Visit the Loire castles: now or never!

September, 24 2020

In 1981 I cycled from Paris to Nantes with three high school friends. Our goal: to visit as many Loire castles as possible. I still remember those days; it was the summer of Charles and Diana’s wedding. I can still hear the French radio talking about ‘Palais Buckingham’ (palè buukiengám). So much has changed since then. Or has it?

Buying a ticket

When I was there as a teen, visitors to one of these world-famous castles in the Loire Valley just queued up for a few minutes. Pay for your ticket at the counter and go straight in. In August 2016, two of us revisited a few of the castles, by car this time. They were still as beautiful and impressive as ever, but you had to wait more than an hour in the burning sun before you even reached the counter. Once inside, you had to make your way slowly through the mass of people. Rows and rows of coaches could be seen on the car parks.

campsite Loire Castles

This campsite near Château d’Amboise was very crowded in 2016!

Seize the opportunity!

Tourism has changed completely, especially in the last ten years. An entirely different type of holidaymaker, mostly from Asia, has discovered the highlights. These tourists work through their bucket list in groups. For France this is mainly Paris, the Côte-d’Azur, and the Loire castles. Now that intercontinental tourism has largely disappeared, it is the ideal time to visit these special places. Everything is open, there are far fewer visitors and there is really only one practical limitation: in museums and castles visitors aged eleven and up have to wear a face covering.

Loire castles and nice campsites

The Loire castles are must-sees. Spectacular buildings at beautiful waterfront locations, often with stunning gardens and an interesting history. They don’t feature on all those bucket lists for nothing! Plus they are official World Heritage sites. The castle area starts in Chambord (just below Orléans, about 170 kilometres below Paris) and continues westwards for about 150 kilometres to Angers.

There are campsites in the Loire Valley near all the Loire castles, often directly on the Loire and especially on its tributaries. Most sites are set in the countryside, although some of the campsites are located close to the charming towns. It is also an attractive area for cyclists, thanks to the long-distance bike path Loire à Vélo. It’s a much better path than the one I took in 1981, and my bike is much better, too!

In this blog I would like to tell you more about four impressive Loire castles: Château de Chambord, Château de Chenonceau, Château de Villandry and Château d’Amboise. I will also give some tips for good campsites in the area. It’s up to you if you want to visit the castles by bike or by car…

1. Château de Chambord

This is the largest and most imposing Loire Castle, built for King Francis I from 1519. The castle has a richly decorated exterior of light stone with a grey roof. Surprising fact: you can walk around on this roof. The entire complex has no fewer than 440 rooms. You will also find an unusual double spiral staircase, which is said to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci. Chambord exudes ultimate grandeur and is interesting for all ages. The castle of course also boasts a beautiful garden, which visitors can enjoy without a face covering.

Practical information: (link):
– Open every day from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Saturday and Sunday until 5 p.m.)
– Entrance fee for park and castle € 14.50 (children under 18 years go free)
– Booking ahead is recommended

Château de Chambord (Loire castles)

Château de Chambord is the most familiar of the Loire castles for many.

Top-rate campsites near Chambord:

2. Château de Chenonceau

This castle stands out because it has been built half over the Cher river, which is not far from the Loire. The graceful arches reflect beautifully in the water. Château de Chenonceau is one of the most popular castles in France. Of course it’s lovely to visit the inside of the intimately decorated castle, but there’s at least as much to see outside. The Chenonceau gardens are very extensive and include a labyrinth. And how about a leisurely stroll along the banks of the Cher?

Practical information (link):
– Open every day from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. (until 21 Aug) and 9 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. (22 Aug – 27 Sep)
– Entrance fee for park and castle € 15.00 (children under 7 years go free)
– Booking ahead is recommended

Château de Chenonceau (Loire castles)

The reflection of the castle in the water is a real eye-catcher.

Top-rate campsites near Chenonceau:

3. Château de Villandry

This castle is best known for the size of its gardens. These are laid out in Renaissance style, with many geometric shapes. You can walk around for hours and admire the vegetable garden, the water garden, the labyrinth, and more. The plants are arranged by colour, creating a cheerful and organized whole. The ornamental garden consists of four ‘love gardens’, of course also featuring roses. And as if that wasn’t enough, there’s a forest next to the gardens. A lovely place to seek out the shade, especially on a hot day!

Practical information (link):
– Open every day from 9 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. (July and Aug), 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Sep)
– Entrance for castle and gardens € 12.00 (children under 8 years go free)
– Booking ahead is recommended

Château de Villandry (Loire castles)

It’s quite a job maintaining the gardens of Villandry.

Top-rate campsites near Villandry:

4. Château d’Amboise

Situated on top of a hill, Château d’Amboise offers a beautiful view over the Loire Valley. And that used to come in handy to see which side the enemy was coming from. In the fifteenth century the castle was popular with members of the royal family. This castle is unique because it houses Leonardo da Vinci’s tomb. The famous Italian lived in Amboise for many years at the invitation of King Francis I. There is a life-size statue of Da Vinci in the town.

Tip: Château d’Amboise and the aforementioned Château de Chenonceau are only thirteen kilometres apart. So it’s a great opportunity to visit two Loire castles in one day!

Practical information (link):
– Open every day from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m
– Entrance fee for castle € 13.10 (children under 7 years go free)
– Booking ahead is recommended

Château d'Amboise (Loire castles)

Château d’Amboise affords a beautiful view over the Loire.

Top-rate campsites near Amboise:

Your favourites

Which castle in the Loire Valley would you like to visit? And which ones have you already seen? I’d love to hear about it. Let me know in a comment; and perhaps you have some tips of your own to share!

Hans Pijnenburg
  • Author: Hans Pijnenburg
  • Camping has given Hans his sense of freedom since 1983. He usually takes his tent, but will occasionally rent accommodation. Usually he heads to France, often Spain or Germany, but he also likes to visit Italy and Denmark. His camping holidays are always a combination of a few days of culture (cities, castles, World Heritage sites in Spain, Bauhaus in Germany), nature (hiking, biking, canoeing) and a few days of hanging out on the beach.


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