The magnificent châteaux that line the mighty River Loire are a major attraction in summer. But happily, many stay open in the winter as well. And in winter, you have the rooms to yourselves so you really feel the ghosts of the great figures of the past walking beside you through the echoing, empty rooms. The parks and gardens might be less colorful than in the summer months, but you can see the shapes of the flower beds, the gentle slopes and the trees. Here are four of the most magnificent that remain open.
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The Royal Château of Amboise
The French Kings’ Château of Amboise sits on the western end of the Loire, between Tours and Blois. With fully furnished royal apartments and a history that goes back to Charles VIII in the 15th century, there’s plenty to see. The chateau dominates the town and the river and has a magnificent view over the Loire.
As a bonus, Leonardo da Vinci spent the last three years of his life at the nearby Chateau du Clos-Luce where you’ll see some of his magnificent machines. He is buried in the Chateau’s Chapel St-Hubert.
Tel.: 00 33 (0) 2 47 57 00 98
Website (in English)
Leonardo da Vinci's final home, the Château du Close-Lucé is a wonderful bonus with its magnificent gardens outside and models of the machines Leonardo invented inside.
Read more about the 10 Top Châteaux in the Loire Valley
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Chaumont lies between Amboise and Blois. It’s essentially a medieval castle that was much embellished during the Renaissance and its interest lies as much in the rivalry between two extremely powerful women as in the furnished apartments. Catherine de Medicis, widow of Henry II, forced her rival in the late King’s affections, Diane de Poitiers, to give up her château of Chenonceau in exchange for Chaumont which was less spectacular.
Chaumont became a cultural center in 2008 and has been transformed by an installation of stained glass panels in 2011. Chaumont is known particularly for its spectacular International Garden Festival which takes place each year from April to October/November.
Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 54 20 99 22
Website (in English)
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Château of Blois in the Loire Valley
Blois is one of the grandest of the Loire châteaux, standing high above the town. It was originally just a medieval castle defending the area until Francois I decided to move here in 1503 from Amboise. Since then, 7 Kings and 10 Queens of France have lived here.
Blois is a visual lesson in the development of secular architecture in France from feudal times to Louis XIII in the 17th century. Part brick, part stone, the buildings include triumphal arch doorways, Italiate decoration, Gothic pillars and wonderful ornamentation. It’s full of intrigue as well, with Catherine de Medici’s study with its secret cupboards and Henry III’s apartments where Henri, Duc de Guise was murdered.
Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 54 90 33 33
Website (in English)
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Chambord Château in the Loire Valley
Chambord was the first of the great classical palaces built in France. It stands in a vast park behind a 32 kilometer (20 mile) wall in the great forest of Sologne, which provided hunting for the kings and queens of France.
François I was unhappy with the old royal palace at Blois, despite the improvements he himself had made in the 1500s. So he drew up plans for a new, spectacular building in full-blown Renaissance style. It is a great building, some of it designed allegedly by Leonardo da Vinci. The double staircase points to a creative mind with its interlocking spirals opening onto internal loggias.
But François I did not get to enjoy the chateau with its richly furnished state rooms or the glorious viewpoints from the pepperpot roofs that he had commissioned. Defeated in battle in 1525, he returned to France to live closer to Paris and spent his last years at Fontainebleau and St-Germain-en-Laye.
Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 54 50 40 00
Website (In English)