Loire Valley (World Heritage)

Over several centuries, one of the most beautiful cultural landscapes in Europe with magnificent castles and abbeys emerged along the Loire. In the approximately 200 km long section, one fascinating cultural monument follows the other. Impressive examples are the Chambord Castle, which has been a World Heritage Site since 1981, as well as the Blois and Amboise castles.

Loire Valley: facts

Official title: Loire Valley between Maine and Sully-sur-Loire
Cultural monument The “Versailles” of Franz I (1515-47) in the middle of a 55 km² park; Largest castle on the Loire, 154 m long and 117 m wide; 440 rooms and 365 chimneys, “double spiral staircase” as a special feat of engineering; The Loire Valley between Maine and Sully-sur-Loire added to the World Heritage Site in 2000
continent Europe
country France, Loire Valley
location Chambord, on the Cosson, a tributary of the Loire
appointment 1981, extension 2000
meaning a unique masterpiece of the French Renaissance

Loire Valley: history

1519-41 main construction phase of the castle
1552 1552 Henry II signs the Treaty of Chambord, through which the dioceses of Metz, Toul and Verdun fall to the French crown
1670 First performance of Molière’s »Citizen and Nobleman« in the castle
1921 Acquired by Paul-Louis Courier, Duke of Bordeaux and Count of Chambord
since 1930 state owned

The Loire Valley: like a golden jewel

The largely unregulated river landscape of the Loire resembles a piece of gold: like the links of a chain, the historic cities join together along the longest river in France and sparkle with their impressive fortresses, monasteries and Renaissance castles from Nevers to Bourges and Orléans to Tours, Saumur and Angers like precious stones – one more beautiful and brighter than the other.

According to naturegnosis, the wide Loire valley in the heart of France has been able to preserve astonishingly much of its originality, as it has not been subject to any foreign influences for centuries. The Loire, which is over a thousand kilometers long and practically non-navigable, is one of the last wild rivers in Europe; the Loire has never been straightened or canalized and winds its entire stretch of river through a naturally created bed with sandbanks and wide, lush green floodplains.

The beauty of the valley was not hidden from the French nobility either. Since the beginning of the Renaissance, the nobles have preferred the Loire Valley as their home and had magnificent estates and castles built – often on the foundations of medieval castles – in order to rule over their fiefs from there. A cultural landscape unprecedented in Europe was created. The remarkable buildings of the landed nobility blend in with the landscape in a picturesque, even fairytale-like manner, above all the more than 300 historic castles, some of which are only a few kilometers apart.

One of the most magnificent in this dense collection of castles is without a doubt the moated castle of Chenonceau, south of the Loire in Touraine. Its delicate architecture gives it a breathtaking elegance that has rightly earned it the reputation of being one of the most magnificent buildings in the entire Loire region; after Versailles it is the most visited palace in France. The main part of the castle was built on the north bank of the Cher – a tributary of the Loire. The gallery that was added later rises gracefully, supported on pillars, above the Cher, in which the graceful beauty of the castle is reflected as if from a mirror.

Not only the castle itself, but also its lush outdoor facilities, imaginatively designed down to the smallest detail, make Chenonceau a very special place. The extensive park, densely lined with trees, invites you to take long walks. Over 40,000 remarkably accurately planted and carefully tended flowers bloom in the hardly less extensive gardens. Two typical Renaissance gardens in the Italian style compete for the admiration of the visitors, just like the two ruthless rivals who had the gardens created vied for the favor of Heinrich II. Catherine de Medici had the smaller of the two gardens designed and the royal mistress Diane de Poitiers designed the larger of the two gardens. In French history books, Chenonceau is often referred to as “Château des Dames”, the “ladies’ castle”, designated. And if you look back, it was actually women who determined its history and its charm from the beginning: Katharine Briçonnet had it built according to her ideas in 1513, Katharina von Medici and Diane de Poitiers made it even more beautiful and Madame Dupin preserved it the destruction of the French Revolution.

King Francis I, who would go down in history as the pioneer of French absolutism, imagined his dream castle to be even more powerful and impressive than the castles of Blois and Amboise. By the time it was completed in 1547, he should have been extremely pleased with this reasonable, representative framework of his power. The truly gigantic Chambord Castle is considered the crowning glory of all castles on the Loire. Many a visitor runs the risk of getting lost in the renaissance building made of white limestone, it is that big. And it looks even bigger when its facades are reflected in the water of the artificially created canals. The superlative castle is 154 meters long, 56 meters high, has 440 rooms, 365 chimneys and 84 stairs. One of these stairs lies at the intersection of the corridors of the three-storey donjon (keep) and even inspires contemporary engineers. Without crossing their paths, visitors to the palace can climb up and down the two-flight, twisted spiral staircase – which, by the way, is said to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci. Even the slightly whimsical castle roof with its hundreds of pointed turrets, elegant chimneys, marble-adorned skylights and decorative gables offers enough space to stroll around. Regardless of its size, the castle exudes a certain carelessness that makes it appear less threatening than rather playful – like a true fairytale castle, as it were. The Domaine de Chambord does not have a garden, but an extensive game reserve, which, at over 5400 hectares, is almost the size of Paris. Deer and wild boars cavort in the area surrounded by a 32-kilometer wall. However, only high guests of the French President are allowed to hunt them.

Loire Valley