probably because of its photographic beauty or, why not, because of its proximity to the most important cities.
- How to choose driving routes through France and its castles? As Paris is the capital and, on many occasions, the gateway for travelers visiting France, the best recommendation is to go to Paris and, from there, build the route along the river bank. In this way, one as a traveler makes sure to follow a line and, incidentally, visit other towns where they can rest and share the life of the French culture on the outskirts of the big city.
Castles of the Loire: the 12 must-sees
As we told you before, it is difficult to give an opinion and decide “which is better” because the reality is that, in this case, there are no winners or losers, there are more and less visited. Let’s discover them:
1. Chambord Castle
The best known Château de la Loire is the Château de Chambord, one of the largest and most impressive of all the castles in the valley.
Did you know that the Château de Chambord has 365 chimneys? One for each day of the year.
It is one of the most visited castles, possibly because of its size, importance and because it is only 2 hours from Paris. It is possible that, during a visit, one can meet many (and many) travelers but its large size means that there are several places to sit and take pictures, such as its gardens, for example.
- Fun fact: Leonardo da Vinci is said to have worked in this castle for the last 3 years of his life.
2. Royal castle of Blois
They look like 4 castles in one and this is how this kind of “timeline” is perceived by the different architectural styles. Passing through Gothic, early Renaissance and classical transforming into one of the Loire castles that is definitely worth visiting. In addition to being able to visit its different rooms (including the largest in France), admire its works of art and the furniture preserved from its beginnings, the castle offers options for night visits.
During the night, the lights illuminate the facade of the castle following the sound of the music that is presented in order to tell the story in a different way.
3. Castle of Sully-Sur-Loire
Can you imagine the typical castle surrounded by water? This is the Castle of Sully-Sur-Loire, one of the must-sees on the driving routes through France and the Loire Valley. This water moat served to defend the castle, in this case, used not as a residence or “summer house” but as a defensive fortress.
- Travel tip: with so many options, the Castle of Sully-Sur-Loire is not the most recommended to enter, but its facade and its reflection in the water are super photographic, both day and night (this is a recommendation to avoid pay an income in one that is not as impressive as others).
4. Castle of Chenonceau
After the Château de Chambord, this is one of the best known of the Castles of the Loire and a must in any list that can be searched. The castle of Chenonceau was built during the 16th century and its pristine white color, its gardens, its gallery that crosses the River Cher and its towers, create an image of a “fairy tale” that everyone will want to photograph.
- Traveler tip: this is one of the castles that allows you to buy your tickets in advance online, avoiding long lines, especially during summer days, which many travelers do to admire, among others, the Medici gallery.
5. Chaumont Castle
And speaking of the Medici, we find the Castle of Chaumont, the residence of Catherine de Medici, built during the 15th and 16th centuries. The difference of this castle and what makes it definitely one of the Loire castles that must be visited, are its dozens of hectares of gardens and nature combined with an English-style castle that reminds of some princesses and knights movie.
- Traveler advice: it is advisable to enter the Château de Chaumont as it has a terrace where it is possible to admire panoramic views of the Loire Valley as in few places can be seen.
6. Cheverny Castle
Whoever knows Tintin, the comic book character, surely knows a castle and this is Cheverny Castle, which is said to have served as inspiration for its author, Hergé, during the creation of the strip.
For the new generations, who surely do not know who we are talking about, the Château de Cheverny is a great recommendation to do during a car trip through France and the Castles of the Loire since in addition to the beautiful gardens and variety of species of the botanical park that surrounds it, it is possible to visit the Sala del Rey and the Sala de Armas to learn more about the history of the time.
7. Angers Castle
Different from the rest of the castles and built like a medieval fortress, the Castle of Angers is one of the must-sees to visit during a tour of the Loire Valley.
The castle has 17 stone towers and was used as prison and barracks and, today, it has a tapestry more than 100 meters high called the “Tapestry of the Apocalypse”, an emblem in French art.
8. Castle of Langeais
Visiting a castle and a charming French town at the same time, a great recommendation is to visit the Castle of Langeais, located above the town of the same name. In addition to its gardens and the town that surrounds it (ideal for enjoying a homemade French meal) the castle has the oldest tower in France.
- Travel advice: a visit is more than recommended, it is the typical castle of the movies, with its drawbridge, its pointed towers and neat green gardens. It is one of the best preserved.
9. Castle of Ussé
Built in the 15th century and a source of inspiration for the writer Charles Perrault for his work “Sleeping Beauty” (you do know this one, right?). The Castle of Ussé is built with white stones, which differentiate it from its surrounding nature and combines perfectly with the postcard that is generated with the Renaissance chapel.
- Travel tip: the photos of the exterior are incredible, although a visit inside allows you to know the history through the art gallery with paintings from the 18th century.
10. Castle of Saumur
Built in the 11th century but rebuilt in the Gothic style, this castle in the Loire Valley is a true fairy tale castle, functioning as a prison, residence, palace and even a weapons store. A A great recommendation is to enter the castle and ascend to the highest part, where it is possible to admire panoramic views of the Loire Valley and the small town of Saumur.
11. Castle of Clos Lucé
It looks more like a mansion than one of the most beautiful castles in the Loire Valley and, according to the story, it was the residence of Leonardo da Vinci during his last 3 years of life, so, on a visit inside, it is possible to walk around and see the painter’s room.
- The best: the castle is located 500 meters from the Amboise Castle, connected through an underground passage, making it a great option to do a 2×1 tour and visit two castles in the same place.
12. Montrésor Castle
Almost as concealed, in the middle of the route but with an incredible beauty that makes everyone want to get out of their car and photograph it, the Castle of Montrésor is a great option to visit during a route of the Castles of the Loire. Its impeccable maintenance in the last 150 years and its untouched furniture that allows a trip back in time, and a tour of rooms that reveal its history.
Although it is less known than the rest of the Loire castles, only because of its internal rooms and the garden that surrounds it make it an ideal castle to visit thanks to its exotic species, trees, fountains and spectacular flowers.
The castles, abbeys and preserved buildings of the Loire Valley tell the story in a way that only few places in the world do : bike paths, driving routes through French vineyards and different photo stops where remember the stories of princes and princesses that they told us when we were little.