Way, way back to a time where fairytale princes and princesses lived among kings and queens and nobility in grand, extravagant castles.
Novelist Henry James once described the Loire Valley as ‘the land of Rabelais, of Descartes, of Balzac as well as good dinners and good houses.’ Indeed, life is sweet in the Loire Valley – the food, the wine, the beauty of both the land and the many châteaux and the brushes with royalty and celebrated historical figures.
Strategically important during the Hundred Years’ War in the 14th and 15th centuries, the Loire Valley remained fashionable among the rich, the nobility and the royal family. Stunning châteaux were built en masse, including:
Château de Chambord
The colossal Château de Chambord is almost more of a city than a castle and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are 426 rooms, 77 staircases, 282 fireplaces, a stable that once held 1,200 horses – and is roughly the same surface area as the entire city of Paris! It is surrounded by a lush park with wild deer and boar (even to this day) and showcases a distinctive French Renaissance architecture. Construction began in 1519 by Francis I (aka François I) as a weekend retreat and hunting lodge. Sun King Louis XIV regularly came here and even had French playwright Moliere perform at the castle. While the original architectural drafts are generally attributed to Domenico da Cortona, many suspect Leonardo da Vinci had a large part in its design as well. In any case, it is usually agreed that the he designed the château’s double helix staircase – allowing both royalty and servants to use the stairs without ever meeting.
Château de Chenonceau
There’s no wonder as to why the Château de Chenonceau is the most visited French château after Versailles. Stunning in its blend of late Gothic and early Renaissance architecture -- it’s actually part castle / part bridge. Spanning across the Cher River, it is home to splendid gardens, intricate mazes, forests, a canal, and opulently decorated rooms with 16th century tapestries and bouquets of fresh flowers. Known in its day as much for its beauty as the spectacular parties once hosted here, Catherine de’ Medici threw the first fireworks display in France to celebrate her son’s ascension to the throne. It is sometimes referred to as the Château of the Ladies, thanks to its unique history of strong women. Katherine Briçonnet supervised the design and construction work between 1513-1521. Years later, women continued making their mark on the castle, particularly the wife and mistress of Henry II -- Catherine de’Medici and Diane de Poitiers.