GET marketing staffer Caitlin traveled to France for a firsthand look at the country’s highlights. Read about her unforgettable day exploring stunning castles in the Loire Valley.
Located a few hours south of Paris lies France’s Loire Valley. Spotted with open fields, winding rivers, dense patches of forest and hundreds of châteaux — the Loire offers travelers an unforgettable perspective of French life through the eyes of its nobility. As we make our way south toward Provence, we stopped here for a much anticipated day of castle-hopping. Keep reading to find out more about the jaw-dropping châteaux we visited.
We began our day at Château Villandry. The castle, which was completed in 1536, was the last of the great Renaissance castles to be constructed in the Loire. In the 18th century, a new lord of Villandry added large service quarters on either side of the forecourt. The castle’s six gardens were maintained and remain beautifully preserved to this day.
My favorite part of the grounds were the decorative vegetable gardens — pictured behind me in the photo above. Known as the “kitchen gardens” (jardin potager in French), the area consists of nine patches made of different geometric motifs. Throughout the year you can find just about every vegetable imaginable in the castle’s gardens — including beautiful splashes of orange pumpkins during the autumn and winter months. All of the produce is grown organically, and some of it can even be sampled at the Chateau’s restaurant.
Villandry’s arbour maze, pictured above, is another impressive example of Renaissance design.
Next up on our castle tour was Château Chenonceau. Originally built in 1513, the castle was successively embellished by Diane de Poitiers then Catherine de Medici. A visionary castle from the Renaissance up until the Age of Enlightenment, Chenonceau has always benefited from innovation and the greatest thinkers and philosophers of its time. Today, visitors flock from around the world to witness its well-preserved beauty, making it the second most visited castle in France after Versailles.
Chenonceau is completed with lavishly furnished interiors, including the living room of Louis XIV, a guards’ room, library, and study — but my favorite of all were the kitchens. The enormous space includes a dining room where castle employees had their meals, a butchery, and larder. During the First World War these Renaissance kitchens were even fitted out with modern equipment to convert the castle into a hospital. It was fascinating to tour the space and imagine how feasts were prepared for figures such as Louise de Lorraine.
The most impressive views, however, be seen from the side of the castle where it rises above the Cher river. Magnifique!
Our final stop was in the town of Amboise for a tour of its castle, Château Amboise. A place of royal power in the Renaissance, the castle housed many of the Valois and Bourbon kings. Countless events of political and social significance took place here: it’s where Charles VIII was born, the children of Henri II and Catherine de Medici were raised, and numerous conspiracies and peace treaties emerged.
It is also reputed to be the final resting place of Leonardo da Vinci. In the castle’s Gothic cathedral – pictured above – you can visit the tomb where he is believed to be buried.
The town itself, which has been occupied since Neolithic times, is a lovely place to have lunch or spend some time exploring the ancient streets of the old quarter.