The Castles of the Loire bring together many buildings, all more beautiful than the others. However, instead of focusing on the most famous, come and discover the more anonymous ones through an alternative means of transport, the bicycle.
The Renaissance profoundly marked the Loire Valley. During this historical period, many estates were renovated or built by nobles to import the Italian lifestyle into this region.
So many names mark our hearts and minds, like Ambrose, Chambord, and Chenonceau. They also tend to pull the entire cover on them, preventing other remarkable castles from being brought to light.
To repair this mistake, we have concocted a route through which you will realize that these buildings have nothing to envy for their illustrious neighbors.
The thighs may be numb, the calves sore, but the feeling of accomplishment will overshadow all this. So get on your most beautiful bicycle and conquer the bitumen!
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Day 1: From Azay-le-Rideau to Tours
- Distance traveled: 37.3 km
- City of departure: Azay
- City of arrival: Tours
- Places to visit: Château de Saché – Balzac Museum and Domaine de Candé
This journey begins on the banks of the Indre, in Azay-le-Rideau precisely. If you see the castle of this city, look at the property because it is not the theme of your trip.
Barely 7 kilometers separate you from your first monument. To reach it, nothing could be simpler; follow the river until you guess the Château de Saché.
Once you arrive, set up the crutch to balance your bike and discover this place.
The Château de Saché, Balzac’s resting place
The Château de Saché is an excellent introduction to visiting these little-known works. Don’t expect to see 1001 rooms or get lost between the West Wing or the East Wing.
In addition, a unique atmosphere emerges from the building, the fruit of its various tenants.
The first stones were laid in medieval times, but the body of the building dates from the fifteenth century. Then in the seventeenth century, the first extension came out of the ground.
100 years later, a second construction is added and gives its final appearance to the building.
On the other hand, the interior is deeply marked by the nineteenth century. Before inheriting the castle in 1812, Jean de Margonne stayed there regularly.
He appreciates the silence inhabits the place and wants to share it with his best friend, Honoré de Balzac.
The Writer from Tourangeaux is tired of his tumultuous life in Paris. To continue writing, he needs calm and tranquility. Installed in the castle’s highest tower, he can finally take up the pen.
The inspiration returns, the words are easily laid down on the paper, and he chains the books. The bucolic setting becomes his muse, and to pay tribute to him, he decides his novel.
The Lily in the Valley comes to life in this idyllic setting.
In 1926, Paul Métadier bought the property, which began to be seriously abandoned. An idea germinates; the spirit of Balzac still seems to inhabit the place, so why not pay tribute to him?
Ideas are jostling on how to do it, and it is the son of the owner, Bernard-Paul, who convinces his father to make it a museum.
Large living room, dining room, everything looks period. As you walk, you will have the pleasant feeling that the author of the Peau de Chagrin accompanies you to make you discover his haven of peace.
In front of his room, you’ll even think you’ll see him sitting down to get into action.
While the castle’s interior can be seen as a historical reconstruction, the surrounding park of approximately 2 ha invites contemplation of the Indre Valley landscapes.
Before getting back on your bike, take a moment to stroll to recharge your batteries.
Resume your route until you find the Indre. Follow it as much as possible to come face to face with the Domaine de Candé.
Domaine de Candé
It is a building in the pure style of the Renaissance that is offered to you. In 1499, the mayor of Tours, François Briçonnet, bought the 600 Ha that makes up the estate to set up a pleasure pavilion.
Unfortunately, he died in 1504 and could not enjoy his future property. His daughter decided to carry out the project, and the work was completed in 1508.
350 years later, Santiago Drake del Castillo, an Anglo-Cuban notable, became the new owner of the premises. He commissioned the Tourangeau architect Jacques-Aimé Meffre to make the building more spectacular.
A new wing is added to the pavilion, tripling the living area.
The grandeur and beauty of the building captivate you. He has nothing to envy to some of these confreres! Everything is worth seeing, from the magnificent woodwork of the living room to the Skinner organ to the gigantic library.
Another element that catches your attention during your visit is the modernism of the place. It is the fruit of the sulfurous Franco-American couple Charles and Fern Bedaux.
The two billionaires bought the castle in 1927 and installed central heating, electricity in all rooms, and a telephone!
The Bedaux also wanted their property to go down in history.
Thanks to a relationship game, the Candé estate was able to host the “Marriage of the Century” between the Duke of Windsor and commoner Wallis Simpson in 1937.
As a result of the union, the heir to the English throne renounced his “just” throne out of love.
If you want to relive this event, head to the library because it is here that the reception of the two lovebirds took place. Besides, you can still admire the huge book collection. They belonged to Fern, a faithful reader enthusiast.
Her estate was bequeathed to the French State in 1951 when she became a widow in 1944, although she remained on the property until she died in 1972.
Your first day of sightseeing is coming to an end, and you are already looking forward to tomorrow to continue your adventure. But to have the energy to get there, rest in Tours.
Day 2: From Tours to Chenonceaux
- Distance traveled: 45.7 km
- City of departure: Tours
- City of arrival: Chenonceaux
- Places to visit: Fortress of Montbazon and Castle of Fontenay
When the day rises in the ancient Gallo-Roman city, it is soon time to get back on the road! After a good breakfast, get your foot back on the pedals to head to the Fortress of Montbazon, located south of the city.
Fortress of Montbazon
Here you are in the middle of a family battle! This thousand-year-old monument was initially a simple wooden keep.
But the Count of Anjou, Foulques III Nerra, replaced it with a stone building 36 meters high and walls 3 meters thick.
During the war against his cousin Eudes II of Bois, to deprive him of Tours, he needed a base camp close to his enemy. In vain, the current capital of Indre-et-Loire will remain in the hands of Eudes.
Over the centuries, the estate grew, first by the direct descendant of Fulk III, his son Geoffroi Martel. Then it is with the King of England, Henry II Plantagenet, that it becomes this impregnable fortress.
The crenelated walls, the walkway, and the high tower trace its remarkable passage.
In 1205, Philip Augustus, King of France, became the happy owner. He erected the round towers and ramparts of the second shirt.
Several notable families recovered the building – the Mirabeau, Savary, La Rochefoucauld – only to find themselves abandoned after the Revolution.
Despite the remaining ruins, you capture all the grandeur of the building and its military aspect. Trebuchets are still present on the site, and you wonder how a war master could have stormed the huge fortress.
The animations present on site will plunge you back into medieval times, and you will no longer see the time pass. Parbleu, you will have to leave the building because other treasures await you!
By following the direction of the East, you will arrive at the Château de Fontenay.
The castle of Fontenay
This castle has drawn its history since the eleventh century. At the time, only a mill allowed the transport of the river’s water to the village of Bléré.
Then, according to the acquisitions, it became a castle. Finally, the worst happened in 1871; a fire started by Prussians ravaged him and left behind a pile of ruin.
Fortunately, Auguste Bucquet, a Parisian painter and architect, bought the land. He ordered the reconstruction, and 20 years later, a new building replaced the old one.
The madness of grandeur or mark of recognition, his name appears on the front door’s pediment.
However, maintenance leaves much desired, and the building is decrepit. His salvation will come in two stages. In the mid-1990s, winegrowers settled there to develop the vineyard part of the castle.
About ten years later, a Parisian family bought the establishment and wanted the building to recover its letters of nobility. She then renovates the castle to make it a cottage.
Unfortunately, it is not open to the visit, and if you want to discover one of the four rooms, a reservation is mandatory.
If this is the case, you will discover carefully decorated rooms, mixing discreet luxury and traditional modernism.
On the other hand, the hosts will be happy to show you around the vineyard. As the walk progresses, you will be able to taste the locally produced wines.
The grape varieties grow on land mainly made of clay, sand, and flint, giving complexity to the wine and an explosion of flavor on the nose.
Do not abuse too much of the good things, and the pedals will not be able to operate on their own unless you decide to stay overnight. Otherwise, it is Chenonceau who will welcome you to recharge the batteries.
Day 3: From Chenonceaux to Chaumont-sur-Loire
- Distance traveled: 58.3 km
- City of departure: Chenonceaux
- City of arrival: Chaumont
- Places to visit: Castle of Montpoupon and Castle of Fougères-sur-Bièvres
It is a champion breakfast that will have to be eaten to reach the end of the longest stage of your getaway. The stop in the cottage of Fontenay could therefore prove to be a rich idea.
Nevertheless, Chenonceau is surely home to establishments able to support you properly.
Once you are full and well in your legs, pedal to the Château de Montpoupon.
Castle of Montpoupon
His name has nothing to do with a possible child lost at the top of a hill. It comes from a Germanic clan, the Poppo, who established their base camp on the current place of the castle.
Soberly called Mons Poppo, it eventually got its current name after a literal French translation.
Historical collections make it possible to establish that the first lords to have taken care of the domain were the de Prie.
Nature would have regained its rights without their intervention since the original building was destroyed during the Hundred Years War.
Legend has it that François 1st slept there after a particularly trying chase. But this remains the only fact of the glory of the property.
Over the years, the castle fell victim to the distance from the court to Versailles. Even its owners would rather spend time in the Paris region than stay in their stronghold in the Loire Valley.
The line of La Motte Saint Pierre, ancestor of the current owners, ended up buying the estate from prie and restoring it, keeping the spirit of the Renaissance.
Since 1974 they have decided to let visitors admire their property.
Start with the dining room. The room is quite austere because the black and gray beams adorn the ceiling. If you visit Chenonceau, they will remind you of Queen Louise’s room.
She had decided to dress the room with these “beams of mourning” after the death of Henry III.
To continue with these stories of particular frameworks, the room of Amboise is indicated to you. This time they are red thanks to a coloration obtained thanks to oxblood.
Also, take a tour of the small museum of Le Veneur. 30 rooms are available to you for the sole purpose of honoring the craftsmen dedicated to hunting.
You will notice that some walls are dressed in Hermes squares®, whose original motifs adorned horses’ saddles.
If you still have little time and energy left, embark on the forest walk. Otherwise, take your bike back to Chenonceau.
The Castle of Fougères-sur-Bièvre
Of the original building of the twelfth century, only the keep remains. The fault again lies with the English and the Hundred Years’ War. We owe the castle to Pierre de Refuge, advisor to Prince Charles of Orleans and treasurer of Louis XI.
Refuge makes this building a real fortress with military architecture, and it is finally thanks to his grandson that he owes his Renaissance style. This one enlarges the doors, fills the moat, and above all, removes the drawbridge.
The Château de Fougères-sur-Bièvres shines with its sobriety while retaining a certain charm. The multitude of main buildings and the carved pediments will captivate you the moment you arrive.
Moreover, a reference to Normandy is hidden there. You can see the effigy of St. Michael fighting the dragon.
The interior always retains military influences. Unlike your other tours, no piece of furniture allows you to fully immerse yourself in the atmosphere of the Renaissance or that of the owners.
However, many explanatory panels mark your route and provide you with the information to understand the place.
Legs should be heavy and thighs bruised—a last effort to swallow the ten kilometers that separate you from Chaumont-sur-Loire to get a well-deserved rest.
Day 4: From Chaumont-sur-Loire to Chambord
- Distance traveled: 38.9 km
- City of departure: Chaumont
- City of arrival: Chambord
- Places to visit: Château de Beauregard and Château de Villesavin
Already 3 days that you scour the roads of the Val-de-Loire. Days and kilometers have passed at speed, and you are already ready for the last stage.
The Château de Beauregard
According to old plans, the first construction was a manor that we owe to Lord François Doulcet. However, the lord’s property was passed directly to the King of France due to his deceit during the Italian campaigns.
Francis, I used it from time to time between two hunting parties and even ended up bequeathing the building to his uncle René of Savoy. He died tragically during the defeat of Pavia, but his wife retained possession of the castle.
Less than 20 years later, Jean du Thier, King Henry II’s finance minister, bought it for ECU 2,000. He then undertook important work to bring the castle into the big leagues.
A gallery and a wing in return for a square are added, giving it a strongly Italian air. Remember that it was already considered one of the most buildings in France at the time.
But its notoriety comes mainly from what is inside it. Paul Ardier, a minister under Louis XIII, decided to offer himself the castle as a retirement gift.
He and his descendants take care magnifying the walls by dressing them in delicate oak woodwork or painting the ceilings with lapis lazulis.
They also collected 327 portraits that they stored all along the Galerie des Illustres. It’s up to you to guess who had the portrait drawn!
After seeing this, a thought comes to mind. Finally, you could call this castle “Beauregard the aptly named”!
More than the last pedal stroke to arrive at the Château de Villesavin. And after everything you’ve done, it doesn’t mean much!
Castle of Villesavin
As the jewel of the Loire Castles emerged from the ground, an outpost was needed to keep an eye on its progress. The Villesavin building is called “La Cabane du chantier de Chambord.”
Its square-shaped pavilions are directly obvious. Uncommon for the time, he is also a precursor in the field. Visit the chapel, the most beautiful part of this building.
It is a work of art in its own right! Its ceiling is covered with angels in the flesh holding all the instruments of the passion of Christ.
Like the Château de Montpoupon, a small museum takes place in the building. His collection focuses on the theme of marriage between the 1850s and 1950s.
Sneak between the different wax mannequins dressed in period costumes and discover all the milestones of the life-changing event.
The tour ends with more than 350 wedding wreaths inside the Globe Room. Note the composition of the ornaments. For example, the presence of oak leaf symbolizes the couple’s longevity, ivy attachment …
The tour of the little-known Loire Castles is coming to an end. However, like the cyclists arriving on the Champs-Elysées, you can end up in apotheosis by joining Chambord.
Indeed, it would be too infidelity to the 8 buildings you have seen in recent days…
Whatever your choice, the main thing is that you now know that other nuggets exist. All you have to do is go and preach the good word.