The name Loire inspires images of romantic fairytale castles, stories of the Plantagenets and the Medicis and royal intrigue, and lush green valleys and vineyards surrounding the rivers of the area. Known as the Valley of the Kings, the French royals built their homes here, creating an unrivalled region of beautiful and historical architecture. But, it’s not just the awe-inspiring castles (chateaux) that are the attraction; theloomstudiolifestyle the fascinating stories of the people that lived in them are utterly compelling. Below are the principal chateaux of the Pays de la Loire. Most of these chateaux are built along the Loire, the ‘royal river’, and are often built upon medieval, or even Neolithic, sites. Many are made of the local tufa, a white limestone that adds to the elegant style of the chateaux. Some are still private homes, some have been converted into museums, and some have their own vineyards and offer wine tasting.
Chateaux found in the French Department (county)of Maine-Et-Loire
More than 1000 years old, this giant of tufa and slate overlooking the Maine River is typical of castles encountered on crusades to the Holy Land. Built over Gallo-Roman town buildings, in turn standing on a Neolithic site dating from 4500 – 4000 BC, the chateau of the Counts of Anjou is surrounded by a fortress constructed by Saint Louis. With walls 30 metres high and 17 towers, it was key in the defence of Anjou and the largest fortified castle in France. The lovely Bout du Monde gardens enhance your visit to the castle. The chateau houses the famous Apocalypse Tapestry – the largest medieval tapestry in the world – commissioned by Duke Louis I of Anjou in the mid-1370’s.
In this picturesque Small City of Character, Montsoreau is one of the most romantic of all the chateaux in the Loire Valley. Much of its fame is based on the popular Alexandre Dumas novel, ‘La Dame de Montsoreau’, written in 1860, and at the castle you can learn about this beautiful Lady of Montsoreau. Rising high above the Loire and the Vienne rivers, the chateau overlooks three historical provinces: Anjou, fightingiron Touraine, and Poitou. Unlike other castles by the Loire, Montsoreau was actually built near the river. A combination of castle and grand residence, the chateau is the setting for the spectacular ‘Stories of the Loire’, which pays tribute to the ‘royal river’.
Le Plessis-Bourre Chateau is so lovely, it’s used as a set for many French films. Built between 1468 and 1473 by Jean Bourre, this defensive castle is made of tufa stone, has wide water-filled moats, a double drawbridge, fortified gates, and large towers and parapets. But beyond the gatehouse, Le Plessis ceases to be a fortress and becomes a country house. A spacious courtyard surrounded by arcades and overlooked by elaborately mullioned windows leads to the house filled with richly furnished rooms. Formerly a covered walkway leading to the chapel, the library is 36 metres long and contains more than 3000 volumes. The intriguing Salle des Gardes has a painted ceiling depicting strange allegorical figures whose presence and meaning is a mystery.
At seven stories high, Brissac is the tallest chateau in France and is called ‘The Giant of the Loire Valley’. It’s been home to the Dukes of Brissac since 1502 and is today the residence of the 13th Duke of Brissac. Of the original 15th century fortress, there remain two medieval towers and the ancient wine cellars (wine tasting available). The Chateau de Brissac has 203 sumptuously decorated rooms, an exceptional 19th century Belle Epoque theatre, ornate gold-leaf ceilings, Flemish and Gobelin tapestries, pariswoman and a magnificent 70-hectare parkland. In 1620, Louis XIII and his court stayed in Brissac to sign a peace treaty for his mother, Marie de Medicis, who was exiled in Angers. This chateau and it’s owners were of such enormous attraction and importance that the future Henry II of France declared, “If I wasn’t a dauphin, I’d like to be a Brissac.”
A chateau under a chateau, Breze is a rare example of a troglodyte castle, with miles of underground medieval passages providing the largest underground stately home in Europe. Above ground, Breze Chateau has both 16th and 19th century battlements and a dry moat 18 metres deep – the deepest in Europe. Once owned by the Prince of Conde, officialmancave this enormous chateau has been in the Dreux-Brezes family for 400 years and is currently the home to the Count and Countess de Colbert. Breze is surrounded by vineyards – wines have been made here since the15th century – and you can visit the wine cellars, the press, and the mill.