One of my favorite things about France & Europe is its beautiful architecture – and the interesting history that accompanies it. When we discovered that our drive from the Champagne Region to Bordeaux would us through the Loire Valley and its many châteaux, we knew we had to plan a few stops along the route.
Many of the Loire Valley’s 300+ châteaux were the preferred playground for France’s Royalty and Aristocracy during the French Renaissance. They were also the setting for numerous acts of adultery, conspiracies and power plays. 42 of them have been designated World Heritage Site and are worth a visit (although I would suggest visiting only a few, as their grandeur can wear off).
We visited 2 castles in the Loire Valley:
Built in the 16th century over the River Cher, Chateau Chenonceau has a old-world chic, romantic feel to it, likely driven by the fact that it was heavily influenced by a number of women. The first, Katherine Briconnet, led the construction of the current chateau. Unfortunately after her husband’s death, she lost the chateau to the crown to pay off his debts. King Henri II subsequently took ownership, gifting the castle to his mistress, Diane of Poitiers. Diane made a number of optimizations and changes to the chateau, including the addition of a new wing that now drapes across the River Cher. During Diane’s time, the castle attracted royalty & nobility from across Europe, playing host to a number of world class garden parties. When King Henri II passed away, his wife Catherine de Medici, took over and threw Diane out of the chateau. During Catherine’s time at the chateau, she made a number of modifications, including an expansion of the beautiful gardens.
In more recent years (and a few owners later), Château Chenonceau was touched by war. During WW1, it was turned into a temporary military hospital. In WW2, France lost a battle that divided the country in two – right along the river Cher. While the château was located on the free side, the far side of the bridge was under Nazi control. Simone Meunier, one of the owners of the château at the time, unlocked the doors to the gallery on the far side and helped hundreds of people escape.
Today Château Chenonceau is the 2nd most visited château in France, after Versailles (in Paris).
Cost to visit: 13 euros
The majestic Château Chambord is the largest chateau in the region. Built in the 16th century under the influence of Leonardo da Vinci, the château was built as a hunting lodge for King François I and served as a visual reminder of the power of the French Monarchy. Most of its 440 rooms are empty; however, they were never truly full in the first place. The King spent a mere 8 weeks at Château Chambord and had his personal materials moved to/from the château at the beginning & end of each visit. In recent history, during WW2 Château Chambord safeguarded a number of the Louvre’s finest works of art, including the Mona Lisa, during the Nazi occupation of Paris.
Cost to visit: 13 euros