Château de Chambord
Get purposefully lost in a maze of 440 rooms, 800 sculpted capitals and 282 fireplaces in the Château de Chambord, the biggest French Renaissance castle in the Loire Valley. Intended as a hunting lodge, King François I had this impressive dwelling built in the 16th century. Striking and elegant with its ornate Renaissance features, thousands of windows, spires and steeples, it is famous for its ingenious double spiral staircase which allows two people to traverse up and down the stairs without passing each other. Stroll around the stunning castle terrace for a marvellous view of the Chambord national estate park. Those who prefer to travel by horse may join a carriage tour, available from the Marshal of Saxony stables.
Le Lude Castle
An imposing medieval façade and deep moat bear testament to the château’s historic past dating back to the 10th century when it was used as a defending fort against Norman and English invasions. Converted into a holiday residence in the 15th century by the chamberlain of Louis XI, Jehan de Daillon, it attracts many because of its heritage and spectacular interiors: The great library, the Court of Honour with marble plaques, its Flanders tapestries and vaulted kitchens. Be sure to join in the merriment every June to August when its grounds come alive with the Gardener’s Festival, Kitchen and Gourmet Garden Days, all held within the confines of three lovely gardens — the Spur Garden abloom with Chinese roses, the Spring Garden with its rocaille decorations and the French-style garden along the Loir.
Surrounded by moats, the Louis XIII-style castle dates back to 1872 and contains within it a perfect example of the jardin à la française or French formal gardens. Featured on France’s list of Remarkable Gardens and regarded as one of the most beautiful in the Île-de-France region, it is truly a sight to behold with its exquisitely tailored flower beds, lush greenery and landscaped surroundings. Also famed for its Renaissance water features, it has no fewer than 14 springs flowing into 17 water features in the estate.
Palace of Fontainebleau
It is easy to see why this renowned palace was King François I’s preferred residence and Napoléon Bonaparte’s favourite place to stay. As a masterpiece of French architecture and art, it enthralls all who step over its threshold. Be amazed by its luxuriously furnished State Apartments, the Imperial Inner Apartment, the stunning Baroque Trinity Chapel, the Napoléon I Museum and the Ballroom’s colossal fireplace. Take a moment to daydream in its delightful garden, abloom with flowers and large formal parterres designed by renowned 17th century landscape architect André Le Nôtre, its charming pavilions, rare tree species and an elegant fountain. For music aficionados, the annual Rencontres Musicales de Fontainebleau, a chamber music festival, is held on the palace grounds every spring.
Built using beautiful white Loire stone and boasting Louis XVI décor, this historic monument was constructed by the Marquis d’Armaillé in the 18th century. Owned today by the Count and Countess de Guébriant, guided tours of this exclusive property are only available in July and August. Pop by then to admire the castle’s period features such as intricate wood panelling, walk its grand staircases, explore its majestic Oval room and roam its magnificent central hall. Bordered by a gorgeous 47 hectare French-style garden and a 42 hectare English-style park with ancient trees, the estate also contains an authentic 19th century icehouse.
Château de Brissac
The only way is up in this seven-floor château, the highest castle in all of France. With 204 rooms and a spectacular view from the top, it is owned by the 13th Duke of Brissac and operates as a hotel today. Be inspired by its fantastic rooms adorned with rich Flemish tapestries and antique furniture. Visit its opulent, 200-seater gilded theatre where the memories of the Belle Époque era come to life during the region’s annual Val de Loire festival. Home to a 600-year-old vineyard, guests can also participate in organised wine tastings at the castle’s wine cellars. The winery is well-known for its variety of reds: AOC Anjou Villages Brissac, AOC Anjou and AOC Rosé d’Anjou.