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Winter Sightseeing in the Loire Valley

Chateaux to Visit in Winter

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The magnificent chateaux (castles) that line the mighty River Loire are a major attraction in summer. But happily, some stay open in the winter as well in the Loire Valley. And in winter, you have the rooms to yourselves so you really feel the ghosts of the great figures of the past walking beside you through the echoing, empty rooms. The parks and gardens might be less colorful than in the summer months, but you can see the shapes of the flower beds, the gentle slopes and the trees. Here are four of the most magnificent that remain open.

1. The Royal Chateau of Amboise

amboise
© J F Le Seour

The French Kings’ Chateau of Amboise sits on the western end of the Loire, between Tours and Blois. With fully furnished royal apartments and a history that goes back to Charles VIII in the 15th century, there’s plenty to see. The chateau dominates the town and the river and has a magnificent view over the Loire.

As a bonus, Leonardo da Vinci spent the last three years of his life at the nearby Chateau du Clos-Luce where you’ll see some of his magnificent machines. He is buried in the Chateau’s Chapel St-Hubert.

Practical Information

Tel.: 00 33 (0) 2 47 57 00 98
Website (in English)

Open

Jan 2-31 9am-12.30pm, 2-4.45pm
Feb 1- 28 9am-12.30pm, 1.30-5pm
Mar 1-31 9am-5.30pm
April 1-Jun 30 9am-6pm
Ju1-Aug 31 9am to 7pm
Sep 1-Nov 9 9am-6pm
Nov 2-15 9am-5pm
Nov 16-Dec 24 9am-12.30pm, 2-4.45pm

Admission

Adult 10 euros, with audioguide 13.50 euros
Free for under 7 year olds

2. Chaumont Chateau in the Loire Valley

chaumont
© E Sander

Chaumont lies between Amboise and Blois. It’s essentially a medieval castle that was much embellished during the Renaissance. Its interest lies as much in the rivalry between two extremely powerful women as in the furnished apartments. Catherine de Medicis, widow of Henry II, forced her rival in the late King’s affections, Diane de Poitiers, to give up her chateau of Chenonceau in exchange for Chaumont which was less spectacular.

Chaumont became a cultural center in 2008 and has been transformed by an installation of stained glass panels in 2011. Chaumont is known particularly for its spectacular International Garden Festival which takes place each year from April to September.

Practical Information

Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 54 20 99 22
Website (in English)

Open

Nov 1-Mar 31 10am-5pm
Apr 10am-6.30pm
May 10am-5pm June, July, August 10am-7pm

Admission

Admission to Domaine, Garden Festival, Chateau, Stables and Park
Adults 15.50 euros; children 12 to 18 years 11 euros; children 6 to 11 years 5.50 euros, free for children under 6 years

3. Chateau of Blois in the Loire Valley

blois
© D Lepissier

Blois is one of the grandest of the Loire chateaux, standing high above the town. It was originally just a medieval castle defending the area until Francois I decided to move here in 1503 from Amboise. Since then, 7 Kings and 10 Queens of France have lived here.

Blois is a visual lesson in the development of secular architecture in France from feudal times to Louis XIII in the 17th century. Part brick, part stone, the buildings include triumphal arch doorways, Italiate decoration, Gothic pillars and wonderful ornamentation. It’s full of intrigue as well, with Catherine de Medici’s study with its secret cupboards and Henry III’s apartments where Henri, Duc de Guise was murdered.

Renovation work in the chateau means that the Francois I wing on the first floor is closed until April 2012.

Practical Information

Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 54 90 33 33
Website (in English)

Open

Jan 2-March 31 9am-12.30pm, 1.30-5.30pm
Apr 1-June 30 9am-6.30pm
July 1-Aug31 9am-7pm
Sep 1-30 9am-6.30pm
Oct 1-Nov 7 9am-6pm Nov 8-Dec 31 9am-12.30pm, 1.30-5.30pm
Closed Dec 25th and Jan 1

Admission

Because of the renovation work, there is a special price of 6.50 euros for adults instead of 9.50 euros.

4. Chambord Chateau in the Loire Valley

© M. Jeschke - CRT Centre

Chambord was the first of the great classical palaces built in France. It stands in a vast park behind a 32 kilometer (20 mile) wall in the great forest of Sologne, which provided hunting for the kings and queens of France.

Francois I was unhappy with the old royal palace at Blois, despite the improvements he himself had made in the 1500s. So he drew up plans for a new, spectacular building in full-blown Renaissance style. It is a great building, some of it designed allegedly by Leonardo da Vinci. The double staircase points to a creative mind with its interlocking spirals opening onto internal loggias.

But Francois I did not get to enjoy the chateau with its richly furnished state rooms or the glorious viewpoints from the pepperpot roofs that he had commissioned. Defeated in battle in 1525, he returned to France to live closer to Paris and spent his last years at Fontainebleau and St-Germain-en-Laye.

Practical Information

Tel.: 00 33 (0)2 54 50 40 00
Website (In English)

Open

Jan 2-Mar 31 10am-5pm
April 1-Sep 30 9am-6pm
Oct 1-Dec 31 10am-5pm
Closed Dec 25 and Jan 1

Admission

Adult 9.50 euros; free for under 18s with their family; free for 18 to 25 year olds if European residents
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