Castles of the Loire Valley

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Discover the real-life fairy tale castles of the Loire Valley in France.

Every now and then we all need to escape reality. And there are few places as perfectly set up to do just that than the Loire Valley in France. With its grand palaces and fairy tale castles, you’ll find yourself transported to a fantasy land of kings and queens, balls and lavish parties, and generally living in excess.

Throughout the Loire Valley, there are over 100 châteaux open to the public, amongst which there are a number of incredibly famous castles. There’s the Château de Chambord, which is the grandest house in the Loire Valley, and one that almost everyone has heard of. There’s Château de Cheverny, which was the inspiration behind Marlinspike Hall, the country house belonging to Captain Haddock in The Adventures of Tintin. And then you also have Château de Chenonceau, which is almost half house, half bridge.

The palatial Château de Chambord, possibly the world’s most famous castle
The palatial Château de Chambord, possibly the world’s most famous castle.

But let’s take a drive off the beaten track, and explore some of the equally exquisite, but slightly less well-known châteaux of the Loire Valley.

Château d'Ussé

Where in France: Indre-et-Loire, Centre-Val de Loire
Drive from Calais: 559 km / 5h 10m

As we’re exploring the land of real-life fairy tale castles, it seems fitting to start with the Château d'Ussé. It is this grand château that was the inspiration behind the enchanted castle in Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty, as well as serving as inspiration for Walt Disney when he was creating his Disney Castles.

The fairy tale castle of Château d'Ussé, home to Sleeping Beauty
The fairy tale castle of Château d'Ussé, home to Sleeping Beauty.

Sat happily at the edge of the Chinon forest, there has been a fortification of some nature on this site since the 11th century. The château fell into disrepair until the 15th century when it was purchased by a captain-general of Charles VII. Many alterations and restorations took place over the next two hundred years, resulting in the beautiful structure you see today.

Château d'Ussé is open every day from 11th February to the 4th November, between 10am and 6pm and until 7pm in the main season from 31st March to 30th September. Ticket prices vary, so check ahead of visiting, but children under 8 years of age go free. There’s also a fun game for kids to play as they tour the château, collecting clues around the story of Sleeping Beauty.

Château de Montsoreau

Where in France: Maine-et-Loire, Pays de la Loire
Drive from Calais: 544km / 5h

The Château de Montsoreau is completely unique to the region in so far as that it’s the only château built directly on the riverbed of the Loire river. Where it is positioned is at the confluence of the Loire river and the Vienne, which is also the meeting point of the historic regions of Anjou, Poitou and Touraine.

Château de Montsoreau, the only castle actually built on the Loire riverbed
Château de Montsoreau, the only castle actually built on the Loire riverbed.

In 2014, a project was started to turn the château into a museum of art and language, and in 2016, Château de Montsoreau-Museum of Contemporary Art opened to the public. It’s a privately run museum, founded by Philippe Méaille, French contemporary art collector and owner of the world’s largest collection of Art and Language works, which make up the permanent collection.

The Château-Museum is open every day from April until November between 10am and 7pm, and then in the winter, the hours are reduced from December ‘til January to between 10am and 5pm. Children under 5 years of age go free, otherwise there are several ticket options available, so it’s best to check the details ahead of visiting.

Château de Villandry

Where in France: Indre-et-Loire, Centre-Val de Loire
Drive from Calais: 528km / 5h

In some cases, as with the Château de Villandry, it is not the house but the gardens that do the talking. And in this case in particular, they talk very loudly indeed! Aside from the Palace of Versailles, the gardens at the Château de Villandry are some of the finest examples of French formal gardens in France, the beauty of which is achieved in the symmetry and order over nature.

The gardens at Château de Villandry are some of the finest in France
The gardens at Château de Villandry are some of the finest in France.

Over the course of history, the gardens of the Château de Villandry have been chopped and changed, and fallen into various states of disrepair. It wasn’t until 1906 when Joachim Carvallo purchased the property and poured vast amounts of energy and money that they were restored to their former Renaissance glory. Amongst the formal gardens, you’ll find a water garden and a vegetable garden, as well as the ornamental flower gardens, all laid out in formal patterns marked out by low box hedges.

Both the château and gardens are open to the public, and have been since 1920 when Carvallo opened it up to share the splendour of the place with the people. Opening times vary from month to month throughout the year, with the château closing for major public holidays, but the gardens actually remain open every single day. The website has a comprehensive list detailing the various dates and ticket prices, which makes planning your visit as easy as possible.

If all this talk of châteaux and splendid surrounds has got you dreaming of your next escape, remember to book your tickets with us early to take advantage of the best fares available.