The Big Splurge: Loire Valley Castles

What to look for on your tour of fancy French castles

Unless you have an insomniac neighbor who does chainsaw art, we know that you don’t usually get up before 6am. As painfully early as the start time may seem for a sleep-deprived traveler, it’s worth it for a full day of “oh la la-ing” at three of France’s more than 300 extravagant historical châteaux. After a hotel transfer drops you off at the meeting point, you’ll board a two-story tour bus that will transport you to the Vallée Loire (in English, beautiful lush valley with a whole goddamn lot of castles and stuff).

See where Leonardo da Vinci lived out his last years and where King Charles VIII died by hitting his head on a doorframe

The first stop is either Amboise or Cheverny, depending on the time of the year and day of the week. Your tour guide will oufit you with headphones as the group explores the first château in an approximately 45-minute guided session. After the guided portions at each château, you’ll also receive plenty of free time to eat lunch, wander the mazes and gardens, and speculate about the psychological impact of having 200 people clamor into your bedroom just to watch you wake up every morning (à la Louis XIV) must have had on an individual. At Amboise, see where Leonardo da Vinci lived out his last years and where King Charles VIII died by hitting his head on a doorframe.

Try to catch one of the spectacles with horses and birds of prey that take place on the castle’s grounds

The second stop is Chenonceau, France’s second-most visited castle (after Versailles), dating from 1515. Chenonceau serves as a castle-bridge; the waters of the Cher flow underneath its five archways, providing it with ample insurance against revolutionary mobs, since they were unlikely to destroy their only place to cross the river. Finally, the bus will bring you to the largest and most spectacular of the three castles, Chambord. Started as a hunting lodge for King François I at the dawn of the French Renaissance, its architecture reflects a mix of Gothic and Italian influences. After your guided session, you can try to catch one of the spectacles with horses and birds of prey that take place on the castle’s grounds. With interesting history, beautiful scenery, and spectacular châteaux, this all-day tour is well worth its price tag.

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