Go Road Trip through the Valley of Castles

The Loire Valley Is Calling You

When I was 17 years old, my sister had just graduated from college. For a big celebration, we decided to go on a three-week journey through France, Italy, and Greece. It was the first time we had backpacked, and we saw and experienced so much in that short period. One leg of the trip was particularly incredible, and that was our road trip by car from Paris down through the famous Loire Valley to the south of France.

No matter how you choose to explore the area, the Loire Valley is definitely worth making the trip. The prime winemaking region is called the 'Garden of France' and is filled with vineyards, farms, and orchards all along the roadways and river banks. What makes it even more exceptional is the abundance of castles that come from nearly every era of royalty in France. They range from monumentally large to not-quite-as-large-but-still-pretty-big. They are castles after all.

photo by j.hamren

On our trip, we were fortunate to hit up a couple of chateaux, and they are all worth exploring.

Chenonceau

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The elegance, the grace, the class, the physics of this building! This is one of the most famous Loire Chateau and has to be a lot of people's all-time favorite castles. I understand why. It is so unique and memorable with that long graceful expanse over the water. Every room inside is made extraordinary when you look outside and see the river flowing beneath you. On the banks are perfectly maintained French flower gardens. The precision and beauty are remarkable. I'm pretty sure if I were the king's mistress, I would definitely want this castle too.

photo by j.hamren


Amboise

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So close to the river, Chateau D'Amboise towers above the town below. The sheer cliff face that separates it makes for a remarkable view of both the small town and the surrounding countryside. If you're in it for the history, then this castle is for you. It saw periods of boom and bust as it rose and fell in popularity as the royal residence. After some periods of decline, parts of it needed to be demolished, but the remaining buildings are both beautiful and marked with historical value. I mean a king accidentally killed himself here by hitting his head on a doorway. It is also rumored to be the final resting place of Leonardo da Vinci, maybe you've heard of him? You can even check out some of this inventions on the lawn!

photo by j.hamren


Blois

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The Chateau de Blois was the center of French power for multiple kings and the place where Joan of Arc was blessed in the 15th century. It also featured the assassination of Henry I and was a castle for royal exiles. It has done it all. This castle has beautiful French renaissance architecture which you can see in it's famous, insanely impressive, spiral staircase. It is also massive. With 564 rooms, 75 staircases, and over 100 bedrooms it is so worth seeing how well the monarchy lived. With royal Fleur de Lis everywhere in sight, a gorgeous blue and gold stateroom, and it's own LIGHT SHOW you cannot miss this castle. If you enjoy a really good time like me, then head to a bar, get a cocktail, and then enjoy the spectacular light show with an added boost.

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Chambord

photo by j.hamren

The big kahuna, so to speak. Perhaps the most magnificent of all of the Loire Castles, it is worth seeing for its sheer size alone. To believe this was built as a hunting lodge for people who never even lived here makes you understand why the people were fed up with these royals. Though it was never finished, it remains an incredible show of wealth and stunning architecture. Though people never really lived here, it has lived on as an art warehouse during world war 2 and a large tourist attraction.

photo by j.hamren

I cannot recommend road tripping through the Loire Valley enough. The castles, the countryside, the miles, and miles of sunflowers and vineyards that mark the drive. Every moment was special and every location beautiful. Try the wine and explore the sights, and you'll be glad you did.

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