The Loire Valley Feature
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Which Château Is Right for You?
We admit it—there are almost too many châteaux in this part of France. It's nearly impossible to see all of them, so we've noted the prime characteristics of the best to help you decide which you'd most like to visit.
Amboise: Powerful, haunted, and nearly empty, this was the birthplace of the Renaissance in France but loses out in charm to the adjacent Clos-Lucé manor, where Leonardo Da Vinci lived out his last years.
Angers: An impenetrable curtain wall and massive towers protect this muscular 13th-century fortress, home to the famed Apocalypse tapestries.
Azay-le-Rideau: With Rapunzel turrets, moat, and Italianate facade, this charming Renaissance castle is right out of a fairy tale. Toy-size, it has pretty Gothic-style salons and nightly sound-and-light shows.
Blois: Big and bombastic, this shows the evolution from the Middle Ages to the Neoclassic.
Candé: A storybook illustration come to life, this tiny "faux" château is where the Duke of Windsor married Wallis Simpson in 1937.
Chambord: Built for François I, the largest of the Loire Valley châteaux immediately takes your breath away. Fascinating salons, equestrian parades, and a sound-and-light show make this a wow.
Chaumont-sur-Loire: This dramatic cliff-top château combining Gothic fortifications with Renaissance style has a masculine touch despite once belonging to Catherine de' Medici. Inside is ravishing neo-Gothic decor; outside, April through October, a famed garden show.
Chenonceau: Instantly recognized by its ballroom gallery spanning the Cher River, the magnificent "Château des Dames" was owned by famed chatelaines and still maintains a feminine touch with enormous bouquets, fanciful decor, and vast gardens.
Cheverny: Ornate and très elegant, this 17th-century château has opulent salons for adults and hunting hounds' kennels and a Tintin exhibition for the kids.
Chinon: This brooding 12th-century fortress, perched high over the beautiful medieval town, is where Joan of Arc met with the future King Charles VII in 1429—recent renovations have brought it back to its former glory.
Saché: Set in a pretty hamlet and long-time home to writer Honoré de Balzac, this is more of a sturdy 19th-century country manor.
Saumur: Panoramic views over its eponymous river are worth a hike up to this gorgeously Gothic château (interior under renovation) set on a cliff above Saumur.
Ussé: A fairy-tale extravaganza, this is the most magical château of them all. It inspired Charles Perrault's (and Walt Disney's) "Sleeping Beauty," and the waxwork figurines in the turrets do give it the feel of a Disney set.
Villandry: A true Renaissance palace, this family-owned château is famed for its vast themed gardens, replete with stunning topiaries and Cinderella pumpkins.
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