Orléans has no real château but is most famous for Joan of Arc. The stained glass windows of the Cathédrale Sainte Croix tell the story of the Maid of Orléans and how Joan raised the English Siege of Orléans in 1429.
Gien is an attractive town built on the banks of the Loire. The focal point is the delightful bridge which spans the river.
Château de Chambord is the best known and perhaps most fascinating of the châteaux of the Loire. From a distance the building looks quite symmetrical but once closer the visitor can appreciate that the 800 capitals and 365 towers, spires and turrets on each side are completely different. The exterior is intricate and impressive and the interior cavernous. One of the central features is an ingenious double spiral staircase. It was not until the 17th century that Chambord came alive. Louis XIV created a suite of linked apartments and being an absolute monarch, placed his bedchamber at the centre of the Château.
Château de Cheverny This is the most magnificently furnished château in the Loire, including a remarkable Louis XV grandfather clock, a rare Louis XIV commode, the bed used for lying-in-state in the King’s bedroom, various old masters and 17th century Flemish tapestries. From the grounds of Cheverny you can take a balloon trip and experience magnificent views of the surrounding countryside. You can also visit the superb park around the château by boat and electric car.
Château de Chenonceau The unique beauty of this castle, spanning the river Cher is reflected in the water and is the region’s most photographed and most graceful. Called the Château des Dames in the French history books, Chenonceau owes a large part of its charm to the women who built it. The lovely formal garden and the park add to the impression of delicate beauty and grace.
The Châteaux at Amboise, Chaumont and Blois are all worth a visit.
Between Tours and Saumur the following châteaux are definitely worth a visit.
Château d’Azay-le-Rideau, built on an island in the middle of the Indre, was constructed between 1518 and 1523 and is a perfect blend of the traditional and elements borrowed from Italian architecture.
Château d’Ussé, also called the Castle of the Sleeping Beauty forms a magnificent white outline overlooking the Indre valley. Its unique appeal is to welcome visitors into a sumptiously decorated ancestral home which is still inhabited.
Château de Villandry This château is renowned for the elegance of its Renaissance architecture and magnificent gardens. It is the last of the Renaissance châteaux built on the banks of the Loire.
Château de Chinon The fortress of Chinon was built on the site of an ancient Celtic hill fort on a rocky spur overlooking the Vienne valley. The 14th century Tour de l’Horloge is a curiously narrow structure, 5m wide with a bell dating from 1399 that still rings the hour.
Loches The fortress at Loches dates back to the X1th century. At 36 metres high, it is considered to be one of the most impressive keeps of the Norman period. The Gate House, the 14th century Governor’s lodge, the Louis X1th tower crowned with its early artillery emplacements, “Cardinal Balue’s” dungeon, the torture chamber together with video projections and computer generated images all combine to give first hand experience of the medieval era. The Logis Royal, built on a rocky spur, dominates the town.
Saumur is renowned for its beautiful château rising imperiously over the river. The town is also very attractive with good museums, including the Musée du Cheval where a fascinating exhibition of horses, saddle and tack from the around the world is held.
Angers Capital of Anjou and gateway to the Loire valley, Angers is distinguished as much for the richness of its heritage as for its cultural and economic dynamism. The towers of the imposing castle fortress dominate the town, and the streets, museums, gardens, shops, gastronomic restaurants, art festivals and student life give it a vibrant atmosphere.
For a different view of one or more of the châteaux, visit an evening Son-et-Lumière show. These take place regularly through the season at Azay-le-Rideau, Blois, Chambord and Chenonceau and during July and August at Amboise and Loches.
If you would like a change from visiting châteaux other places to visit include:
Zoo at Doué-la-Fontaine about 13km west of Saumur. This is open every day from the beginning of February until the beginning of November and is a wonderful natural environment for a collection of 65 species of animals.
Le Musée Cadillac 6km east of Langeais. Fifty models of this American car spanning the years from 1926 until the present time will thrill both the young and old.
Les Grottes Pétrifiantes de Savonnières 1km east of Villandry, are an underground world of waterfalls, lake, stalactites and stalagmites.
Le Mans to the north of the main area of the Loire. The circuit through the town is well known for various races, a 24-hour motor-cycle race, a 24-hour lorry race and of course the famous 24-hour car race which usually takes place in mid-June. 3,000 cars representing all the famous models Porsche, Ferrari, Bentley, Peugeot, Audi, Nissan etc. drive round the circuit, creating an amazing spectacle for car afficianados.
If you want to see something of the late 20th and 21st century for a change, a full day visit to FUTUROSCOPE, is highly recommended. The site is full of permanent exhibitions and fascinating film show experiences. Do not miss the sound and light show staged every evening at about 10pm from the first Saturday in April until the end of August.
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