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Category: Loire Valley
On today's episode, Annie Sargent brings you a trip report with Rick McGuirk about his 5 favorite chateaux in the Loire Valley. There are so many chateaux along the Loire Valley that it’s hard to choose which ones to go to and which ones to skip. You could spend a couple of months there if you wanted to see them all. So, just in case you don't have that kind of time, let's see which ones are must-sees.
Rick and his wife have visited France many times, but this was their first time exploring the Loire Valley. They don't speak French beyond "bonjour", "au revoir" and "une carafe d'eau" but that wasn't a problem. So long as you know the magic word in French, you'll be OK!
5 Favorite Chateaux in the Loire Valley
On this trip they stayed in Paris for 5 days then took the TGV from Montparnasse to Gare de Saint-Pierre-des-Corps in Tour where they picked up a rental car. It is wise to reserve your rental car from home, especially if you'd like to drive an automatic!
Distances between the chateaux are usually 30 to 45 minute drive and those drives are scenic and enjoyable.
Rick’s top 5
Take-Away from this Episode
You could visit the 5 favorite chateaux in the Loire Valley in 2 days, but 3 would be better. They saw 10 places in 4 days as listed below, and it would have been better to cut a couple of them off. Maybe I should have asked him for a top 6 list so that he could have included Azay-le-Rideau which I've enjoyed personally 🙂
If you need to choose between staying in Chinon or staying in Amboise, Amboise is probably a better choice because it is a bigger cleaner town and there are more dining and shopping choices.
Keep in mind that the Loire Valley is not where you go for great night-life but rather for gorgeous architecture, gardens and scenery. It is a peaceful, quiet soul-full type of vacation. Most of these chateaux are in rural France, pay attention to opening and closing times and the infrequent availability of stores compared to what you're used to.
Hotels Recommended in this Episode
They stayed at a lovely quaint hotel in Chinon for 2 nights. French manor house with lovely furniture, beams on the ceiling, beautiful floors. Amazing breakfast. But Chinon the city is a smaller town, it may be difficult to find anything open in the middle of the day, especially if you're on foot. They enjoyed La Cabane à Vin in Chinon.
They preferred the city of Amboise where they found a lovely hotel. An old remodeled manor house with spacious rooms, wonderful staff, great location overlooking the Loire River and central to the town. Plus the staff was extra kind to them when they found out that Rick's mother-in-law passed away while they were in France.
The formal gardens are spectacular in October: flowers, pears, pretty grounds. This is a beautiful French Garden style and there are nice gardens behind the chateau as well. Definitely plan time to explore the grounds. Vilandry is furnished more than other chateaux, but the best part is seeing the grounds.
More furniture and amazing rooms at Azay-le-Rideau, but the grounds weren't as nice as Vilandry even though the water all around the chateau is beautiful.
Abbey Royale de Fontevraud
Finding the parking-lot can be tricky, it's a big place, somewhat empty, has a lot of both illustrious and infamous history. It was not a favorite of theirs.
About a 30 minute drive, easy to find with a GPS. The building itself is amazing. They say it was the inspiration for Disney's Cinderella Castle. A lot of the chateau is in great condition, so are the stables. The Café Dechemin Eric had a great view onto the chateau but the food was just OK.
Chateau de Chinon
This is more of a fortress than a chateau, the views from the chateau are lovely, but the place itself has a lot of military history. The chateau at Amboise might be a better choice if you can only see one.
They had dinner at a restaurant called Au Chapeau Rouge that comes highly recommended everywhere but they didn't feel welcome there and the food was mediocre and not cheap. To be avoided.
Both the chateau, the grounds and the city of Amboise are wonderful. Definitely one of the best they saw. There are a lot of signs in the Amboise chateau and you should spend some time reading them because the history is wonderful.
It would be a good idea to have lunch at the chateau, you can sit on the terrace and enjoy great views.
Le Clos Lucé
This is the chateau where Leonardo da Vinci spent the last few years of his life after being invited by the King to be the resident genius. The chateau itself is not as large or as fancy, but the grounds are wonderful and there are a lot of displays for the kids to see. This chateau has a lot of da Vinci themed stuff in the gift shop.
Restaurant near the chateau Via Roma, it was good to have some Italian food, not many tourists there, a great choice.
Royal Chateau d’Amboise
This is a military castle, it is well preserved, great views. Not very large, but a great visit, highly recommended. They went back to eat at a place called Chez Bruno twice, lots of locals, nice food, but reserve because it fills up.
Cheverny is a great chateau with an interesting look and a great story. The family that owns the chateau still lives there at least part-time. There is a lot to see inside the chateau as well, this is a must-do. It doesn't have the high-end formal gardens that other chateaux have but it has dogs. You must plan to be there during dog feeding time (get there early, lots of people want to see it!) There are 50 or 60 dogs and it's great to watch the 20 or 30 minute "show". The dogs are in great condition and trained well. Great for children and people who like Tintin as well.
Chateau de Chambord
This one is the most spectacular, it's the biggest one and grand beyond description. There are a lot of rooms open for touring and they are enormous. Many of them are unfurnished, possibly because it wasn't lived-in very much. Don't miss the double-helix staircase. You can go every which way around the chateau, climb to the top, it's a great visit. There's a food court there and it's OK.
One Word of Caution in Closing
They knew the Hertz location where they rented the car would be closed when they were to drop-off the car. They were told to leave the car in the parking lot and put the keys in the mailbox. Unfortunately there were no spots left to park until a train arrived and a few people took their cars to go home. Don't be in a rush if you need to leave the car at the train station parking lot!
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If you enjoyed this episode, you should also listen to related episode(s):
- An Action-Packed Holiday in France with Kids, Episode 259
- The Lovely City of Tours in the Loire Valley, Episode 255
- A Scenic Drive along the Loire River, Episode 252
- Tips for Visiting Chenonceau and Cheverny, Episode 171
- Loire Valley Castles You Shouldn't Skip, Episode 168
- Trip Report Loire Valley and Dordogne, Episode 82
- Chartres Cathedral, Episode 26
- The Rules of Driving in France, Episode 16
Read more about this episodeGuest Notes
Category: Loire Valley