Thanks to a bounty of agricultural land and a strategic location along the river that bisects France, the Loire is home to more than a thousand castles and palaces of all shapes and sizes. When a "valley address" became a must-have among 16th-century hunting-crazy royalty, rich Renaissance palaces replaced outdated medieval castles. Hundreds of these castles and palaces are open to visitors — make time to see two or three of the most intriguing of these.
At a Glance
Which châteaux should you visit — and why?
Châteaux East of Tours
▲▲▲ Chenonceau For sheer elegance arching over the Cher River, and for its lovely gardens.
▲▲ Blois For its urban setting, beautiful courtyard, and fun sound-and-light show.
▲▲ Chambord For its grandeur (440 rooms), fun rooftop views, and evocative setting surrounded by a forest.
▲▲ Cheverny For its intimate feel, lavishly furnished rooms, and daily feeding of the hunting dogs.
▲▲ Chaumont-sur-Loire For its imposing setting over the Loire River, intriguing rooms, and impressive Festival of the Gardens.
▲ Amboise For terrific views over Amboise and Leonardo da Vinci memories.
▲ Clos-Lucé (in Amboise) For a chance to see Leonardo da Vinci's final home, and to stroll through gardens decorated with models of his creations.
Châteaux West of Tours
▲▲ Azay-le-Rideau For its fairy-tale facade and setting on a romantic reflecting pond, and for its beautifully furnished rooms.
▲▲ Villandry For the best gardens in the Loire Valley.
▲ Chinon For its Joan of Arc history.
▲ Langeais For its fortress-like setting above an appealing little village, and its 16th-century furnished rooms.