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Chateaux in Loire Valley - reactions from folks who were indifferent but went anyway?

Hi all, if any of you were indifferent about visiting the Loire Valley and the chateaux but went anyway, what were your reactions to the chateaux - did you love them or hate them? I've been to Versailles in August and it was way too crowded for me. I've been to the mansions in Newport RI and the Biltmore in NC and enjoyed both of those. My husband and I are considering France in the second half of September and I'm on the fence about the Loire Valley - if the fall colors would be pretty then, I'd probably love to go hiking and exploring the gardens but am not sure about doing actual house tours. Thanks for any reactions you send my way!

Posted by
164 posts

oops - I guess my post overlaps somewhat with Susan and Monte's --- I'll watch those replies as well, but guess I am mostly trying to get a feel for whether folks who were indifferent were glad they went or not…thanks!

Posted by
4955 posts

Well, I suppose there's no point in trying to persuade you that you shouldn't be indifferent. Maybe, rent the (fictionalized) movie "Vatel" and think about whether the Loire is really comparable to Newport or The Biltmore. These chateaux aren't even comparable to the Hearst Castle in California. The Versailles gardens are almost as nice as the palace - even the superb and historic gardens at Villandry aren't comparable to those at Versailles. I hope you didn't skip those gardens that August. I hope to eventually visit all the regions of France. If you don't want to do something, I don't think you'll enjoy it.

Posted by
164 posts

Thanks Tim for your reply! And I must confess that we actually did skip the gardens at Versailles! But only because I was so hot and tired and claustrophobic (and grumpy) after swimming upstream through the halls of Versailles that I had to get out of there - I admit, not my finest hour lol. My poor husband - we hit the wall that day! That was our first trip to Europe and we were trying to fit way too much into our days. And I have always had it on my list that I wanted to go see some of the chateaux, but am worried that it will be like my Versailles experience. I actually think we are going to go back to Versailles in September and just do the gardens, since we've seen the inside. I guess I just wanted some reassurance that the chateaux will be as awesome as I hope they will…are they as crowded as Versailles do you know??

Posted by
1147 posts

My husband fits that category for sure...I was close to it. However, I felt for a full tour of France, we needed to visit the Loire Valley. We spent one full day there and visited 2 chateaus. (Chambord and Chenonceaux ). It was a LONG drive between them. Two was plenty (my husband would of been happy with one). Given your comments, I would recommend Chambord. They had a huge amount of land and you could rent bikes to explore the area or hike around. I wish we had time to do more of that, but we chose to visit two places instead and it was getting late when we got there.

If I go back to France, I would probably not visit the area again. We much preferred the Dordogne area. Like you, we like outdoor activities and the Dordogne was perfect for that. (I hear there are Chateaus down there as well, but we skipped them preferring to canoe, hike, and explore caves) You don't say where else you are visiting, I myself would choose Normandy and the Dordogne over the Loire Valley for any future trips. (I am returning to Normandy in September) My husband is to the point where he feels after 6 trips and 24 weeks in Europe he has seen enough fancy houses to last him a lifetime. However, he will be visiting Blenheim Palace and Versailles in September...sorry honey.

Posted by
1147 posts

Ok, while I was posting, you asked specifically about crowds. We were there in early October in 2012. I don't remember being particularly impressed with the fall colors. Chenonceaux was crowded, particularly during the house tour. (Not as bad as Versaille a week later, but it was sometimes hard to get around some of the smaller rooms.) Chambord was not as crowded inside (it is a much more "open" concept) but then it was not nearly as nice or impressive on the inside. The best part of Chambord was the staircase, and walking around the roof area and the grounds. Of course, by this time of the day my husband had said he had seen as many fancy king beds as he could handle in a day (and they do all start to look alike!)

PS I really liked the look and inside of Chenonceaux and there were some grounds across the water that we did not have time to explore but looked like they would be fun to hike around. I would pick one and enjoy the day rather than jump from place to place. Chenonceaux was much more impressive on the inside

Posted by
164 posts

Hi Connie, thanks for the input. It's nice to hear about your experiences - I do think I would enjoy seeing one chateaux, then rambling through the gardens. Probably not two in one day for me, but maybe two on two different days! I am still researching, trying to put together a list of things we want to see and making them fit into some kind of logical order:) We have been to Paris and Normandy, and loved both! We are hoping to explore more of France this time, and the Dordogne is definitely on our list. I'm toying with the idea of flying in to Marseilles and driving up through France, ending in Paris, so will add in some time in the Loire Valley between the Dordogne and Chartres. I'll be posting asking for itinerary help at some point soon. Thanks again!

Posted by
4125 posts

This is a funny topic, but I will come clean. Those Renaissance castles did not speak to us. We were profoundly unmoved.

We did not arrive with any sort of chip on our shoulders, but were underwhelmed and disappointed by the parade of big empty houses. It was pleasant and at points interesting but not transcendental for us.

Older stuff, such as stone fortresses on the Dordogne or the Roman antiquities in Provence, packed more of an emotional wallop.

I recently read two travel books by Donna Caro that shed more light on these buildings and estates. Perhaps had I done so earlier I would have been more engaged in things. If you are going you might want to prime yourself that way.

My advice about chateaux is to to visit one or two as day trips from Paris and then decide of you want more. If not, spare yourself and go someplace else. There are lots of great places to go in France.

Posted by
4955 posts

Perhaps Deanna might want to settle for Chateau Chantilly, which has a major art museum in it, and doesn't require travel to the Loire. I should have thought of that because it's the "location" of the fictional film "Vatel" I mentioned earlier. We used the Loire as a circle (by car) to Brittany and then Normandy, returning to Paris for a few days before our flight home. But as noted, we wanted to go to the Loire! We did have objectives other than chateaux, like semi-public gardens, Dinan, and the Cider trail. But I'm reluctant to urge her to focus on the outdoor illumination nights, the neat ruins at Chinon (and the unusually aggressive Joan of Arc statue outside the old town-lower level), accommodations like Château de Marçay, the Troglodyte Caves, and, oh yes, the nuclear electric plant in Chinon. The main reason to come here is the Chateaux. I felt there was a lot of driving time in the Loire, but not too many posters here seem averse to time on the road.

Posted by
164 posts

Thanks Adam for your response:) I think I'll plan in time for a couple and then if we love them, we can always go back and see more on the next trip! And I like your suggestion about reading up before my visit - I do love history so knowing the background will definitely help. I appreciate your input!

Posted by
8007 posts

I absolutely love the Loire Valley and can visit chateaux for days, the Dordogne on the other hand didn't do much for us... too much like northern California which we love but we want to see something different in Europe. The chateau of Chenonceau is my favorite, particularly because of the grounds around it, they're the best part. Chambord would be my 2nd favorite. We've been to the Loire 3 times in July/August and no chateau was ever crowded when we were there. I think it's a roll of the dice with that. But, I totally understand if someone just isn't into it... if you're on the fence, I think Adam's suggestion is really good... just visit one or two as day trips from Paris. The one I like best is Vaux-le-Vicomte... it's where they filmed "Man in the Iron Mask" with Leonardo di Caprio.

Posted by
164 posts

Thanks Tim and Susan - sorry Tim I didn't see your response right before I posted my last one! I appreciate your input - and will definitely check into all the suggested chateaux:) I'm excited to explore more of France and it doesn't sound like they will be as crowded as Versailles, which will be good. Funny, but I had never really experienced strong claustrophobia until that day at Versailles, but I couldn't even stop to look around - there were so many huge tour groups and everyone just kept pushing each other through the rooms. I didn't have more than an inch or two of space around my body, and after an hour of that, I almost had a panic attack. So if the chateaus were that crowded, I was going to pass on going inside any of them. You have all reassured me! And I will definitely educate myself about them before going!

Posted by
8007 posts

I also love Fontainebleau... an easy day trip. Every time we've been to Vaux-le-Vicomte (July-August) there were so few people there we felt like we had it all to ourselves. It's large, and the grounds, which include stables, are huge and beautiful... you will not get claustrophobic there! They also have a really good cafe/cafeteria and you can sit outside if you want. But I hear you about Versailles... love it but not the crowds inside... the gardens have never been too crowded for me except on "fountain" days which were not worth it to me because of the crowds. If you like to ride bikes... our favorite thing to do at Versailles is rent bikes (by the Grand Canal) and ride all over. Very fun!

Posted by
2349 posts

Adam-travel books by Donna Caro are not popping up when I search. Is that the right author?

Posted by
395 posts

FYI It's Ina Caro

http://www.amazon.com/Ina-Caro/e/B001KDD1HU
I read " The Road from the Past: Traveling through History in France". I'm doing some of the same trip she documents in the book: Provence/Dordogne/Loire/Paris. She has additional stops along the way that don't fit into the time we have. She occasionally writes some surprisingly unflattering things about the French but I found the general content of the book very helpful to prep for vacation.

Posted by
3167 posts

Adam, above, used a key word, "empty," in describing the Loire chateaux. We had been living in England for the academic year when we toured the Loire valley, and had visited a number of stately homes, like Blenheim Palace and Castle Howard, many of which are still occupied. I remember walking past a painting in one of the minor ones and thinking, "that looks like a Rembrandt;" and it was! The chateaux, in contrast, have little or no furnishings, and what's there is not original to the buildings. The area, itself, is pretty; and the gardens should still be attractive in September. I think one day and night on your way to elsewhere will satisfy any curiosity you have about the chateaux.

Posted by
164 posts

Thanks, Lia, for the link - that is the same trip we are planning! I just ordered the Kindle edition:) And Susan, I am glad to hear about the lack of crowds at Vaux-le-Vicomte and the tip about bike rental at Versailles - sounds right up my alley:) I'm actually getting a bit excited now to see some of these places! I appreciate all the responses - thanks to all who posted replies!

Posted by
4125 posts

Ina Ina Ina! Sorry, and thanks for the correction.

She's got two books and I enjoyed her approach to the material.

I also do not mean to tell other people what they ought to like. I was really just responding to Deanna's initial question. A chacon son goute.

If you and yours are flexible it might be possible to finalize your plans in France at the last minute. Visit Fontainebleau or Chantilly early on during your Paris stay and then decide whether to proceed to the Loire or to someplace else (Normandy, Burgundy, Provence).

Posted by
1660 posts

If you do go back to Versailles, be sure to visit Marie Antoinette's "Hamlet." This was our favorite part, even more than the gardens.

Posted by
8007 posts

Agree with Janet, the Hamlet is wonderful. When I say "gardens" I mean the grounds which includes the Hamlet (Hameau in French, on the signs there), the Petit Trianon, and the Grand Trianon.
I've actually been inside the Palace more times than I can count when it wasn't crowded. The last time though, it was, and I agree, that's not fun. (Last time there, I was standing in front of Marie Antoinette's bed just mesmerized by it and a private tour guide came in with a large group and actually told me to move out of the way! I told her No, I was not going to move for her group... The nerve!)
The chateaux in the Loire are pretty much empty as Rosalyn mentioned but I am so absorbed in what it was like to live there back in the day, the famous kings/queens who lived there, and the history that took place there that it doesn't make a difference to me... I use my imagination and am transported back to the 15th-19th centuries. That's fun for me. I think the more you know about the people that lived there, and what took place there, the more you will enjoy them.
Hampton Court Palace is pretty much empty but it doesn't matter, it's still amazing to be there and see it.

Posted by
1153 posts

I agree with Susan "Fontainebleau...and ......Vaux-le-Vicomte". Both are doable from Paris and far less crowded than Versailles. Although I visited Versailles on a rainy day in Nov and was one of maybe 10 folks in the Hall of Mirrors. It was wonderful. I have only seen two chateaux in the Loire, but I love palaces, old houses, etc. and I enjoyed both.

Posted by
368 posts

Have not been to Loire valley yet so can't speak to a visit. We did however visit Chateau de Pierrefonds last September and I Cannot recommend a visit to the Chateau and the town of Pierrefonds enough! Pierrefonds is an hour north of Paris.....east of Compiegne. The chateau was originally built in 1393 but lapsed into disrepair until Napolean had Violett le Duc restore it. It is included in Paris' Museum Pass.

The forest from Compiegne to Pierrefonds was used as hunting grounds for numerous kings of France as well the site of the Armistice signed in 1918 by Marshall Foch and then again in 1940 between France and Nazi Germany. Their is the Armistice Memorial in a clearing not 10 minutes from Pierrefonds along with the sister rail car used in the original 1918 negotiations and a small museum.

The Chateau was used for filming as Camelot in the BBC series Merlin which lender a lot of 'color' to our visit. We spent two full days visiting the area and never regretted our decision and would go back in a heartbeat! It is not a touristed area at all.

Posted by
164 posts

Thanks to all for your suggestions and replies! We will have two weeks for our trip, and were originally going to spend a couple of nights in Paris at the end of the two weeks, but you have all recommended so many other places that we may end up cutting Paris completely:) And Paris is my favorite city in the world, but I have been three times and my husband has been twice and he doesn't particularly love it, so we may skirt around it this time and see all the other wonderful parts of France. I'll go back to Paris another time!

Posted by
164 posts

@Adam, I did not take your comments in any way other than they were intended, as trying to help me decide whether to visit or not - so no worries! I love hearing about everyone's reactions to the chateaux and suggestions about each one, as well as the fantastic tip about Ina Caro's books - I'm one chapter in on The Road From The Past, and already engrossed! So thanks to all...