One of our favourite things about France is the plethora of grand châteaux dotted around the country. The word château can be defined as a manor house, a castle, country or wine estate, or even a stately residence imitating a castle. As broad as the word is, there are over 40,000 châteaux so we have compiled a guide to France’s châteaux with just six of our favourites.
Built right on the River Loire, the Château d’Amboise boats a great position. In 1434, it came into the hands of the French monarchy when Charles VII of France seized it after its owner, Louis d’Amboise, Viscount of Thours, was convicted of plotting against Louis XI. Since then, the château has been through countless owners and renovations. One of its key elements is the Chapel of Saint-Hubert. With its intricate detailing and stained-glass windows, it is also the final resting place of Leonardo da Vinci.
The Château d’Azay-le-Rideau is one of the prime examples of early French renaissance architecture so we’re not surprised that it’s coveted by the art world and tourists alike! Set on an island in the middle of the Indre River, it appears to rise out of the water. On still days, its stately exterior is reflected upon itself in the water, creating a stunning mirror image. Don’t miss its grand central staircase, connecting three floors with large bay windows that can be seen from the outside.
Château de Chenonceau
As one of the most well-known châteaux in the Loire Valley, the current château was built between 1514-1522 on the foundations of an old mill. Later on, it was expanded across the river. As you can imagine, it has a long and extensive history. Its gallery was used as a hospital ward during World War I, and has survived two bombings during World War II. Bernard Voisin was given the honour of restoring the château after this, and his work is what you see today. Make sure you allow enough time to explore both the château and its spectacular gardens!
Château de Versailles
From the seat of power to a museum of the history of France, the Palace of Versailles has come a long way. It was built and then maintained by many of the King Louis of France (XIII through to XVI), abandoned for a good portion of the French Revolution, then used as a summer residence by Napoleon Bonaparte after he took over France. Once the French Monarchy was restored, plans were made and executed to make meaningful repairs to the grand palace. One of the most popular areas is the Hall of Mirrors, a long gallery that looks out over the splendid gardens. Decorated with 357 mirrors that face 17 windows, and an intricate ceiling fresco, the famed room is a sight to behold.
Château de Blois
Another incredible Loire Valley château, the Château de Blois is probably most famous for being the place where Joan of Arc went in 1429 to be blessed by the Archbishop of Reims. Shortly after this, she left with her army to battle the English. For the architecture lovers, the château showcases the brilliant evolution of French architecture styles, starting with the Middle Ages right through to the 17th century. Nowadays, the interior has been fully restored for visitors to admire – including a big emphasis on the colourful floor tiles.
Château de Chambord
Last but not least, the Château de Chambord is one of the most recognisable icons of France with its distinctive French Renaissance architecture and grand moat. Built as a hunting lodge for Francis I, it was never meant to act as a defence so much of its exterior is purely decorative. Its rooftop is often compared to a skyline of a town, with a mix of 11 kinds of towers and 3 types of chimneys! Looking inside, you can’t miss its famous double helix staircase. The two staircases never meet despite twisting together…it is said that Leonardo da Vinci was the mastermind behind this, but to this day, it remains a mystery!