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The Loire Valley in France is a splendid area awarded world heritage status because of its amazing chateaux. The kings and queens of France, seduced by the mild climate and the game-filled forests constructed their these incredible Loire Valley castles. They surrounded themselves with the greatest architects and artiests of this era.

Royal Castle of Chambord in the Loire Valley

This is the country of a thousand castles. Many chateaux and stately homes are open to the public: some are state owned, such as Chambord and Blois; others are private, and still lived in. A huge proportion of them run sound and light spectacles during the tourist season. Chateau de Chenonceau and Chateau de Chambord are incredibly popular.

Chateau de Chenonceau
Le Chateau des Dames built on a bridge across the river Cher is one of the more beautiful chateaux of the Loire with elegant arches and turrets, and stately avenues bordered by plane trees. It’s beauty is reflected in the waters of the River Cher.

Chenonceau owes much of its design and beauty to four women. Catherine de Briconnet was largely responsible for its early Renaissance style. Catherine then passed the chateau to Henri II’s mistress, Diane de Poiters who was responsible for the formal gardens to the left of the chateau as you approach it, and for building a bridge across the River Cher.

Unfortunately Diane de Poitiers was forced to relinquish ownership of the castle to Catherine de Medici (the bitter wife of Henri II) who offered Chateau de Chaumont in exchange. Not exactly a fair swap! Catherine de Medici constructed the gallery over the bridge. Later the castle was inherited by Louise de Lorraine, the bereaved wife of Henri III Catherine’s favourite son. She painted the ceiling of her bedroom black and white out of respect for her late husband.

Chateau Blois
Chateau Blois is almost like 4 separate chateaux rolled into one – so different are the architectural styles present. Renaissance architecture is the dominant style in the Francois 1 wing. The Gaston d’Orleans wing will satisfy any cravings for Classical architecture.

The Medieval heart is centred around the Salle des Etats Generaux which is where the court and council were based. Flamboyant Gothic flair is evident in the Louis XII wing. Catherine de Medici’s private rooms complete with array of poisons are in the Francois 1 wing. This is where in 1588 the Duc de Guise was brutally murdered after he was thought to be planning a Catholic uprising against Henri III.

Chateau de Cheverney
Chateau de Cheverny is unmistakedly the most lavishly furnished of all the Loire Valley Chateaux. Built between 1604 and 1634 very little has changed. The present owner is a direct descendant of the original owners. The 1640s interior decoration is among the finest of its kind. Some of the chateau’s masterpieces include paintings by old masters, tapestries from Paris and Holland plus Louis XIV’s commode and unforgettable grandfather clock.

Tintin fans will note that Herge based the mythical Moulinsart on Cheverny. There is a Tintin exhibition directly opposite the chateau. In world war 2 the 18th century Orangerie served as a hiding place for the Mona Lisa.

Chateau du Chaumont
Chateau du Chaumont is located on the bank of the Loire River about 20 minutes west of Blois originated in the eleventh century

In 1560, the castle became the property of Catherine de’ Medici who entertained numerous astrologers there, including Nostradamus. On the death of her husband, King Henry II, Catherine used her power to take over the much coveted Chateau de Chenonceau from her husband’s mistress, Diane de Poitiers. She was forced to accept the Chateau de Chaumont in exchange for her beloved Chenonceau.

Each year from April to October, the castle holds an international garden festival covering a different theme. Last year it was play. In 2007 the theme is going to be mobility.

Chateau du Clos Luce
Chateau du Clos Luce is where Leonard de Vinci spent the last fouryears of his life. You can visit his salons, study, kitchen and bedrooms, the chapel and see frescoes painted by his pupils. His paintings and drawings are set out in the garden of the chateau with giant models sponsored by IBM of some of the most spectacular machines he invented together with voice-overs.

The Loire Valley is a beautiful region and a great destination. Remember you do not have to be satisfied just visiting castles, you can actually stay in a castle. Many are now converted to hotels and chambre d’hotes (bed and breakfast establishments). You can usually choose to hire a suite or the entire castle.

Author: Corina Clemence operates Chateau du Guerinet, near Blois as a luxury boutique chateau hotel for up to 15 people. Our guests get to truly experience the grandeur of living in a french chateau. Rent a castle in France. Don’t just visit a french chateau – stay in one.