Loire Valley Chateau, how many to visit?

My husband and I will be visiting France next May but I'm working on our travel itinerary now, before I book my flights. My question is this, we'd like to see some of the Loire Valley chateaus but I don't want to overdue it. We'll visit Versailles while were in Paris, so that's one Palace already. My tentative plan is to spend two nights in Amboise. We'll arrive there in the late afternoon from our overnight in Dinan. My plan is to visit Chenonceau Chateaux in the early am and then proceed to Chambond in the afternoon. I thought about possibly stopping at Chaumont of Cheverny on the way back to Amboise to watch the hunting dogs being fed. The next day we'll move to Chinon or Azay-leRideau visiting Villandry and Langeais en route then spend the rest of the day relaxing. It seems like a lot of Chateaux to me and I'm not sure if my husband would enjoy this much. We prefer smaller, laid back, off the road village and experiences. Advice?

Posted by Adam
Boston
2633 posts

You will be worn out, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It depends on how into these renaissance palaces you are. We found they did not appeal to us, but that's a personal choice. I will say that if you are not thrilled by Versailles you might want to scale back.

Posted by Rose
NYC
922 posts

Next time I return to the Loire Valley I intend to pick 2-3 châteaux to actually visit that have the most to offer inside. Then drive as best as possible to look at some others as they are set in the landscape. I'm not sure how doable this would be in actual practice because of the size of surrounding woods and gardens, but it's something on my list to research for a future trip.

Posted by David
Bellevue, WA, USA
740 posts

you listed most of the highlights already. most of the chateaus are not stuffed with painting or other artifacts like museums in Paris, so you should try to enjoy the surroundings as much as the inside, if not more. the gardens are always lovely, so if you just want to relax have a picnic with the chateau in the backdrop is great.

Posted by Carolyn
Seattle, WA, USA
78 posts

My choices would be Chenonceau because of the setting; Charmbord because of the size, and Cheverny because it is fully furnished and the owners still live there - at least they did when I was there last. All 3 of these have nice interiors, but Cheverny is the most complete - plus there are the dogs. Villandry is about the gardens - I don't think I went inside the chateau - and they are worth seeing & should be beautiful in May. Azay-le Rideau has a nice setting, but I can't remember if we went inside or not. Chaumont has a great view of the valley and history connects it to Chenonceau, but there isn't much inside. They have a garden festival there every year, but I think it is later in the summer - I've been twice and it was pretty impressive. In Amboise, you might want to visit Leonardo DaVinci's house. The ground floor has an exhibit of models of the machines he invented, but couldn't because there wasn't enough technology at the time. The house itself is also interesting. There is some distance to cover in the Loire Valley to see the chateau, and you can expect to bump into busloads of people. We were advised to visit Chenonceau around noon as there would be fewer tour buses there at that time.

Posted by Rosalyn
Berkeley
1007 posts

Seems like a lot of chateaux to me, too. We visited Chambord, Chenonceau, Loches, Angers, and the gardens at Villandry. I confess to have been underwhelmed. The two most interesting, to us, were Loches and Angers. Loches has a room in which Ludovic Sforza, Duke of Milan, was imprisoned for a number of years. He passed some of his time frescoing the walls, which makes Loches different from some of the others. Angers houses the monumental Tapestry of the Apocalypse, which shoots it to the top of my don't-miss list. I have read that there is now a modern Tapestry of the Apocalypse on display there, as well. By the way, the countryside in the Loire valley is very pretty.

Posted by Tim
Wyckoff, NJ, USA
672 posts

I think May is too early for illuminations and concerts, but you might check if that's a factor. I wish we'd seen some exteriors by hundreds of candles. We are big on gardens, so some chateaus like Villandry would be famous just for their gardens. At the other end, the TINY but sweet Château de la Bourdaisière (outside Tours) has hundreds of types of tomatoes, and lovely grounds and special smaller gardens. You won't find any annoying crowds there, but we're glad we went. Blow up Google map views and consider some medium-sized chateaus that are close to civilization - like Azay. Then you won't feel stuck with just a palace to visit. Montsoreau was less-visited and had a lovely river view from the roof. We could have looked for a restaurant in town if we'd had more time. Note that some small Chateaus only open their gardens, but they are among the noted gardens of France. Examples are Brecy, Canon, La Ballue. (You need permission to have a picnic in those kinds of gardens.) Do your understand that Chinon is a special ruin with a vivid, older history, worth a visit, but physically unlike all the others? Best, you can take the modern elevator down to the old town and choose from 30 restaurants after your visit. Don't miss the unusually aggressive Joan of Arc statue in the big riverfront Chinon parking lot - she kicked, well, you know.

Posted by Nancy
Costa Mesa, CA, USA
149 posts

I would recommend visiting Clos de Luc which is Amboise - although not a true "chateau" it was the final residence of Leonardo de Vinci. The interior is somewhat furnished with space dedicated to small scale models of de Vinci's inventions with explanations and in some cases, a video demonstration of what the invention did. The grounds aren't extensive but they are lovely and have full sized models of some of de Vinci's inventions as well.

Posted by Anita
Long Beach, California, USA
569 posts

If you want an amazing evening illumination at a chateau I highly recommend Vaux le Vicomte which is not too far outside Paris. We went several summers ago and it was simply stunning! This is the chateau that Versailles was modelled after and meant to out-do. The owner was imprisoned after Louis saw how much grander it was than his own residence!
The evening we went we arrived just before sunset, walked the amazing gardens that roll across the grounds below the chateau, and then went back for the candelight walk through. It started pouring and thundering outside as we were walking around and when the lightning started it was like being on a movie set somewhere! Just a spectacular experience even if it hadn't been storming...nice, easy to manage chateau that has an interior that is equally grand as it's exterior!

Posted by Sue
Placitas, NM, USA
55 posts

Thank you all for your advice. I was thinking that we'd stay in the Amboise area for two nights, arriving in the late afternoon from an overnight stay in Dinan and then move to Chinon for one night. We prefer to stay in an a place for at least two nights but sometimes it's necessary to throw in a one night stay every now and then to get everything in. Thoughts?
Rick Steves speaks highly of Chinon.

Posted by stephen
Greeley, co, usa
245 posts

That seems like a good itinerary to me. You are only committing to 2 on one day, one on the next. If you find you have had enough, then you will adjust accordingly. I have visited all you have mentioned (and some of them 3 times over the years) and liked them all.

Posted by Irv
Beverly Hills, MI
370 posts

We did two nights in Amboise and saw the Cahteau du Clos Luce the afternoon we arrived followed by Chenonceau and Chaumont the following day which was not rushed. Chenonceau has an absolutely beautiful setting and Chaumont is very nice in its own way plus it has the Diane DePortier tie in to Chenonceau. I have the same problem with Chambord and Veersailles ... they are just over the top toooo big, but that's a personal opinion.

Posted by Tim
Wyckoff, NJ, USA
672 posts

Sue, why wouldn't you stop in Chinon from Dinan, and then go to Amboise? There's a lot to see along the way, and even the highways aren't always that fast. Add at least 50% to any Google Maps timings. Even if you don't stop, Dinan-Chinon is a substantial trip. And the local traffic gets heavier going east from there. Just one example, if Dinan is important to you and you're afraid of too many chateaux, why not stop in Vitré? Have you consider the Cider Route? We missed Fougères but it looks even nicer than Vitre.

Posted by Susan
Sausalito, California
3205 posts

I agree with stephen. I think it's a good plan, and you can add or delete when you're there. I've been to the Loire Valley 3 times for a week each time and loved everything about it... The chateaux, the towns, the scenery, everything. Been to most all the ones mentioned and loved them all, but my all time favorite is Chenonceau. Loved it so much, we actually went back and spent an entire day there. They have a nice cafe, gardens, grounds and buildings like a little village where the workers/servants lived. Also a little wax museum with the top historical figures you'll hear about. Also agree with Anita about Vaux le Vicomte. Love it there too. But then, I also love Versailles, Fontainebleau, and Malmaison. The history of the chateaux, how they lived back then, seeing where the famous people I've heard so much about actually lived, it's all just very fascinating to me and very fun.

Posted by Sue
Placitas, NM, USA
55 posts

Thanks everyone, you all have been most helpful to me in my planning. Has anyone stayed in Chinon?

Posted by stephen
Greeley, co, usa
245 posts

I've stayed in Chinon. I can't remember where I stayed. I liked Chinon, but I have also stayed twice in Azay. Stayed at Le Grand Monarque both times. It has been 30 years so I'm can't vouch for how it is now, but it was nice then.

Posted by Dick
Olympia, WA, USA
671 posts

We stayed in Chinon at the Best Western Hotel de France, right on the main square and a short walk to the elevator up to the chateau ruins. The hotel was fine, had parking, nice walking and eating nearby. I'm sure there are other good places too. Your plan seems a little ambitious to me, a couple of chateaux a day were enough for us. My personal favorites were Chenonceau, Amboise (the chateau as well as the Clos Luce), and Blois (very historic, four different architectural styles around one courtyard). Haven't been to Chambord in many years and don't remember that well except it's big. Cheverny is nice but the Darwinian dog feeding scene may upset you if you love dogs and overpower your nostrils if you don't.

Posted by Elizabeth
Vacaville, CA
22 posts

Our family just returned last week from a RS Tour - Loire to the S of France 13 day tour. Our favorite hotel from whole trip was the Hotel Diderot in Chinon - a charming family run hotel that was beautifully decorated and had great breakfast with many different homemade jams to pick from. Chinon is not touristy - but we did eat at 2 great restaurants there - Au Chapeau Rouge and L'Ardoise - both for dinner. We visited several chateaux including Chenonceau (my personal favorite - a gorgeous setting over a river with pretty gardens & great inside furnishing with fresh flower arrangements in almost every room.) We visited the gardens only of Villandry - breathtaking. Clos-Luce (Leonardo's home) was my daughter's favorite part of whole trip with inside furnishings & scale models of his inventions and outside were full sized working, hands on models in the pretty park surrounding the house. We also went to Azay-le-Rideau chateau which had some inside furnishings and beautiful grounds - that particular town made a great lunch stop.
You can look at the RS tour description for the exact order we visited places. FYI - we visited Chambord 11 years ago - it is big but little to no inside furnishings - I enjoyed the chateaux we visited on this trip much more.

Posted by Rich
Alexandria, Virginia
1 posts

Just back from Loire Valley. We limited our chateaus to one per day so that we did not OD on them. Anyone's "must do" list, of course, depends upon one's interests. But, here's our review. Chenonceau and Chambord - they're just about 1 & 2 on every list we researched - they are both absolutely beautiful - they will be crowded. Villandry for its gardens alone. Amboise and Blois for their history - not as attractive on the outside as others but a lot happened on the inside (thank you, Catherine de Medici). With Amboise you get the added attraction of Leonardo da Vinci's house just up the road (Clos Luce) and a lot of lunch spots near the chateau. Since you are staying there, we loved Bigot in the morning for pastries and coffee. Azay le Rideau and Cheverny - pretty but not much happening inside - you would have seen enough beds, thrones, and tapestries by now. Cheverny has the dogs and the 5 o'clock feeding frenzy, but you can get that on YouTube. Loches Castle - a hidden gem in the valley - among the oldest of the medieval castles in France - has history - and has one on the best preserved donjons/keeps/prisons in Europe (we did not visit Chinon). If tired of chateaus, try Fontevraud Abbey. BTW: we flew in Orly and were glad we did.

Posted by Jean-Paul
indianapolis
159 posts

Sue,
We LOVED Chaumont sur Loire... it was our absolute favorite! It is 'upstream' from Amboise. You will be amazed how many castles you'll pass up as you tootle around the Loire valley. So many are private, others are hotels, others are not listed as open to the public except in August and one weekend in September. Don't overdue it. Enjoy each one to its fullest before moving on, even if you spend an entire day at just one.

Posted by Jean-Paul
indianapolis
159 posts

Have you planned how to get from Paris to this area? We took the RER directly from CDG airport to Tours, France, rented a car and tootled around for 10 days. Very easy and relatively inexpensive. Oh, Versailles... it's neat but as crowded as the elevators on the Eiffel Tower. Minimal furnishings, maximum pushing, couldn't wait to get outside. Now the grounds were beautiful! And Marie Antoinette's village... that was something special! I swear there's an energy vortex there like the ones people describe in Sedona Arizona.

Posted by Cynthia
Gig Harbor, Washington, USA
1202 posts

Since you aren't going until next May, I would highly recommend that you read Ina Caro's first book, Road to the Past, which is all about visiting the various chateaux and discussing their histories. The book is quite an absorbing read; we found it added a lot to our visits........ We visited Chenonceau and Clos du Luce plus ruined Loches and Chinon - quite enough for us, since we were continuing on to Brittany. If we had had a bit more time, I would have enjoyed adding Angers (?) - the one with the apocalypse tapestries- and Villandry for the gardens.....Before settling on Dinan, research St. Malo - we found it a much more interesting place than Dinan.....Another pleasant place to stay is Le Roserie in the little village of Chenonceaux - you can walk to Chenonceau if you stay there......Ina Caro also has a new book, Paris to the Past, in which she tells how to visit many more of the chateau as daytrips from Paris, using public transportation.