The chateaux of the Loire Valley are probably the most famous in all France and, as a group, have become a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the stunning landscape of the Loire Valley itself. These chateaux are beautiful Renaissance structures, many of which were built in the 16th century. Several chateaux were built on the ruins of medieval castles and merge the styles of the Italian Renaissance with the medieval defensive architecture to create a new, distinctly French, style.
Royalty, elegance and history
Many of the Loire chateaux have grand estates, most notably the 5,440 hectare park at Chambord, which was a popular hunting lodge of the French Royal Family throughout the generations and today has many activities, such as boating and cycling, available to visitors. Kids will love the freedom of these great parks with plenty of space to run around.
Some medieval castles have also been preserved and William the Conqueror's castle at Caen and the imposing Château d'Angers are amongst the most impressive fortresses. Several chateau contain history museums or rich art collections including paintings, tapestries and objet d'art.
Of course, a list of the best chateaux in France is not complete without the Palace of Versailles, the glorious chateau of the Sun King and one of the most exquisite buildings in the world. Families should be sure to pencil in a visit to the Château de Pierrefonds, the fairytale chateau that played the part of Camelot in the popular BBC TV series, Merlin.
The best chateaux to visit in France
1. Château de Fougères
One of the largest fortresses in Europe, the medieval Château de Fougères is a striking fairytale chateau covered in towers and turrets topped with conical roofs - both a defensive fort and beautiful chateau at the same time. Take a walk around the ramparts and explore the many towers for some wonderful views across the Breton countryside.
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2. Château de Caen
Built by William the Conqueror, the Château de Caen stands on a hillock in the centre of the city. An imposing sight, its enclosure makes it another of the largest fortresses in Europe. A remarkable military structure, it is today the home of two different museums - the Museum of Normandy and the Fine Arts Museum of Caen.
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3. Palace of Versailles
What needs to be said? The home of the French monarchy in the 17th and 18th centuries, Versailles is one of the most famous buildings in the world. An exquisite chateau with phenomenal gardens. A visit to the spectacular Hall of Mirrors, is an absolute must and, if you want a wander around the gardens, be sure to give yourself the whole day to explore.
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4. Château de Blois
There's an unusual mixture of styles at the Château de Blois, with distinct Renaissance and Gothic influences in its buildings. The home of several French kings, throughout the ages, it was also the chateau where Joan of Arc came to have her banner blessed by the Archbishop of Reims before setting out for battle against the English.
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5. Château d'Amboise
A stunning chateau which has been lovingly restored. A firm favourite with the French monarchy for several centuries, it fell into decline from the 16th century onwards but is today recognised as one of the most beautiful chateaux in the Loire Valley. King Charles VIII lived here with his wife Anne of Brittany and died at the chateau after hitting his head on a door lintel.
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6. Château de Saumur
This magical chateau stands high over the river Loire and is built of the soft white tuffeau stone that was quarried in the area. Dating from the 10th century but largely rebuilt in the 14th, the Château de Saumur houses several museums - the Museum of the Horse, a Museum of Decorative Arts and in the dungeons you'll even find a toy museum!
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7. Château d'Angers
This intimidating military fortress in the heart of Angers, surrounded by 17 towers, was home to the Dukes of Anjou. Within the 10 feet thick walls is a pretty, enclosed sculptured garden. It is probably most famous now for the 100m long Apocalypse Tapestry, the largest known medieval tapestry in the world, which is exhibited here.
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8. Château de Pierrefonds
Welcome to Camelot! Sitting on the edge of the Compiègne forest on the shores of a lake, it is no wonder that the BBC chose the castle as the magical setting for the TV show, Merlin. Rebuilt by Violet-du-Lac in the 19th century, the chateau has a wonderfully playful architecture with unusual sculptures and chimera all over the buildings including a drainpipe shaped like a salamander.
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9. Château d'Azay-le-Rideau
A stunningly tranquil place, the Château d'Azay-le-Rideau is built on an island and is one of the most recognisable chateaux in the Loire Valley. Originally a medieval castle, its style was merged with that of the Italian Renaissance in the 15th century, creating a unique architecture. Small but elegant, this is a wonderful setting in which to relax.
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10. Château de Chambord
This huge estate was a hunting lodge and a firm favourite of the French Royal Family. Famed for its park, which is the largest walled park in Europe, the Renaissance chateau itself is also exquisite. Wander the halls of the chateau where the Sun King would bring his court and discover the incredible grounds of the park where deer, sheep and wild boar live.
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