Loire Valley Chateaux Itinerary
UNESCO Site with its world-famous chateaux
A 4-day itinerary, starting in Chartre, visiting some of the most famous Loire-Valley chateaux, and some of our own favorites, and ending in Bourges.
Chartre, Bourges and the Loire-Valley chateaux are all UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Your ininerary starting point is Chartres, 80 km southwest of Paris. Driving from Paris is all autoroute (A10, A11), about an hour. The itinerary driving time is 5 hours; too much for a single day including sight-seeing. We recommend the first day visiting Chartre and an overnight in Chartre. Day-2 overnight in Amboise. Day-3 overnight in Bourges. Day-4 visit Bourges. Driving from Bourges to Paris is 250 km, 2h20, autoroute all the way (A71, A10).
Chartres Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Cathedral of Notre Dame in Chartres was founded in the 11th century. The original building was destroyed by fire in 1194 and the current cathedral was built in the mid 13th century. Chartres Cathedral is an example of high Gothic architecture with unique stained glass, statuary, and Renaissance choir screens.
In the Middle Ages, there was great interest in labyrinths, and the Chartes Cathedral is the most famous example of the eleven-circuit design (as opposed to the classic seven circuits). The labyrinth -laid into the floor - has been restored. In the past it was walked as a pilgrimage or for repentance.
Depart Chartres south on the N10 (direction Châteaudun), and stay on this road all the way.
About 20 km south, at the tiny village of Bois-de-Feugères, there's a pretty windmill on the right. About 30 km south, you pass the town of Bonneval that was on the cycling Tour-de-France route in 2004.
Châteaudun, considered the first stop on a tour of the Loire Chateaux, is on the list of the Plus Beaux Detours de France. Also a "Ville fleurie", Châteaudun has a nicely-renovated chateau on a river-side hilltop, Renaissance houses and archetecture that features carved wooden trim, and an excellent fine-arts and natural history museum. Along the banks of the river, the Foulon Grottos are caves that date back tens of millions of years.
Depart Châteaudun south (direction Blois), and immediately take the left fork for the D924 (Blois). In 5 km, turn left onto the smaller D925 road. You should then be able to follow signs for the small towns along the way. Verdes (10 km, right, D925). Binas (7 km, straight). Via Chantôme and Villesiclaire to junction (7.5 km, right, D25). Lorges (4.5 km, left). Josnes (3.5 km, right). Seris (5 km; left-right jog, D25). Mer (7 km; bear left, southeast, across the Loire). Muides-sur-Loire (5 km). Continue south, signposted, to Chambord (7 km).
Chambord. This is a massif chateau, with 440 rooms, 84 staircases and 365 fireplaces (one for each day of the year?). Chambord is considered one of the more flamboyant castles in France, partly because it has a variety of styles because of being expanded and modified by different owners with different tastes over the centuries. There is a double spiral staircase that may or may not have been designed by Leorardo de Vinci, that lets two people go up or down without crossing paths on the stairs.
The Royal owners would only spend summers here or would come to hunt. It has very little furniture because it was abandonned more than once in its long history. An exception is a romm with toys played with by children in this era.
Even in the tourist seasons the expansive grounds around the outside have plenty of room for relaxing in the sun, picnicking, and letting the kids run around.
Depart Chambord southwest on the D33 (direction Blois). When you get to the edge of Blois, at Vineuil (15 km), drive through the Russy Forest (Fôret de Russy) to Chailles and then down alongside the left bank of the Loire to Chaumont-sur-Loire (34 km).
At Chaumont-sur-Loire take an hour or so to tour the castle. It's small but lovely, a very classical castle with round towers at the corners and a draw bridge. The stables are also worth a look.
Depart Chaumont-sur-Loire continuing southwest, still along the left bank of the Loire, to Amboise (15 km).
Amboise, the first royal building of the Renaissance, was the home of every King of France, from Charles VII to Francois I. Owned by the Counts of Anjou, then the House of Amboise, then to the Crown, Amboise castle became a true royal residence for Catherine de Medici and her children. and the approximately 150 people who worked for her there. Amboise guarded one of the few Loire river crossings of the middle ages, giving the site a strategic importance.
The chateau is striking from the outside, but the main interest is a tour of the interior. Words that come to mind to describe the decoration are lavish, detailed, luxurious, international (Flemish, Italian, French, Turkish, ...). It is sometimes described as the most Italian of the Loire Valley Castles. It's history is long and detailed, and you can read about it here, including how in 1560 conspirators who tried to kidnap Francois II and take him away from the Castle were caught, found guilty executed in public and their bodies hung from the balcony of the castle as an example to others.
Depart Amboise southeast on the D81 to Chenonceaux (14 km).
A couple of km from Amboise, our map shows a "Parc des mini-châteaux"; we haven't seen this ourselves.
Chenonceaux is one of our favorite chateaux, built across the Cher river in a unique and lovely style. Chenonceaux, the "Chateau des dames", means the Ladie's Castle. Built in 1513 by Katherine Briconnet, then owned successively by Diane de Poitiers, Catherine de Medicis, Louise de Lorraine, Mrs. Dupin (an aesthete who received Voltaire, Fontenelle, Marivaux, Montesquieu, Buffon and Rousseau at the castle) and Madame Pelouze. Visit the wax museum to see these ladies in style! From the gardens to the collections of furniture, tapestries and paintings, the castle is a must visit kind of place.
Two special touches of history: in World War I the owner, Gaston Menier turned it into an infirmary, at his own expense, and in World War II it was in the unusual situation of having one entrance into occupied France and one into unoccupied France, in the part of the castle stretching across to the south side of the Cher.
The official web site offers extensive information in English with many illustrations and photos. There is an audio tour on the Apple iPod . See the official web site for more details: http://www.chenonceau.com/.
Depart Chenonceaux east to Montrichard (10 km). You can cross the river at Montrichard and continue east on the N76 (or go directly east on the D176 and join the N76 a bit later) towards Vierzon (33 km).
Montrichard is a pretty town on the river, with water sports for the kids, and a good place for a lunch stop.
About 30 km from Montrichard you pass by Selles-sur-Cher. Nine km further, at Villefranche-sur-Cher, turn left (north) for 3 km and join the autoroute. Continue east on the autoroute, bypassing Vierzon, for Bourges.
Bourges, in the department of Cher, is close to the geographical center of France. The actual center is about 35 km south at the village of Bruère-Allichamps, made famous (at least for us) by François Truffaut's 1976 film "L'Argent de poche" (Pocket Change); the film is set in Thiers, but the child's mother sends a postcard from Bruère-Allichamps.
The magnificent Bourges Cathedral, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was built between the late 12th and 13th centuries. The official Bourges web site calls it "an avant-garde Cathedral for a new world". Designed by an unknown Master-builder, it was considered very modern at its time. It is surrounded by timbered medieval houses and a visit here takes you back in time.