France’s Loire Valley is littered with fairy-tale châteaux, a legacy of the many noble families who settled here because of its strategic riverside setting and proximity to Paris. See below for the most show-stopping castles in the UNESCO World Heritage–listed Loire Valley.
Chambord Castle (Château de Chambord)
Constructed by François I in the early 16th century on the site of a much more modest hunting lodge, this 440-room château is one of the biggest and most spectacular in France, offering curious visitors a glimpse into the extravagant lifestyle of French aristocrats of old.
Blois Castle (Château de Blois)
This riverside castle showcases the progression of architectural trends through different epochs in its four distinct wings, which span the 13th to 17th centuries. Having played host to seven French kings, it has a storied history, as well as as an impressive on-site fine arts museum.
Chenonceau Castle (Château de Chenonceau)
This iconic château is immediately recognizable by its arched bridge, which crosses the Cher River. Some of Europe’s most famous royal faces, including Diane de Poitiers, Mary Queen of Scots, and Catherine de Médici, have connections to the site.
Cheverny Castle (Château de Cheverny)
While many Loire Valley châteaux have been dramatically altered and redecorated over the years, this elegant classical-style mansion has barely changed since its early 17th-century construction. The Hurault family, who have owned it for centuries, have preserved a sumptuous style of the interior, which still features original period furnishings.
Clos Lucé Castle (Château de Clos Lucé)
This 15th-century mansion is famous for having played host to Renaissance master Leonardo da Vinci, who resided here from 1516 until his death in 1519. See where da Vinci worked, ate, and slept, and examine models of his groundbreaking inventions.
Amboise Castle (Château d’Amboise)
Connected to Château de Clos Lucé by an underground tunnel, this royal retreat is said to house Leonardo da Vinci’s remains. Its elevated position affords wonderful views of the town and the river.
Azay-le-Rideau Castle (Château d’Azay-le-Rideau)
Though it’s not the biggest or grandest in the valley, this Renaissance-style gray stone castle is certainly eye-catching, set on an island on the Indre River. From a distance, it almost appears to float on the water. A favorite of occasional guest Honoré de Balzac, it is also known for its grand central staircase and its collection of 16th- and 17th-century Flemish tapestries.