France is so often associated with elegant fashion, cosmopolitan cities, and the romance of the countryside. The Loire Valley is an ideal travel destination for tourists seeking the rich cultural and traditional heritage of renaissance-era France. This region of France expands over 280 kilometres of natural landscapes with the Loire River, the longest river in Europe, serving as the picturesque backdrop to it all. The Loire Valley is renowned for its magnificent castles, majestic gardens, wild forests, quaint villages, and exquisite wineries. Explore the Loire Valley, the envy of the French countryside by starting in the historical city of Tours.
Tours, in Touraine, is the gateway and capital of the Loire Valley. It is a charming and historical city that takes its visitors on a wonderful journey back in time in France. Explore the streets lined with centuries-old cobblestone, heritage-listed half-timbered French houses and beautifully lavish green gardens.
If the Loire Valley is the crown of the French countryside, then Château de Chenonceau is its crowning jewel. Just 20 miles (33km) east of Tours this 14th-century masterpiece is situated atop the elegant arched bridge spanning the Cher River. Chenonceau is one of France’s most elegant châteaux and is known as the ‘Ladies Castle’. Chenonceau was home to the mistress of Henri II, Diane de Poitiers, and is the reason why it boasts spectacular gardens even to this day. Château de Chenonceau is a truly wondrous setting, the formal gardens, the magic of the architecture, the priceless collection of art and the château’s fascinating history, shaped by a series of powerful women.
Villandry’s six glorious landscaped gardens à la française makes Châteay de Villandry the premier location for French Gardens in the Loire Valley, and is amongst the finest garden destination in France. There are more than 6 hectares of kitchen gardens, cascading flowers, ornamental vines, manicured lime trees, razor-sharp box hedges and tinkling fountains. These magnificent gardens are in full bloom between April – October, and especially throughout the Summer period. The original gardens and château were built by Jean Le Breton, who was enamoured with the art of Italian Renaissance gardening. This influenced his own ornamental masterpieces at Villandry. Today, the gardens are tended by 10 full-time expert gardeners.
Amongst the sites that are not to be missed throughout the Loire Valley is undoubtedly the Château de Chambord, which is just 10 miles (16km) east of Blois. It is the grandest and most lavish of all castles in the Loire Valley region, which is what makes it the most visited all year round. It is the centrepiece of renaissance-era architecture and is renowned for its double-helix staircase, heavily influenced by the designs of Leonardo da Vinci. Château de Chambord took over three decades to complete during the reign of François I and was initially used as a hunting palace as it was surrounded by 5,000 hectares of verdant forest populated by deer and wild boar. Nowadays it is a must-visit château with over 426 rooms, 282 fireplaces, 77 staircases and an opulent art collection of over 4,500 art pieces. The scale of the castle is unparalleled to the rest of the Loire Valley, and that is truly astonishing.
The Château Royal d’Amboise was a much-favoured castle for all of France’s Valois and Bourbon kings. It has a bloody history having suppressed multiple incursions throughout its annals and as a result, only a small section of the castle’s original structures remains intact. The furnished lodge is one of those few sections which is now mostly Gothic in style, as well as the flamboyantly Gothic Chapelle St-Hubert which is the last known resting place of famous painter and inventor, Leonardo da Vinci. The castle ramparts are well regarded for their inspiring views of the surrounding town and the Loire River.
An underground passage connects Château Royal d’Amboise to Le Clos Lucé. During the Middle Ages, the domain belonged to the Amboise family and was under their protection for some 200 years. It is most famously known as the residence of Leonardo da Vinci, who stayed in the grand manor upon the invitation of Francois I. He was named ‘First painter, engineer and King’s architect’ by the French monarch and spent a lot of time there sketching, tinkering with inventions, painting, and creating over 40 scale models. You can now visit his workshop, the bedroom where he drew his final breath and bask in the works of a genius.
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