After a few days of exploring the narrow streets and tram lines that shape the city of Nantes, France, we hopped on a bus early Saturday morning for our first field trip: A tour of the Loire Valley châteaux.

Over 300 châteaux, or castles, decorate the Loire Valley. Relics of royal courts and the Renaissance, some châteaux shadow the red brick chimneys of small market towns while others stand alone against acres of green grass and well-trimmed hedges. Our tour took us to see four of the most famous châteaux the Loire Valley has to offer:

1. Château d’Amboise

The Château d’Amboise neighbors the river Loire. After taking a guided tour of the castle’s interior (in French!), we admired the town of Amboise from the terrace. With such a view, I can see why the Château d’Amboise was a royal favorite!

2. Château de Blois

Next on our tour was the Château de Blois, known for housing several French kings and the famous assassination of the Duke of Guise. It was a chilly and rainy day, but we didn’t let that keep us from the castle! Gloomy weather only adds to its striking architecture. The four wings of the castle form a gorgeous courtyard. Inside, the rooms are filled with paintings, extravagant wallpaper, and floor tiles painted with the letter H for King Henry IV. We were delighted to find Christmas trees of every color still decorating the various chambers and halls. Despite the weather, we ventured into the gardens and discovered a truly incredible view of the houses below. Surely the Château de Blois is breathtaking in the sun, but my recommendation is not to discount the days when rain darkens its brick walls.

3. Château de Chambord

We started the second day of our châteaux tour with the Château de Chambord, the largest château in the Loire Valley. Once used as a hunting lodge for King Francis I, the estate is massive. Even after several hours of roaming through rooms and climbing up and down the magnificent double-spiral staircase, I still hadn’t seen every wing. This time the best part of the château was not the view from the roof, but the roof itself! The towers seemed to create their own tiny town, a tranquil rest stop for birds and visitors alike. Then, after wandering around its many rooms, we had the opportunity to eat lunch inside the castle—  What a royal treat!

4. Château de Chenonceau

Easily my favorite château of the four, the Château de Chenonceau is breathtaking from all angles. Powerful women have resided at the Château de Chenonceau for over 400 years, making various additions to its architecture and earning it the title, Le château de dames (“The Ladies’ Castle”). Two such women were Henry II’s wife Catherine de Medici, and his mistress Diane de Poitiers. If, like me, you watch period pieces such as Reign, you can impress the people around you by making statements such as, “Mary Stuart would have walked in this very room,” as you meander through the ballroom built above the river Cher. History courses are another great way to prepare for the places you might visit while studying abroad, but who doesn’t love the drama of historical fiction? I’d say you can’t go wrong with either.

The bottom line: When in France, visit any and all of the châteaux that you can!

Published by rachael.grochowski

Class of 2022 English Literature and Japanese Studies Double Major, French Minor IES Nantes, France

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