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Which are the best Châteaux in the Loire Valley?

Which are the best Châteaux in the Loire Valley?

Dec 19th, 2011, 11:41 AM
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Which are the best Châteaux in the Loire Valley?

We have a week booked near Loches in September. I have begun reading up and sorting out what we want to do but am having difficulty deciding which of the many châteaux to include. I know there is a danger of going into château overload so I am trying to get a mix of other sights as well - eg a day around Lavardin to see some of the churches with the old frescoes. I’m also wanting to do one of the troglodyte sites, possibly La Vallee Troglodytique des Goupillieres near Azay le Rideau and also the Plantagenet tombs at Fontevraud Abbey.

I’m trying to plan a mix of châteaux with different styles of architecture and to include some of the less well known (and quieter) ones. Chenonceau and Chambord are must sees although I appreciate these are both likely to be very busy. When is the best time of day to avoid the worst of the crowds and how long do we need to allocate to each?

I’d appreciate any comments and help to try and pick out ones we ought to consider. Which is your favourite château and what makes it special?
ESW is offline  
Dec 19th, 2011, 12:06 PM
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You're not really going to avoid crowds at Chenonceau or Chambord unless you get there way early or near closing (and in Chambord, that means running out of time to explore - do not underestimate its size and do not eschew the rooftop tour; Chenonceau is MUCH smaller).

What you would like is based on what you already like, so how long to allocate is up to you. You will need a lot of time for Chambord (1/2 day).

Chateau du Blois has three different types of architecture that comprise the castle and the rooms are representative of the time periods so the interior tour can take a while.

Chateau de Cheverny is the inspiration for Marlinspike Hall in the Tintin comics, clambering around the open-to-peasants part of the Chateau doesn't take too long, but there are some activities on the expansive grounds and the Tintin display in the chateau's shop is sizeable.

Chateau d'Amboise is the most fortified and defendable of the lot, has daVinci's tomb and the carriageway exit is worth a visit on its own (most of the posters on this board who have disparaged Amboise don't know about or miss the point of the carriageway exit). This can take up most of a morning with time to visit another 2 in the afternoon.

Chateau Beauregard is relatively unknown, but it's the Loire Valley equivalent of London's National Portrait Gallery due to the hundreds of portraits of kings, queens, sultans, bishops, emperors, popes, princes, princesses, etc. in its halls. But it is small compared to the others (just a hunting lodge, although various outbuildings and the grounds can be visited; we went for the portraits and skipped the rest on what was a rainy day).

Others, including Villandry (notable gardens, house itself is not special), Azay le Rideau (setting and exterior are more interesting than the interior), Chaumont (looks imposing, interior in relative disrepair when we visited in '07), Saumur (completely rebuilt/rebuilding) were less intriguing to us.
BigRuss is offline  
Dec 19th, 2011, 12:06 PM
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Chenonceau and Chambord..why did YOU pick those? IMO it makes little difference what others find attractive since YOU have already and for whatever reason picked probably the two most-visited ones and they are that way for good reason so you've obviously got tastes similar to others.

I like Chenonceau because of its setting and if you are going there go EARLY in the morning..if you are saying "Oh No I don't get up early" that is exactly WHY you should go there early to avoid the mobs. Same thing with Chambord which has such bulk (as opposed to the more delicate seeming Chenonceau) and at the latter you can actually go up onto the roof. I don't find the interior of Cmabord nearly as interesting as Chenonceau and neither of the interiors are nearly as interesting overall as that at Villandry.

Consider the latter if you are really INTO gardens and want to see a place that is still occupied.
Dukey1 is offline  
Dec 19th, 2011, 12:07 PM
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Now, if you want something REALLY memorable, consider an early morning balloon flight OVER Chenonceau...believe me, it is absolutely unforgettable.
Dukey1 is offline  
Dec 19th, 2011, 12:22 PM
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Langeais and Angers are worth a visit, the latter has a set of tapestries that rival the unicorn tapestries in Paris.

Michael is offline  
Dec 19th, 2011, 12:36 PM
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I have visited every darn castle in the Loire several times and your question is a subjective one in part but here is my ranking of my favorites

1- Azay-le-Rideau
2- Chenonceau
3- Chambord (consensus if there is one of what is the most monumental chateau)
4- Amboise
5 - Uzes
6- Blois

and Loches castle too though it is a chateau-fort - built for defense as opposed to built for pleasure and the eye as many others were - check out the Hanging Cages of one Louis - his enemies literally were left to hang out in cages not big enough for them to stand up - some for years in darkness.
PalenQ is offline  
Dec 19th, 2011, 01:30 PM
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Here is the relevant page from our trip report, with photos and our impressions of the 9 or 10 chateaux that we visited.


Big caveat: we took this trip 12 years ago.
mr_go is offline  
Dec 19th, 2011, 01:31 PM
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Thank you for all your replies - plenty of food for thought. It is helping clarify my thoughts.

Loches is on the list, as it covers so much history with the donjon and Logis Royale - which is why we picked the area as our base.

I fell in love with Chenonceau when taken there by an Aunt 50+ years ago, so that is included for nostalgic reasons. I hope it lives up to the memories. Early starts are no problem so we will aim to be there for opening time.

I'd ruled out Ussé as we aren't into the Sleeping Beauty thing. (Fodors raves about it but Rough Guide is scathing.) Present thinking is to stop and take photos of the outside as we go past.

Similarly not having read any Tintin, I'm not bothered about the Marlinspike Hall connection. Leaving this aside - is Cheverney worth a visit?

I'm attracted to Langeais with its 15thC furnishings and the gardens at Villandry.

I like the sound of Blois but was originally put off by the thought of negotiating Blois which seems like quite a big town. (We were in Brittany in September and even with Michelin 1cm =2km road maps still had problems with road signing. Having gone round roundabouts several times with husband saying "I need to know which exit..." I've been avoiding the larger places.)
ESW is offline  
Dec 19th, 2011, 01:34 PM
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Thanks for the link to your trip report - makes interesting reading.
ESW is offline  
Dec 19th, 2011, 01:36 PM
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Does anyone know much about Château de Cinq-Mars-la-Pile - is it worth considering? The guide books and web refer to romantic ruins and nice gardens. What exactly is there to see here?
ESW is offline  
Dec 19th, 2011, 01:42 PM
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I might added Villandry and Usse to the list. Chinon I also liked, I was there during their summer medieval fair. Meung-sur Loire was small, I was the only one there. They had a interesting cachot (dungeon)

Chambord looks really interesting from ouside, inside was a little 'cold'.

Angers and its tapestries

Look at combining Sons et Lumieres (sound and light) shows to your plans.

I used the Micheling Green guide when I went.
Michel_Paris is offline  
Dec 19th, 2011, 01:46 PM
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I don't think of Blois as a particularly large or hard-to-navigate town.

My favorite châteaux are Amboise and Angers, but like so many others I have a soft spot for Chenonceau. I also love Chinon, though there's not that much of it left - it gives me goosebumps standing in the room/space where Jeanne d'Arc meet the Dauphin.
StCirq is offline  
Dec 19th, 2011, 02:14 PM
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They have just this year completed reconstruction of one of the buildings at Chinon and the new visitor center/museum/gift shop is open now. It's true there's still not much left but just to stand where Eleanor, Henri and Richard stood is thrill enough. Plus, I like the town. I haven't been to Cheverney but I've read reviews here from some of the château afficionados who have been and they all love it, mostly due to the quality of its interior decor. I've heard the same said about Chaumont-sur-Loire as well (haven't been). A couple of others that are on my list to see would be Valençay and Saint-Agnan.

I agree that Blois is not a difficult town to navigate. Just follow the signs to either "château" or "Centre Ville". Go to the tourist office and they'll give you a detailed map of the town and other good info. I think it's right across the street from the entrance of the château. It's a great château to visit.
FrenchMystiqueTours is offline  
Dec 19th, 2011, 09:55 PM
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I can offer very little of use, except to say that

(a) I thoroughly enjoyed Chenonceau, Azay le Rideau, and the gardens of Villandry (which might be open substantially later than anything else, so you won't necessarily have to give anything up to see them!) and

(b) I thought Angers well worth visiting (primarily, but not only, for the Tapestry of the Apocalypse) and I enjoyed Fontevraud Abbey very much. I think you are correct in your belief that they would provide nice "breaks" from chateaux.

kja is offline  
Dec 20th, 2011, 12:02 AM
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If you like gardens Villandry s must! I loved the fox hounds and lived in interiors of Cheverney.The town of Amboise is another must
avalon is offline  
Dec 20th, 2011, 12:16 AM
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If you like gardens, the garden festival at Chaumont is also a must.
ardithl is offline  
Dec 20th, 2011, 12:58 AM
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In Amboise, the home (small chateau) where Leonardo Da Vinci lived makes an interesting change from the other chateaux in the area.
There are beautiful gardens to meander through, with some of his fantastic ideas either spoken about or created. The eatery in the gardens.is pleasant also. We were there in August - arrived early to explore the house, then were eating early lunch when the vast numbers of people were queuing to get in.
di2315 is offline  
Dec 20th, 2011, 03:48 AM
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At Loches you will be close to Montresor. We haven't seen the chateau interior, but the village itself and the walk through the water meadow are not to be missed.

Lavardin is not really that close to Loches, about 1.5 hours. It's well worth a visit, though (the village, not the chateau ruins) if you are driving near Vendome.

You'll be near Montpoupon. It comes as a surprise. You round a bend in the road and, suddenly, there is everyone's idea of the classic chateau. And a few seconds later you are past it and want to turn around. We haven't been inside; the outside view was enough for us (we discovered we're not really chateau people).

Palenque's ranking tickled me, because Azay is my #1 and Chenonceau is my husband's #1.
Coquelicot is offline  
Dec 20th, 2011, 03:59 AM
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Have stayed at D'Esclimont close to Chartres for a stay fine
dining former presidents of France have lodging there a short
drive from Paris built in the 12th century be the ArchBishop
of Tours. One of the Leading Small Hotels of the World 140
euro for me last www.venere.com My fav an awesome experience.

Happy Travels!
qwovadis is offline  
Dec 20th, 2011, 04:02 AM
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We just visited Chenonceau and Chambord two weeks ago. Chenonceau was decorated for the holidays and was exquisite. Chambord was by comparison rather stark, but much more complex and larger. Going in the off season meant no crowds at all. The trip made us want to see more next time and the suggestions above are very helpful.
waterdog is offline  

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