Two hours southwest of Paris lies the Loire Valley, famous for its fertile farmland, fabulous wineries and fairytale castles. There are 42 stately châteaux in this UNESCO World Heritage region that attract over three million visitors each year. These assorted medieval fortresses and pleasure palaces are one of France’s biggest tourist draws beyond the City of Lights. While each one is architecturally splendid and historically significant, you’d get a little chateau-fatigue if you tried to pack to many of them on a trip to the area. There’s only so much magnificence a person can take! But how do you narrow down which ones to see and which ones to skip? Here’s a list of 12 Loire Valley castles that are particularly noteworthy. Click through the list to select your shortlist, keeping in mind that two or three a day is plenty.
Chenonceau is one of the most visited and photographed of all Loire Valley castles. This stunner actually spans the River Cher, with arched cut-outs you can row a boat under. It is sometimes referred to as the “ladies chateau” because women dominated its design and destiny. Back in the 1500s, Henri II gave Chenonceau to Diane de Poitiers, his mistress, which didn’t sit well with Catherine de Medicis, his wife. Upon his death, Catherine took it back, and you can still see the competing styles of these two rival women within the castle décor.