Chateaux of the Loire Valley

Château de Brissac

The Château de Brissac is a noble mansion originally built as a castle by the Counts of Anjou in the 11th century. After the victory over the English by Philip II of France, he gave the property to Guillaume des Roches. In the 15th century, the structure was rebuilt by Pierre de Brézé, a wealthy chief minister to King Charles VII. During the reign (1515–47) of Francis I, the property was acquired ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Brissac-Quincé, France

Château de Châteaudun

Château de Châteaudun was built between the 12th and 16th centuries. The Count of Blois Thibaut V had the keep built around 1170. The Sainte-Chapelle was built between 1451 and 1493. The choir and the high chapel were built between 1451 and 1454, with the nave and the oratory between 1460 and 1464. Jehan de Dunois, the bâtard d'Orléans (Bastard of Orléans), built the west wing (the "aile Du ...
Founded: 1170 | Location: Châteaudun, France

Château de Noirmoutier

Château de Noirmoutier is very well preserved and a fine example of 12th century medieval architecture. The first traces of the castle appeared in 830 with the construction of a castrum by the abbot Hilbold, from the monastery of Saint-Philbert. It served to defend the monks and the island"s population from the Vikings. The castle was rebuilt in stone in the 12th century by the feudal power who was trying to st ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Noirmoutier-en-l'Île, France

Château de Montrésor

The Château de Montrésor is a medieval castle with a Renaissance mansion built in the grounds. In about 1005, Fulk Nerra, count of Anjou, chose a rocky spur dominating the valley of the Indrois as the site for his captain Roger le Petit Diable ("Little Devil"), to build him a powerful fortress. Montrésor had one of the first keeps built in stone, similar to that at Loches, and two circular walls, but today only the wes ...
Founded: 1493 | Location: Montrésor, France

Château de Brézé

Château de Brézé is a small, dry-moated castle located in Brézé, near Saumur. The château was transformed during the 16th and the 19th centuries. The current structure is Renaissance in style yet retains medieval elements including a drawbridge and a 12th century troglodytic basement. Today, it is the residence of descendants of the ancient lords. The château is a listed ancient monument originally dating from 1060 ...
Founded: 1060 | Location: Brézé, France

Château de Montsoreau

The Château de Montsoreau is a castle constructed in 1455 by Jean de Chambes, a senior councillor to King Charles VII. Erected on the bank of the Loire river, it was a strategic fortress, controlling river traffic between Chinon and Saumur. In fact the castle of Montsoreau has an exceptional position at the confluence of two rivers, the Loire and the Vienne, and at the meeting point of three historic regions: Anjou, ...
Founded: 1455 | Location: Montsoreau, France

Château de Beaugency

The lords of Beaugency attained considerable importance in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries; at the end of the 13th century they sold the fiefdom to the Crown. Afterward it passed to the house of Orléans, then to those of Dunois and Longueville, and ultimately again to that of Orléans. The city of Beaugency has been the site of numerous military conflicts. It was occupied on four separate occasions by the E ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Beaugency, France

Château de Meung-sur-Loire

The Château de Meung-sur-Loire, located next to the collegial church, was the country residence of the Bishops of Orléans. It was built and destroyed several times. The oldest still existing parts date from the 13th century and were built by Manassès de Seignelay (bishop from 1207 to 1221). Still standing are the main rectangular plan building, flanked by three towers, a fourth having been destroyed. ...
Founded: ca. 1200 | Location: Meung-sur-Loire, France

Château de Montpoupon

The Château de Montpoupon is named after a Germanic tribe, the Poppo, who settled here on the rocky promontory at the time of Charlemagne. The site thus came to be known as Mons Poppo (the hill of the Poppos).With the passage of time this evolved into Montpoupon.  At the end of the Middle Ages, the château passed into the hands of the Lords de Prie et de Buzançais, a family who were to leave their ...
Founded: 1460 | Location: Céré-la-Ronde, France

Château de Mehun-sur-Yèvre

The existence of a fortification at the site of Mehun-sur-Yèvre dates from antiquity. The major remains are of the early 13th century and the later 14th century. The present standing ruins date from a castle founded under the Courtenays after 1209. This fortress was transformed into a princely residence by John, Duke of Berry in 1367. Largely ruined in the 18th century the castle represented an excellent example of ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Mehun-sur-Yèvre, France

Château du Rivau

The Château du Rivau is a castle-palace in Lémeré. It is intimately linked to the illustrious Beauvau family, related to the Counts of Anjou. During the 13th century, the Beauvau family served the Kings of France and were allied to the royal family through the marriage of Isabeau de Beauvau to Jean II de Bourbon in 1454. During the 17th century, Le Rivau was protected by Richelieu as his sister Fran&cc ...
Founded: 1445 | Location: Lémeré, France

Château du Plessis-Bourré

Château du Plessis-Bourré is a château built in less than 5 years from 1468 to 1472 by Finance Minister Jean Bourré, the principal advisor to King Louis XI. The château has not been modified externally since its construction and still has a fully working drawbridge. It was classified as a Monument historique in 1931. The château was purchased in 1911 by Henry Vaïsse who, when he ...
Founded: 1468-1472 | Location: Soulaire-et-Bourg, France

Château de Lavardin Ruins

The remains of the Château de Lavardin stand on a rocky promontory, above the village and the Loir. Built starting from the beginning of the 11th century by the first lords of Lavardin, the castle was sold to the count of Vendôme around 1130, becoming his principal fortress from the end of the 12th century. Completely altered in the 14th and 15th centuries, it was taken by the members of the Catholic League in ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Lavardin, France

Château de Châteaubriant

Château de Châteaubriant is first mentioned between 1030 and 1042. It was first built by Brient, an envoy of the count of Rennes, to create an outpost in the Pays de la Mée. The first castle was a motte-and-bailey structure made of wood. It dominated the river Chère and the Rollard and had two concentric moats. One was dry, the other filled with water. It also had a big square keep, rebuilt in st ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Châteaubriant, France

Château de Chamerolles

The Château de Chamerolles was built in the first half of 16th century by Lancelot I, chamberlain of Louis XII and Bailiff of Orléans under King François I. His son, Lancelot II agreed to Protestantism in 1562 and housed a Protestant church in Chamerolles. The castle became a center of the Protestant religion in the region. Chamerolles was a typical castle with square form and round towers in every corner. It is comple ...
Founded: 16th century | Location: Chilleurs-aux-Bois, France

Château de Luynes

An early castle was built in the 10th century, or at the very beginning of the 11th. It was destroyed at the end of that same century during the Anjou-Touraine conflicts; rebuilt in the early 12th century, then refitted in the 13th when the lords of Maillé became barons. There it consisted of an upper yard and lower yard: in the latter, below the former one, there were barns and stables. If big keep stood in the m ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Luynes, France

Château de Beauregard

The Château de Beauregard is a Renaissance castle located on the territory of the commune of Cellettes. Most of the château was built around 1545, when it was bought by Jean du Thiers, Lord of Menars, and Secretary of State to Henri II. The commissioned interior included frescoes on the fireplace of the royal chamber, which have survived. In the Great Gallery there is a fireplace in Italian style from this per ...
Founded: 1545 | Location: Cellettes, France

Château de Montgeoffroy

The Château de Montgeoffroy is an 18th century manor house located in the commune of Mazé (Maine-et-Loire), France. In 1676, Érasme de Contades acquired the property. In 1772, the Marshal Louis Georges Érasme de Contades, governor of Alsace, decided to rebuild the château as a retirement home. He called on the Parisian architect Jean-Benoît-Vincent Barré, who worked with th ...
Founded: 1772 | Location: Mazé, France

Château de Villesavin

Villesavin, built between 1527-1537 by Jean Breton, was his home while he supervised works at Château de Chambord nearby. Stone carvers from the royal château ornamented Villesavin. Villesavin is one of the least altered of the many late-Renaissance châteaux in the Loire Valley. Low walls and unusually high roofs has been built around three very spacious courtyards. The elegant southern facade ends with ...
Founded: 1527-1537 | Location: Tour-en-Sologne, France

Château de Goulaine

The Château de Goulaine has been home to the family of the marquis de Goulaine for over a thousand years. Château de Goulaine is also the estate-bottled wine produced at the château. In the 12th century, when the Duchy of Brittany was independent, the first Goulaine, Jean de Goulaine, then captain of the city of Nantes, fortified the estate, which is still surrounded by marshes, to defend against attacks from Normans. ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Haute-Goulaine, France

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque French château built between 1658-1661 for Nicolas Fouquet. It was made for Marquis de Belle Île, Viscount of Melun and Vaux, the superintendent of finances of Louis XIV, the château was an influential work of architecture in mid-17th century Europe. At Vaux-le-Vicomte, the architect Louis Le Vau, the landscape architect André le Nôtre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun worked together on a large-scale project for the first time. Their collaboration marked the beginning of the 'Louis XIV style' combining architecture, interior design and landscape design. The garden's pronounced visual axis is an example of this style.

To secure the necessary grounds for the elaborate plans for Vaux-le-Vicomte’s garden and castle, Fouquet purchased and demolished three villages. The displaced villagers were then employed in the upkeep and maintenance of the gardens. It was said to have employed eighteen thousand workers and cost as much as 16 million livres. The château and its patron became for a short time a focus for fine feasts, literature and arts. The poet La Fontaine and the playwright Molière were among the artists close to Fouquet. At the inauguration of Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Molière play was performed, along with a dinner event organized by François Vatel, and an impressive firework show.

After Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life, and his wife exiled, Vaux-le-Vicomte was placed under sequestration. The king seized, confiscated or purchased 120 tapestries, the statues, and all the orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte. He then sent the team of artists (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) to design what would be a much larger project than Vaux-le-Vicomte, the palace and gardens of Versailles.

The Marshal Villars became the new owner without first seeing the chateau. In 1764, the Marshal's son sold the estate to the Duke of Praslin, whose descendants would maintain the property for over a century. It is sometimes mistakenly reported that the château was the scene of a murder in 1847, when duke Charles de Choiseul-Praslin, killed his wife in her bedroom, but this did not happen at Vaux-le-Vicomte but at the Paris residence of the Duke.

In 1875, after thirty years of neglect, the estate was sold to Alfred Sommier in a public auction. The château was empty, some of the outbuildings had fallen into ruin, and the famous gardens were totally overgrown. The huge task of restoration and refurbishment began under the direction of the architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, assisted by the landscape architect Elie Lainé. When Sommier died in 1908, the château and the gardens had recovered their original appearance. His son, Edme Sommier, and his daughter-in-law completed the task. Today, his descendants continue to preserve the château, which remains privately owned by Patrice and Cristina de Vogüé, the Count and Countess de Vogüé. It is now administered by their three sons Alexandre, Jean-Charles and Ascanio de Vogüé. Recognized by the state as a monument historique, it is open to the public regularly.

Architecture

The chateau is situated near the northern end of a 1.5-km long north-south axis with the entrance front facing north. Its elevations are perfectly symmetrical to either side of this axis. Somewhat surprisingly the interior plan is also nearly completely symmetrical with few differences between the eastern and western halves. The two rooms in the center, the entrance vestibule to the north and the oval salon to the south, were originally an open-air loggia, dividing the chateau into two distinct sections. The interior decoration of these two rooms was therefore more typical of an outdoor setting. Three sets of three arches, those on the entrance front, three more between the vestibule and the salon, and the three leading from the salon to the garden are all aligned and permitted the arriving visitor to see through to the central axis of the garden even before entering the chateau. The exterior arches could be closed with iron gates, and only later were they filled in with glass doors and the interior arches with mirrored doors. Since the loggia divided the building into two halves, there are two symmetrical staircases on either side of it, rather than a single staircase. The rooms in the eastern half of the house were intended for the use of the king, those in the western were for Fouquet. The provision of a suite of rooms for the king was normal practice in aristocratic houses of the time, since the king travelled frequently.

Another surprising feature of the plan is the thickness of the main body of the building (corps de logis), which consists of two rows of rooms running east and west. Traditionally the middle of the corps de logis of French chateaux consisted of a single row of rooms. Double-thick corps de logis had already been used in hôtels particuliers in Paris, including Le Vau's Hôtel Tambonneau, but Vaux was the first chateau to incorporate this change. Even more unusual, the main rooms are all on the ground floor rather than the first floor (the traditional piano nobile). This accounts for the lack of a grand staircase or a gallery, standard elements of most contemporary chateaux. Also noteworthy are corridors in the basement and on the first floor which run the length of house providing privacy to the rooms they access. Up to the middle of the 17th century, corridors were essentially unknown. Another feature of the plan, the four pavilions, one at each corner of the building, is more conventional.

Vaux-le-Vicomte was originally planned to be constructed in brick and stone, but after the mid-century, as the middle classes began to imitate this style, aristocratic circles began using stone exclusively. Rather late in the design process, Fouquet and Le Vau switched to stone, a decision that may have been influenced by the use of stone at François Mansart's Château de Maisons. The service buildings flanking the large avant-cour to the north of the house remained in brick and stone, and other structures preceding them were in rubble-stone and plaster, a social ranking of building materials that would be common in France for a considerable length of time thereafter.

The main chateau is constructed entirely on a moated platform, reached via two bridges, both aligned with the central axis and placed on the north and south sides. The moat is a picturesque holdover from medieval fortified residences, and is again a feature that Le Vau may have borrowed from Maisons. The moat at Vaux may also have been inspired by the previous chateau on the site, which Le Vau's work replaced.

Gardens

The château rises on an elevated platform in the middle of the woods and marks the border between unequal spaces, each treated in a different way. This effect is more distinctive today, as the woodlands are mature, than it was in the seventeenth century when the site had been farmland, and the plantations were new.

Le Nôtre's garden was the dominant structure of the great complex, stretching nearly a mile and a half (3 km), with a balanced composition of water basins and canals contained in stone curbs, fountains, gravel walks, and patterned parterres that remains more coherent than the vast display Le Nôtre was to create at Versailles.

Le Nôtre created a magnificent scene to be viewed from the house, using the laws of perspective. Le Notre used the natural terrain to his advantage. He placed the canal at the lowest part of the complex, thus hiding it from the main perspectival point of view. Past the canal, the garden ascends a large open lawn and ends with the Hercules column added in the 19th century. Shrubberies provided a picture frame to the garden that also served as a stage for royal fêtes.

From the top of the grand staircase, this gives the impression that the entire garden is revealed in one single glance. Initially, the view consists of symmetrical rows of shrubbery, avenues, fountains, statues, flowers and other pieces developed to imitate nature – these elements exemplify the Baroque desire to mold nature to fit its wishes, thus using nature to imitate nature. The centerpiece is a large reflecting pool flanked by grottos holding statues in their many niches. The grand sloping lawn is not visible until one begins to explore the garden, when the viewer is made aware of the optical elements involved and discovers that the garden is much larger than it looks.