The Loire Valley – and France in general – is full of historical and picturesque castles. Some of these monumental structures date as far back as the 12th century and are well-known and easily accessible. Others will require thorough research and a detour.
After doing exhaustive mapping, and visiting many of them with a half broken car on our way to get married – and back – I’ve made the following selection. Because you probably won’t have time to visit 50+ castles on your weekend road trip and because you probably won’t care anyways after castle number 5, I’ve kept this list short and sweet.
Below you’ll find the selection that is most interesting as a whole in terms of architecture, history, refurbishment and proximity. Nevertheless, shall you want to visit all the castles in the Loire Valley, check the map at the bottom. I’ve got you covered.
Let’s now explore some stunning and Instagram-worthy locations below.
You might also like 5 Gorgeous Cotswold Towns and Villages
1. Château de Chambord
Despite being under construction when we visited, Château de Chambord is one of the most beautiful châteaux in the world. King François I decided to build his château at Chambord in 1519, so he commissioned a ‘very large, beautiful and sumptuous building’, that would allow him to satisfy his passion for hunting and high living. Fascinated and influenced by the Italian arts and artists, he built this château, which combines French and Italian influences. The château is built on the same model as most mediaeval châteaux, with a central square building and a keep with four towers at each corner. There were five habitable levels with four square apartments and four apartments in the round towers on each level. Read more here.
Location: Château, 41250 Chambord, France (Google)
Architect: Pierre Nepveu, Domenico da Cortona, Jules Hardouin-Mansart, Michel Ranjard
2. Château de Chenonceau
The Château de Chenonceau is nicknamed the ‘Ladies’ Château’ and it is one of the most majestic of the Loire Valley. The ‘Château des Dames’ has been particularly influenced by important women. Built in 1513 by Katherine Briçonnet, it was extended successively by Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici. Chenonceau was saved from the destruction of the Revolution by Madame Dupin. This feminine influence is present everywhere, preserving the château from conflict and war, always a haven of peace. The rooms of the the Château de Chenonceau are sumptuously furnished which makes the visit even more exciting. Read more here.
Location: 37150 Chenonceaux, France (Google)
Architect: Philibert de l’Orme
3. Château d’Azay-le-Rideau
The Château d’Azay-le-Rideau was built on an island in the Indre River under the patronage of King François I. A subtle blend of French tradition and innovative Italian decor, it is an icon of the new art of building in the Loire Valley in the 16th century. Inside, the Azay-le-Rideau Château is adorned with prestigious historic decorations retracing four centuries of French history, as well as exquisite collections of objects, tapestries and furniture. To preserve this wonderful heritage, the Azay-le-Rideau Château underwent major restoration work from 2015 to 2017, involving the masonry, sculptures, wood elements, frameworks and roofs. Read more here.
Location: 19 Rue Balzac, 37190 Azay-le-Rideau, France (Google)
Architect: Gilles Berthelot
4. Château de l’Islette
The Château de l’Islette was designed by René de Maillé with construction lasting from approximately 1526 to 1530. At the time of the French Revolution, the château was owned by Charles Tiercelin d’Apelvoisin who served as a member of the 1789 Estates-General government and was executed by guillotine in 1793. Approximately a century later in the 1890s, the château served as a romantic setting for famous sculptors, Rodin and Camille Claudel, who frequently stayed at the castle for secret getaways, as the lovers were unmarried. The Château de l’Islette was built from freestone, which is a soft white stone. Despite its delicate texture, the structure has survived intact for centuries. It bears a striking resemblance to the Château d’Azay-le-Rideau, which was constructed down the road at approximately the same time and presumably by some of the same workers. Read more here.
Location: 9 Rte de Langeais, 37190 Azay-le-Rideau, France (Google)
Architect: René de Maillé
5. Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers
In 2017 crowdfunding campaign saved this historic castle from being destroyed. Located in the Loire Valley in France, it is a romantic and mysterious masterpiece that fell into ruin after a devastating fire in the early 20th century. The oldest parts of the castle date back to the early 13th century, when it was owned by the Bauçay family. Over the centuries the castle grew larger and changed hands a number of times. By the 18th century, the castle had fallen into a state of disrepair. In the 1870s, Baron Edgard Lejeune rebuilt it in a neo-Gothic style and was known to throw lavish parties at the estate. In 1932, a fire broke out and tore through the building and many of its contents. Though the chapel and some small outbuildings were saved, the chateau itself was left in ruins. The estate and its surrounding land were sold in 1963, then again in 1981 to Marc Deyemer, a former teacher who hoped to preserve the historic building. Read more here.
Location: La Mothe Chandeniers, 86120 Les Trois-Moutiers, France (Google)
Year: 13th century
Check these and other amazing architecture locations in France in the map below: