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Two hours from Paris lies one of France’s most emblematic landscapes; the Loire Valley. It runs through the Pays de la Loire and Center-Val de Loire regions and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2000. The valley is also known as “the garden of France” for the beauty of its 130 gardens and parks.
This region was the choice of French royalty and aristocracy to relax and build impressive castles. Many are still largely intact today. A walk through the Loire Valley is like a journey back in time. Here you can visit places where important figures such as Joan of Arc or Leonardo da Vinci once stayed.
Furthermore, the Loire Valley castles route passes through charming towns and cities such as Orléans and Tours. Not surprisingly, imposing castles and fortresses become the stars of the tour. It is also a route full of vineyards and is the third-largest wine-growing region in France.
Top Sights Along the Loire Valley Castles Route
A visit to Orleans is a must when traveling through the Loire Valley. Orleans is the capital of the Center-Val-de-Loire region and was the former capital of France in the 10th century. Walking through its narrow streets lined with medieval houses is a real treat.
The heart of the city beats to the rhythm of the Loire River. In fact, Orleans hosts the “Festival of the Loire”; the largest European gathering celebrating the history of river transport.
I remember walking through the Place du Martroi market and stopping on a bench to watch the children play with the water in the fountains. I can still hear their screams and laughter with the carousel in the background. It is probably the best memory I have of my visit to the city.
The square is linked to the Orleans Cathedral by Joan of Arc Avenue. The history of Orléans is inseparable from that of Joan of Arc, who drove the English out of the city in 1429. From 8 May, when the Joan of Arc Festival takes place, until the beginning of autumn, the avenue is covered with colorful flags.
This masterpiece of French Renaissance architecture rises above the waters of the Indre River. Its foundations sink directly into the river creating an impressive sight. The great French novelist Honoré de Balzac referred to it as “a diamond set in the Indre river”.
Behind the impressive exterior is a staged kitchen displaying the scene of that time. There are also numerous exhibitions on the culture and traditions of the French nobility in the late Middle Ages.
The exterior of this castle in the Loire Valley looks like a fairy tale, but when you enter the castle, the magic becomes real. It is known as Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and in several rooms, scenes from the story are represented by life-size figures.
Its enormous gardens were designed by the same artist as the Garden of Versailles: André Le Notre. To get a nice view of this 12th century Renaissance castle, cross the bridge just in front of it. The village of Ussé, where the castle is located, is also worth a visit.
This Unesco World Heritage city contains such emblematic sites as the Saint Maurice cathedral and the Maison d’Adam. Strolling through its streets and admiring the medieval houses with their half-timbered facades is a pleasure.
But, if Angers is known for anything, it is for its castle-fortress with 17 towers by the river Maine. It was the residence of the Dukes of Anjou and inside is the Tapestry of the Apocalypse, the largest medieval tapestry in the world.
This castle perched above the Thouet valley is the perfect blend of medieval and Renaissance styles. It also has a varied and interesting history. The castle was a refuge for the starving population during the Hundred Years’ War, a prison for monarchist women and a hospital for the wounded of the First World War.
Inside the fortress, there is a medieval kitchen as well as a huge dining room and other rooms reflecting the decor and furnishings of the past. Strolling through the beautiful gardens and admiring the small tower full of flowers is another of the charms of this place.
Montresor is considered one of the most beautiful villages in France. It is located in the municipality of Loches and is full of small streets where you can stroll peacefully.
Although its castle is one of the smallest in the Loire Valley, it is undoubtedly the jewel of the village. Moreover, the furnishings and decoration of its interior make it one of the most beautiful and best-preserved castles in the region.
The Cathedral of Saint-Jean Baptiste is also a highlight of this charming village. It was founded in 1521 by Monsieur Montrésor and declared as a historical monument,
This historic monument is a masterpiece of the Renaissance. It has an elegant and feminine style that reveals the influence that women have had on its history. It is known as “the ladies castle” as it has been forever linked to the history of the women who determined its construction or lived in it.
Women such as Catherine de Medici, Louise Dupin or Diane de Poitiers, among others.
The castle has several gardens (the Garden of Diane de Poitiers, the Garden of Catherine de Medici, the Green Garden, the Flower Garden and the labyrinth) and an enormous park. Inside there is an important collection of artwork and furnishings that perfectly represent the essence of that time.
However, the most spectacular room is the long gallery that crosses the river Cher and is supported by five wide arches. It is 60 meters long and has 18 windows. During the First World War, it served as a hospital.
The castle on the river creates a magical stamp. To enjoy it in all its splendor, it is possible to take a boat trip and pass under the arches of one of its passages.
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This impressive Renaissance castle is considered the best preserved in France. It offers the visitor a complete experience with a museum and beautiful gardens and is surrounded by 100 hectares of forest.
Its rooms are the best furnished and most elegant of all the castles in the Loire, transporting you to fairytale scenarios.
The weapons room is the largest room in the castle and it really stands out. It is also where many original decorations from the 17th century have been preserved. I found it amazing that in another room a silk embroidered bedspread had been preserved intact since the construction of the castle.
Driving along the roads of the Loire Valley is a pleasure. The signage is excellent and the landscapes are beautiful and well maintained. Although it is a quite popular destination, the region is so vast that the road trip is peaceful and quiet, without too many crowds or queues.
Book This Trip
Ready to travel back in time along the Loire Valley Castles Route? Start planning your trip with insider knowledge on the best sights, hotel and VRBO accommodations, local restaurant favorites and more through TripAdvisor and Travelocity.
Make the most of each stop on the route by planning exciting activities in France, skip-the-line tickets and expert-led tours through GetYourGuide. Find more information and book your dates in advance here.
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Author Bio: Based in France, Lucia Otero Medraño is Spanish with a master’s degree in travel journalism. She has worked in the tourism sector but her true passion is to live enriching experiences and discover amazing places around the world and write about them. In her spare time, she likes to enjoy her second passion, music.