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Visit the Loire Chateau – A Journey to the Valley of the Kings
The name Loire inspires images of romantic fairytale castles, stories of the Plantagenets and Medicis and royal intrigue, and lush green valleys and vineyards around the area’s rivers. Known as the Valley of the Kings, the French royals built their homes here, creating an unrivaled region of beautiful and historic architecture. But, it’s not just the awe-inspiring castles (chateaux) that are the attraction; the fascinating stories of the people who lived in them are utterly compelling. Below are the main châteaux of the Pays de la Loire. Most of these châteaux are built along the Loire, the ‘royal river’, and are often built on medieval, or even Neolithic, sites. Many are made of the local tufa, a white limestone that adds to the elegant style of the chateaux. Some are still private homes, some have been converted into museums, and some have their own vineyards and offer wine tasting.
Chateaux found in the French Department (county) of Maine-Et-Loire
More than 1000 years old, this giant of tufa and slate overlooking the Maine River is typical of castles encountered during crusades to the Holy Land. Built on Gallo-Roman city buildings, then standing on a Neolithic site dating between 4500 and 4000 BC, the chateau of the Count of Anjou is surrounded by a fortress built by Saint Louis. With walls 30 meters high and 17 towers, it was key in the defense of Anjou and the largest fortified castle in France. The beautiful Bout du Monde gardens enhance your visit to the castle. The chateau contains the famous Apocalypse tapestry – the largest medieval tapestry in the world – commissioned by Duke Louis I of Anjou in the mid-1370s.
In this picturesque Small Town of Character, Montsoreau is one of the most romantic of all the chateaux in the Loire Valley. Much of its fame is based on Alexandre Dumas’ popular novel, ‘La Dame de Montsoreau’, written in 1860, and in the castle you can learn about this beautiful Lady of Montsoreau. Rising above the Loire and Vienne rivers, the chateau overlooks three historic provinces: Anjou, Touraine, and Poitou. Unlike other castles from the Loire, Montsoreau was actually built next to the river. A combination of castle and grand residence, the chateau is the setting for the spectacular ‘Stories of the Loire’, which pays homage to the ‘royal river’.
Le Plessis-Bourre Chateau is so beautiful, it is used as a set for many French films. Built between 1468 and 1473 by Jean Bourre, this defensive castle is made of tufa stone, has a wide moat filled with water, a double drawbridge, fortified gates, and large towers and parapets. But beyond the gatehouse, Le Plessis ceases to be a fortress and becomes a country house. A spacious courtyard surrounded by halls and overlooked by elaborate mullioned windows leads to the house full of richly furnished rooms. Formerly a covered passage leading to the chapel, the library is 36 meters long and contains more than 3000 volumes. The intriguing Salle des Gardes has a painted ceiling depicting strange allegorical figures whose presence and meaning is a mystery.
At seven storeys high, Brissac is the tallest chateau in France and is called ‘The Giant of the Loire Valley’. It has been home to the Dukes of Brissac since 1502 and today it is the residence of the 13th Duke of Brissac. From the original fortress of the 15th century, two medieval towers and the ancient wine cellars remain (wine tasting available). The Chateau de Brissac has 203 sumptuously decorated rooms, an exceptional 19th-century Belle Epoque theater, gold-leafed ceilings, Flemish and Gobelin tapestries, and a magnificent 70-hectare park. In 1620, Louis XIII and his court stayed in Brissac to sign a peace treaty for his mother, Marie de Medicis, who was exiled in Angers. This chateau and its owners were of such enormous attraction and importance that the future Henry II of France declared, “If I were not a dauphin, I would like to be Brissac.”
A chateau within a chateau, Breze is a rare example of a troglodyte castle, with miles of medieval underground passages providing the largest underground state house in Europe. On land, Breze Chateau has both 16th and 19th century battlements and an 18 meter deep dry moat – the deepest in Europe. Once owned by the Prince of Conde, this enormous chateau has been in the Dreux-Brezes family for 400 years and is currently home to the Count and Countess de Colbert. Breze is surrounded by vineyards – wines have been made here since the 15th century – and you can visit the wine cellars, the press, and the mill.
Originally a medieval fortress built in the 11th century by the infamous Foulques Nerra (The Black Falcon), Montreuil-Bellay Chateau had a stately home added in the 15th century. The town of Montreuil-Bellay was built on a rocky outcrop and is the -the last surviving walled city of the 32 that once stood in Anjou. Surrounded by vineyards, the delightful town has retained a medieval atmosphere. The chateau has wonderful medieval kitchens, a collegiate church, and was one of the most important falconry locations in the 13th century. The chateau produces AOC wines – red, white, rose, and sparkling. The grapes are harvested by hand and the wine is bottled in the castle. Wine sales and tasting are available.
Architects, builders, and artists made Serrant the prince among the chateaux of Anjou. Lived by the same family since the 18th century, this Renaissance chateau has one of the finest private collections of furniture in France – the cabinets are truly exceptional. There is also a wonderful library with 12,000 volumes, wonderful tapestries, objets d’art, and Belle Epoque furniture. Evenings in July and August have guides dressed in Belle Epoque costumes – entry by reservation only.
With outer defenses dating back to the 12th century, this fortified house has superb views over the Loire. Le Plessis-Mace is an attractive mix of styles and materials with its combined use of schist and tufa. Louis de Beaumont was the most significant of the 15th century lords of Le Plessis-Mace. Knight of the Order of Saint Michael, its chapel is dedicated to the saint who slays dragons Still a residence, the chateau hosts the theatrical presentation of the Anjou Festival every summer.
Overlooking the Loire, the Chateau de Saumur is a joy to behold. Built, destroyed by invaders, and rebuilt several times between the 9th and 14th centuries, the castle was a key defense in protecting the eastern approach to Anjou. Towers and walls from 1360 have survived and offer a beautiful view over the countryside. The castle served as barracks and as a prison – the Marquis de Sade was held captive here for some time. The city bought it in 1906 and carried out extensive renovation work, and today it houses the Museum of Decorative Arts and the Equestrian Museum.
Montgeoffroy Chateau is a place where time has stood still – nothing has changed since the Maréchal of Contades, governor of Strasbourg, was built, decorated and furnished between 1772 and 1775. Since then it has been home to that same family. The marshal asked Nicholas Barre, a Parisian architect, to design it around a beautiful chapel and two towers left over from a previous chateau. Inside, the rooms have retained their original appeal and good taste: paintings of old masters, fine original furniture, and in the kitchens there are shelves of shiny brassware that look as good today as they did the day before. they were made With its white stone facade softened by a slate roof and tall pink chimneys, Montgeoffroy is one of the most outstanding masterpieces of 18th century French architecture. Tel: 02 41 80 60 02.
Historically a jewel in the crown for the Baugeois area – the chateau was a favorite residence of King Rene the Good – the importance of Chateau de Bauge increased with the large number of lodges and wealthy dependencies in the area. The many small towers emerge from the trees beside the little river Loir. Inside, the chateau shines with its collections of porcelain, weapons and furniture. There is also an ancient apothecary which is considered one of the best collections in France.
Rising from the waters of the Loir above six stories to descend on the city below, Chateau de Durtal was the envy of many great historical figures, including Henry II of France, Charles X, Catherine de Medici, and Louis XIII. Royalty were eager to enjoy the wonderful lifestyle offered by the chateau. Visitors are invited to explore the castle from top to bottom, taking in the trophy room, kitchens and dungeons. The wall walk offers a good view of the area.
Neither does Lorie
The Chateau de la Lorie was the epitome of gracious living with parkland sculptures, architecture, a wonderful library, and an orangery where the area’s first pineapples were grown. The chateau has a magnificent marble drawing room, which the British royal family is rumored to have admired a lot when they stayed here as guests. There are also the remains of a stud farm.
Chateaux found in the French Department (county) of Sarthe:
Built on a rock spur in the 11th century and rebuilt in the 16th century, the Laval Chateau overlooks the river and offers great views of the old town. Inside is the Naif Art Museum, one of the best folk art museums that houses a collection of some of the greatest international masters of Naif Art painting. There is also a reproduction of the study of local artist Douanier Rousseau. Tourism office tel: 02 43 49 46 46.
Originally built as a medieval castle, Chateau du Lude is one of the finest examples of early Renaissance chateaux in France. There is a lovely long terrace on the south facing front which overlooks the extensive gardens and parkland which stretches to the banks of the little river Loir. The original fortress was built between the 10th and 11th centuries, in order to defend Anjou from invaders. The richness and variety of styles that characterize the chateau are repeated in the interior decoration and furniture. In the hands of the same family for the last 250 years, Le Lude belongs to Count and Countess Louis-Jean de Nicolay, who carried out its restoration and decoration.
Chateaux found in the French Department (county) of Loire-Atlantique
The Castle of the Dukes of Brittany (Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne) is a massive fortified chateau that served as the center of the historic province of Brittany until 1941, when the regions and departments were restructured. It was the residence of the Dukes of Brittany from the 13th to the 16th century, then it became the residence of the French monarchy. Listed as a historical monument by the French Ministry of Culture since 1862, the recently restored chateau now also houses the Nantes History Museum. The castle and museum offer a modern vision by presenting the past, present, and future of the city. A walk on the fortified ramparts provides excellent views of the castle, its grounds, and the city. The night light, which won the 2007 Lumiville Trophy Light Originator Award, dramatically demonstrates the architectural complexity.
Chateau Goulaine has been in the family of the Marquis de Goulaine for over 1000 years. A fortress in the middle ages, Goulaine was completely rebuilt during the Renaissance period in the style of the great houses of the Loire valley. Although it looks like a stern Breton castle from the outside, inside is a land of butterflies and biscuits. The chateau has an excellent collection of antiques, and the Tropical House butterfly farm has butterflies fluttering freely from April to November. The chateau also has a collection of memorabilia, including posters from the Lu bakery company. The castle is currently the home of the writer Robert de Goulaine, who will happily autograph his books for you.
Chateau found in the French Department (county) of Vendée:
Terre-Neuve Chateau is a treasure of a castle with magnificent architecture and parkland. A prime example of Renaissance-era elegance, the interior features carved stone fireplaces, elaborate ceilings, antiques, and paintings. Built on a hill in Fontenay-le-Comte in 1580, Terre-Neuve has been occupied as a residence ever since.
Chateau found in the French Department (county) of Mayenne:
The keeping of the Chateau de Sainte-Suzanne and the 14th and 15th century ramparts have changed little over the centuries. Set in this Characteristic Small Town with cobblestone streets and medieval buildings, the castle has a rampart walk with fabulous views over the surrounding Coevrons countryside.
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