Pretend to be a noble at a French châteaux in the Loire Valley

France will have you fantasizing…

Just two hours southwest of Paris, lies the Loire Valley, an enchanting countryside ablaze with colours of green and gold, filled with vineyards, farmlands, hunting forests and ancient towns. Christened Loire after France’s longest river, which was a highway for transporting food and building materials in flat boats during the Greco-Roman age. An exceptionally fertile land that enticed 15th-century French royals and nobles to hire Italian architects and artists to build hundreds of palatial Renaissance-style chateaux.

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All 300 kilometres of this lush region that dazzled poets and novelists for ages is now a UNESCO-protected national park. The Valley of a Thousand Châteaux has a mind-boggling range of regal residences to explore: stately homes, mansions, castles, fortresses, even palaces. Save yourself some heartburn, go with my top three recommendations.

Chambord: Flamboyance gone overboard

Driving through a seemingly unending lush park filled with wild deer and boar, you’re forced to question what you know about Chambord. Chateau or town? Put your doubts to rest as you alight in the massive parking lot, facing an elegant castle as large as a palace. Can you believe that this royal weekend retreat was originally a simple hunting lodge, rebuilt during the 16th-century by French monarch François I, using an army of 1,800 workmen over 15 years!

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Courtesy: Wikipedia

Talk about flamboyance…this castle has 440 rooms, 365 fireplaces, 85 staircases, stables for 1200 horses, and a park surrounded by a 22-mile long wall. An address befitting all the kings who made it their home, even Louis XIV. While away a couple of hours exploring the theatrical interiors…second-floor vaulted ceilings, enormous corner towers, and a 100-foot tall lantern supported by flying buttresses. Forbidding dungeons too? Chances are.

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Surprise highlight? The huge double-helix staircase designed by Leonardo da Vinci, himself! So they say. Two staircases winding around a central illuminated well, twisting up to the roof. Two of you can test out the mystery construction (or optical illusion) by going up the two staircases simultaneously…you’ll be visible to each other only in glimpses through tiny windows. On the rooftop, surrounded by countless spires, chimneys, turrets, domes and balustrades, send a silent message to Gaudi. Its his kind of quirky, well almost.

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Peer down onto the expansive green grounds, imagining your men hunting deer in the woods ahead. And is that your horse carriage there? Nah. As you drive away, keep your eyes hooked on the majestic castle and its empty grounds till the grey silhouette disappears. The brooding, timeless beauty will stay etched in your memory for a long time.

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Chenonceau: Feminine grace meets war intrigue

Slow down as you walk through the half-mile long canopied avenue of immensely tall plane trees, over a crunchy carpet of gold-red autumn leaves towards the symmetrical French gardens. Serenity, yes? Feel your eyebrows raise as you get closer to the exquisite chateau stretching across the river Cher, its 60-meter long gallery built over a series of arches, reflecting in the languid waters. Close your eyes and recreate the scene…house guests in fluffy gowns and top hats paddling canoes for entertainment. And hey, that’s you…as Catherine of Medici, Regent of France, hosting one of your infamous parties! Have a ball!

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Courtesy: Wikipedia

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Something tells you this residence was designed by women…the splendidly furnished rooms, airy chambers, fine paintings, tapestries, book-lined libraries and gorgeous views from the terraces, all have a distinctly feminine feel. Wonder if they had even more unusual and elaborate flower arrangements on the fireplaces and consoles back then. 

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Notice with sadness, how the pattern and colour of the floor tiles have been worn away by hundreds of visitors. And chew on this….Chenonceau marked the border between free and Nazi France in World War II and dramatic prisoner swaps possibly took place here. Somewhat inappropriate for such a fairytale location. Huh?

Cheverny: A matter of family pride

Familiar? This 17th-century stately hunting palace was the inspiration for Herge’s famous castle of Moulinsart in the Adventures of Tintin. The most sumptuous of all Loire chateaux has been with the same family for nearly seven centuries and they still live on the property, while one section is open for public viewing. Family pride shows in the flawless preservation and the intimate feel. The chess table in the sitting room, children’s room with its oakwood cot and miniature velvet high back chairs, book-lined library with a grand piano, ornate furniture upholstered with floral needlework, damask and gilt-panelled walls and portraits of aristocrats adorning them…all speak of a highly formal lifestyle. A time and place for everything in this home. Do they ever put up their stockinged feet on these exquisite sofas and relax?

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Pause at a lady’s bedroom, where a headless mannequin stands poised in the centre. It is fitted with an elegant ivory brocade gown, with a wide scoop neck, long sleeves with gathers at the shoulders, an embroidered yoke, tiny buttons all the way down the back and full fluffed skirt with a small waist…maybe 24-25 inches. On the wall behind, is a family portrait of (her?) four children, twin girls in white taffeta frocks, their younger brother in a formal brown two-piece and bow tie, and the youngest sister in a pale teal frock holding up a white lace umbrella.

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Suddenly, the mannequin comes to life and its you. Surrounded by 3-4 maids doing up the tiny buttons on your gown, putting flowers in your hair and sprinkling floral eau de toilette, before you join your family in the sun-washed breakfast room. Brief ceremonial greetings, followed by dignified clinking of silver, and children proceeding for their horse-riding lessons, while you move to the study to finalise the guest list for the ball you are planning later that month. (Got carried away there, didn’t you?)

Outside, follow the trail to the kennel of 70 carefully-bred hunting hounds, where  a signboard cautions, “Priere de ne pas exciter les chines” (please do not excite the dogs). They’re preening and posing for pictures, and barking in sync for their next meal. Excitement enough.

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Finally, before exiting the grounds, relax on one of the delightful benches on the satin-smooth grassy grounds, scanning the picture-perfect chateau grounds one last time. Can’t get enough of it. Wait, didn’t that curtain just move?

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3 must-see French chateaux in the Loire Valley

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94 thoughts on “Pretend to be a noble at a French châteaux in the Loire Valley

  1. This really reminds me on one of our last times around the Loire.
    As we are French speaking, we made the tour of quite some castles (like the one with the Davinci Castle) and we really loved it.
    It’s about time to go back there once.
    Thank you for the great pictures and the beautiful content and insights.

    Greetings
    Amelie (from therovingpuffin.com)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This looks like viewing through your lens live.
    It very beautifully described to entice us for making a plan to visit this place as soon as possible

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh my gosh I was LOVING this until you mentioned it was the spot for prisoner swaps during WW2! What a shocker! Broke my heart a little… Still such a gorgeous palace though

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This castle is one place that I would need a whole day to explore. It looks fabulous and your description makes it even more so. Your pictures, especially the one where you have captured the whole structure as a reflection is really amazing. Well done

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow I can only imagine what it was like walking through these amazing places and daydreaming about how different times were then. It’d be amazing to get a glimpse at what living at one of these breathtaking properties was like. Definitely an article to save for future reference. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Those castles are beautiful. It is amazing how these have survived the turbulent history of the 20th century so well. The staircase, you forget that Leonardo da Vinci was an engineer and not just an artist.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I cannot wait to travel through more of France. My husband and his mom went a few years ago and visited the Loire Valley. When I saw the pictures I was so jealous and always had a plan to get there soon. Thanks for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

  8. The Loire valley is definitely a place that must be located near the very limits of the imagination of Man. The lovely landscapes, the romantic Chateaux, the grand and exquisite interiors are all the stuff that can be found in the intrinsic folds of surreal dreams. The pictures bring alive the lovely region with stunning impact.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Wow how extravagant! I can’t get over how many dogs there are too. That double helix staircase is just stunning, good old Leonardo, he knows his interiors!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. France is always associated with aristocratic families and noblemen 🙂 I have never been there, but I think I’ll feel as a “The Three Musketeers” character there 🙂 Thanks for your recommendations!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I have to say this is one of the best country side Ive ever seen in my life! Loire Valley looks so beautiful and peaceful! And that castle looks so magical! I definitely have to add it to my bucket list! wonderful!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Absolutely stunning photos! France’s countryside is magical; I’d really love to visit this area. Your post makes me want to get back to France ASAP!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Looks so grand and loyal. Walking down the stairs designed by Vinci is something to brag about now. The grounds looks so green and lush. That is one hell of a place to visit.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. So beautiful. Love the details. This is giving us a serious case of wanderlust. We love Adventures of Tintin! How pretty is that piano! The stairs look so grand. Putting this on our bucketlist.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Oh France! It really looks like something out of a fairy tale. Quite interesting too since I was just watching a video about Chambord earlier. It definitely is so grand. I quite enjoyed your pictures. Hope to see them in real life too!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. What a coincidence! A coworker just returned from a week visiting the chateaux (she visited 8, too many in my opinion) and we were discussing today which one she preferred best and I could not put any picture to her descriptions . . . Now I know why CHENONCEAU was her favorite and also one of your favorites!

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Your pictures are beautiful and like always a very well written detailed article. The castles are so grand and walking down those stairs will be like Wow! I need to add this seriously to my bucket list. Amazing.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Those castles are so gorgeous! That double helix staircase is so cool – I would love to try it. I have never been to this part of France before but I would love to check it out.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. These are incredible “residences” haha and I use the term lightly!! I can definitely see how you would wonder whether these are chateaux or towns – what stunning castles!! Chamord is incredible, decadence on another level – I can’t believe this was a ere hunting lodge!! What a way to explore – I’ve recently become fascinated with royal history, so I love that I could imagine myself into the timeline while being here!

    Liked by 1 person

  20. How beautiful is the Loire. I’m going to be back there in a few weeks for a little while as I head out to Bordeaux. I just adore Chenonceau and Chambord. The most amazing chateaux. I remember the white marble spiral staircase at Chambord and the amazing black and white tiled hall rossing teh river at Chenonceaux in particular.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. The Chateux is so majestic and I love there is a lake in front of it to make a reflection photo of it. The hunting hounds look quite intimidating, I wouldn’t like to get in the pen with them!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. gorgeous spots! I love France and the Loire. Any place with phenomenal castles and wine always gets to the top of my list. I also work for a French wine education company who gives tours to the Loire (and often visits the Castle in Chambord you picture here) so I’m even more determined to get there myself now!

    Liked by 1 person

  23. This is one of my favourite regions of France and we’ve visited several times, though your post makes me long to go back once again. It’s almost unimaginable, the lifestyles of those nobles that commissioned and lived in these grand chateaux, but I also love the simpler side of the towns and villages, and the amazing produce and food to be found. Wonderful place!

    Liked by 1 person

  24. Oh how wonderful. Living in Western Australia gives us access to fabulous scenery but not so much history – so photos of ancient castles and the idea about living as a French noble are fascinating! The European countryside is so pretty too.

    Liked by 1 person

  25. Haha, Chambord looks just like my holiday shack downunder – NOT!!! Although they all look marvellous, Chambord is my sentimental favourite because my favourite liqueur is also called Chambord!! Is there a connection? If not, there should be – it’d be the perfect way to unwind after the double helix staircase!!

    Liked by 1 person

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