Did you know that 2019 marks 500 years since the birth of the French Renaissance? That grand era of art, music, and architecture—wait, don’t tell me you’re not celebrating this momentous occasion?! Well, lucky for you the fantastically beautiful is celebrating. The Loire’s dreamy array of river-hugging castles are one of this famously creative period’s greatest accomplishments—just look at them and try not to sigh! Ahhhhhh.
This entire region, southwest of Paris, is a chock full of breathtaking châteaux, and you will want to live in every single one. There are loads of going on all year, too. Did I mention the Loire is also famous for its ? (Yes, that’s right: wine and castles. I mean, come on.) You deserve a vacation, so pour yourself a glass and take a virtual tour of the finest French castles, each one straight out of a fairy-tale.
This was built starting in 1519 for King François I, as a symbol of his power. It boasts formal gardens on the outside and a bewitching double-helix staircase on the inside, inspired by Leonardo da Vinci—but the intricately ornate façade kind of speaks for itself, doesn't it?
’s history is defined by a succession of powerful historical women, including the celebrated Catherine de Medici, who ruled France from here as regent for her son, King Charles IX. Its bridge-like architecture makes it one of the Loire’s most picturesque castles.
, a blend of traditional French architecture and a then-innovative Italianate style, was built on an island in the Indre river during the reign of King François I. Its watery surroundings go right up to the building’s foundation, creating a famously perfect reflection known as the “water mirror.”
Fairy-tale-themed gardens and Royal Stables (don’t miss the jousting tournaments!) make , a unique blend of medieval and Renaissance architecture, a big draw for families with kids. And history buffs, check this out: Joan of Arc herself visited Rivau in 1429, fetching horses before the siege of Orléans. Wow!
There’s a reason why is known as a “château royal”: It served as a residence for French kings from the 15th to the 19th centuries. Cultural pilgrims also flock to pay their respects at a small Gothic-style chapel on its grounds: the final resting place of Leonardo da Vinci.
Another château that is royal indeed, has been home to three Dukes of Orléans and welcomed seven kings and 10 queens during the Renaissance alone. Multiple architectural styles are on display around a magnificent square called the Courtyard of Honor.
This dramatic castle was the site of an event that still captivates the world even today: a royal wedding. King Charles VIII married Anne of Brittany at at the break of dawn on December 6, 1491, uniting the kingdom of France with the duchy of Brittany. And if that’s not straight-out-of-a-storybook enough for you, the castle’s drawbridge is still raised and lowered manually at opening and closing time each day.
A team of gardeners maintain the remarkable grounds of Villandry and keep the gardens open year round—one the few places in all of France to be open every single day of the year. Built in 1532 around the remains of a razed fortress, Villandry was the last of the great Loire châteaus to be built during the Renaissance.