Spanning nearly 170 miles in France, the Loire Valley alone contains more than 500 châteaux. Flourishing in the time of the Renaissance, the region was inhabited by the likes of Diane de Poitiers, controversial mistress of King Henry II of France, and famed Italian artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci, making it historically interwoven with the great kings of France. Seeking to escape the pressures of Paris and enticed by the open lands and forests rich with game, the French kings made the Loire Valley their primary residence until 1589, when King Henry IV eventually moved his court back to Paris. Together, we will explore the Loire Valley through the eyes of the nobles who made the region their home. Over the course of our day trip from Paris to the beautiful Loire Valley, we will explore the elegant châteaux of the French aristocracy and discover the French Renaissance with an art historian.
Loire Valley Tour
Meeting our guide at the station in Paris, we will take the train to Tours, a charming city nestled between Orléans and the Atlantic coast. Using our time on the train to gain some valuable insight into the Loire Valley of the Renaissance, we will arrive to join our driver at the train station buoyed by our newfound context on the picturesque region's history. Called the "Garden of France," the region is characterized by its central river—the longest in France, vineyards (a subject of interest for anyone who has taken our Paris Wine Tour and Tasting
), asparagus fields, and the stunning châteaux that lure tourists away from France's bustling capital. We'll turn our attention towards the châteaux, which are not only impressive and beautiful architectural feats but serve as a great tool to understanding the area's rich history.
Transforming Medieval Fortresses
While our route may vary depending on private bookings, we typically start with Château de Langeais. This château embodies the social and cultural turning point, marking the moment where the Loire turned from a medieval territory dotted with defensive fortresses, to the epicenter of the French Renaissance with artisans, intellectuals, and ideas imported from Italy. After the initial structure was destroyed during the Hundred Year's War, King Louis XI altered the original building plan to reflect Italy's new architectural ideals—with a French twist, of course. However, Château de Langeais maintains much of its defensive structure, which can be best seen in its dominant towers, blank, machicolation (covered parapet with openings for soldiers to fire upon enemies), and drawbridge entry. Observing this first hybrid between Renaissance architecture and the fortresses of the medieval age forms the foundation for understanding the significant shift.
Transitioning to Decadence
We will then head to either the ethereal Château d'Azay-le-Rideau or Château de Chenonceau, both of which demonstrate an influence from the French and Italian styles. These graceful residences exemplify how French architecture began to distance itself from fortified structures like Château de Langeais. After being razed to the ground during the Hundred Year's War, Azay-le-Rideau was reconstructed in an unusual L-shape plan by the King's Treasurer General Gilles Berthelot.
Similarly, the Château de Chenonceau's beauty is tempered with its connection to scandal between Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici
. Mainly redone by Poiters, King Henry II's mistress, the château featured the new Renaissance style, characterized by the appearance of carved façades, dormer windows set into the slate roof, and the introduction of a straight staircase, rather than the defensive spiral. We may spend time discussing the rivalry between Catherine and Diane, which came to a head following the King's death. We will also be able to see both Diane's gardens, and Catherine's later addition dating from her time as primary resident of the château.
Château de Chambord
After a break for lunch, we will head west to Château de Chambord, the celebrated castle that is considered a true chef-d'oeuvre of the French Renaissance. Originally built as the hunting lodge, this château perfectly demonstrates the marriage between medieval French style and classical Renaissance form. This architectural feat may be accredited to the project’s several undocumented architects, possibly including da Vinci himself. Passed through the hands of countless kings, dukes, and emperors, we will delve into the triumphant and torrid history of this castle. We will also note the discernible difference between Chambord and Langeais. While the layout is similar to a defensive fortress, with its towers and walls surrounding a keep, Château de Chambord was never intended to act as a defensive structure. Its innovations extend to the interior, which features a double helix staircase that may have been designed by Leonardo Da Vinci.
Each château provides unique insight into the chronological evolution and historical significance of this region. Together, we will reflect upon the architectural elements that characterized the French Renaissance style. Over the course of our walk, we will have seen three excellent examples of royal residences from this period, and will have learned to identify the difference between medieval fortresses and the châteaux of the Renaissance. As our walk comes to a close, we will board the train, traveling from Blois to Paris, leaving the rich beauty of the Loire Valley behind us.
Where will I meet the guide?
You will meet your guide at the train station in Paris, and travel together by train to Tours, where you will meet the driver. The guide will then accompany you back to Paris by train at the end of the excursion.
Do you buy tickets ahead of time?
We'll buy your train tickets ahead of time, but you will buy the castle entry tickets at the venue. It will be about €30 for the day. You're also responsible for the cost of lunch.
Could you buy first class train tickets?
We normally buy second class train tickets for the TGV, but if you let us know in advance we can purchase first class tickets. Please note that the prices fluctuate and we buy them based on availability.
What if I've already visited one of the châteaux on the itinerary?
We'd be happy to customize the itinerary. Please contact us to discuss your interests and the options.
There are 8 in my family but your website won't allow me to include more than 7 participants. Can't you make an exception?
Contact us to discuss the possibility of doing this tour with a larger group and car.
I'd prefer to take a car from Paris, rather than the train. Is this possible?
Please contact us to discuss this possibility and pricing.