Updated: Mar 4, 2021
Dreaming of a trip to France? What could be more French than picturesque towns and fairy tale castles? Make yours a trip of a lifetime by exploring the magnificent Loire Valley. Wander through gardens and walk on ramparts that overlook domains of the Kings and Queens of old. Discover where Leonardo DaVinci spent his last days and witness some of his most famous inventions. Learn the history of famous castles and uncover secret royal scandals!
Rent a car, get out of the city, and step into your very own French fairytale on this three day road trip to some of the most iconic and beautiful castles of the Loire Valley.
Day 1: Royal Château de Blois
For this trip, I highly recommend that you stay in Blois. Only a three hour drive from Paris, it’s centrally located for visiting the castles in this post, as well as others in the area if you are more ambitious.
The old town area below the castle is the perfect size to explore on foot, while having plenty of options for dining and shopping. The cobblestoned pedestrian area with its narrow streets and ancient buildings is rich in historical French charm, and dotted with restaurants, cafes, bakeries and shops.
We found some particularly delicious local honey that I would make a trip back there just to buy more of. I’m not kidding. Life changing.
Speaking of this honey, the bed and breakfast where we stayed, La Perluette, served it at breakfast every morning with fresh croissants. Hands down one of my all-time favorite places to stay! Not only did they help us find a store in town to buy the honey, they also gave us awesome restaurant recommendations, offered to make reservations for us, and helped us plan our castle itinerary. We left there feeling like we were old friends! If we ever go back to Blois, we will stay with them again in a heartbeat. And also buy more honey.
But I digress. Let’s get down to the business of French castles! Although we didn’t choose Blois because of its castle, I was blown away by the Chateau Royal de Blois.
The history of how this royal castle changed hands over the years was fascinating, not to mention having artifacts from the Roman Empire and quite an impressive art collection. You can see the variation in its distinct architectural styles from the different time periods of its construction.
The self-guided tour explains when and why each addition was made using a histo-pad, which is a tablet type of device that you wear around your neck. It was entertaining and educational, which for us nerdy types, was quite a lot of fun! This castle may not be one of the most well known in the Loire Valley, but it is truly a hidden treasure!
Another good reason to stay in Blois is that there are quite a few other points of interest that can make for a fun and unique visit! The castle tour will take about two to three hours, which leaves you time to explore the rest of this captivating city. We found Blois to be surprisingly artsy and edgy.
For religious interests, visit St. Nicholas’s Church to see the exquisite stained glass windows. There is also the Abbaye Saint-Laumer, as well as the Musee Diocesain Art Religieux, one of the few Museums of Religious Art in France.
Looking for a fun diversion the kids will enjoy? Liven up your day with a visit to the House of Magic Museum or the House of Comics. If you're an art or history lover you might enjoy the Natural History Museum or the contemporary art center, Fondation du Doute.
My most favorite discovery, however, was what I call the Mona Lisa stairs. It’s official name is L’escalier Denis Papin, as it is a beautiful stone stairway in the center of Blois with a statue of Denis Papin, a famous French Physicist and Inventor. From the top of the stairs, you can see the Loire River and the Jacques Gabriel Bridge with its beautiful arches. The staircase is used as an outdoor art exhibition, with a different design each year. When we were there in the Fall of 2019, the entire staircase was a gigantic recreation of the Mona Lisa. It was one of the highlights of our stay, an enchanting and unique discovery!
Day 2: Château d’Amboise and Château de Chenonceau
Get an early start and plan to spend about half of your day in Amboise, as there is more to see than just the castle. You’ll spend the second half of the day at Château de Chenonceau. This will allow you to be at Chenonceau as the sun starts to go down, where you may be lucky enough to catch the setting sun shining through its arches.
Overlooking the River Loire, the charming Château d’Amboise sits above the even more charming town of the same name. The Château was taken by the French monarchy in the 15th century, but it has a history dating back to the middle ages.
As you emerge from the entrance of the old gate house, the stone pathway opens up to a beautiful hilltop courtyard that offers breathtaking views of the river, the surrounding countryside, and the town below. Look to your left to see the small chapel that holds the final resting place of Leonardo DaVinci; understated but beautiful in its simplicity.
After visiting the chapel, and before going into the castle, walk along the edge of the ramparts up to the corner bastion for dramatic views of the castle walls and town below. From here you can see the expanse of the beautiful Loire River Valley laid out before you.
The self guided tour uses a histo-pad here as well. Interactive and informative with a few hidden surprises I’ll let you discover on your own. After touring inside the castle, walk behind it and check out the terraced gardens. From here, make your way around to the far side of the ramparts for even more spectacular views of the town and river. Views upon views upon views!
Take time to visit Château du Clos Luce while you are here. No question, this is an absolute MUST! Within walking distance from Château d’Amboise, Clos Luce was the home of Leonardo DaVinci for the last three years of his life. Although DaVinci did not own it, King Francis I allowed him to live here so he would be close by. The king loved his daily talks with DaVinci, and there was even an underground tunnel connecting the two chateaux.
The house has been restored to look as it did during DaVinci’s time, and has many of his most famous works and inventions on display. It is said that at the time DaVinci lived here, he brought the Mona Lisa and two other paintings with him. Unfortunately you'll have to go to the Louvre to see them now.
Don't miss out on a walk through the gardens after you tour the house. They are so peaceful and serene, I can just imagine DaVinci strolling around them as he contemplated what he would invent next!
There are lots of good cafe choices in town to grab some lunch before you leave Amboise. There are several that offer sit down or take away options. We got a couple of sandwiches and a bag full of chocolates and pastries from the Patisserie Bigot that were delicious! We walked away with full bellies and smiles on our faces!
Afternoon: Château de Chenonceau
This 16th century masterpiece built directly over the River Cher is truly a sight to behold. From the tree-lined path leading up to the entrance, exquisite gardens on both sides, and a row of arches spanning the entire width of the river, Château de Chenonceau is a castle lover's dream!
And that’s just the outside! The inside is no less impressive, with extravagantly decorated rooms, kitchen cellars like something out of a storybook, tapestries and an art collection that rivals some of the best in France, and a view from the upstairs balcony that will make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time 500 years. Words don’t come close to doing it justice. You just have to experience it.
Did I mention royal scandals? If ever there was a castle with a cool story, this is it. The château was originally incorporated as part of the royal estate by King Francis I as part of a settlement of a debt. Later, it was given by King Henry II to his mistress, then taken away by Queen Catherine Medici when the king died.
It was used as a retreat by the widow of King Henry III, a military hospital during World War I, and a smuggling location to escape Nazis during World War II. The full story is creatively told on the self-guided tour, it’s totally worth your time to do this.
Let me take a moment to remind you to stay until the château closes so you can catch the setting sun shining through the arches. Nothing less than spectacular!
Day 3: Château de Chambord
Extravagant and elegant, with spires rising up into the sky and sprawling grounds that reach out in all directions of its vast estate, Château de Chambord is everything you imagine a French fairytale castle should look like. Standing like a centerpiece inside is an enormous stone staircase that opens up to all four floors. And the views from the rooftops I can only describe with one word. WOW.
Exploring this castle was so much fun, we were like a couple of kids looking for hidden treasure! Similar to other castles they use the histo-pad self guided tour, but there is no set route or direction to follow. As you walk into each room or area, it senses where you are and the adventure begins!
With hidden hallways and spiral stairways, you literally get to explore every nook and cranny of this castle. Nothing is off limits. I’ve made it my mission to visit as many castles as humanly possible, and this one ranks up there with the best of them.
The extravagance doesn’t stop inside the castle. The sprawling grounds and surrounding forest stretch out as far as the eye can see. There are bicycles, golf carts, and boats for rent, and a cafe inside the castle courtyard. There are also cafes and a variety of shops in the castle “village” between the parking area and the castle that sell local products, specialties, and even wine!
If you arrive early in the morning you’ll be able to finish your castle tour in time to grab some lunch and do your outdoor exploring before you head back to Paris. I would strongly urge you to visit first thing in the morning, especially if you are visiting during peak summer season, in order to avoid long lines and tour groups. You can also book your tickets online in advance so you don’t waste precious time waiting in long lines. This will allow you to spend more of your time inside enjoying this magnificent castle.
There are many more Loire Valley castles still left to explore, but I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about these favorites and are inspired to visit them!
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