The sordid secrets of the Loire chateaux – and how to tour the region in style
It is built in the shape of a cross containing 12 symmetrical apartments accessible from a central staircase. It is a double helix formed by two intertwined staircases, which allow one flight to go up and the other down. In truth, there is elegant mathematical logic, but in practice it is difficult to understand; all the characteristics, some would say, of a painting by Leonardo.
Entrance: £12; chambord.org.
Chenonceau: bridge of sighs
The most famous of all the pleasure palaces, Chenonceau stands on a series of arches spanning the Cher (a tributary of the Loire). It is here that the great rivalry between Catherine de Medici and Diane de Poitiers takes place. Henry II gave it to Diana in 1547 and she adored it. In 1555, she commissioned the extension that crossed the river and enlarged the formal gardens.
However, she had little time to appreciate her work. When Henry died in 1559, his widow, Catherine, banished him and turned Chenonceau into a full-fledged party house. She poured money into a new grand gallery and extended gardens and threw some of the most extravagant summer parties ever, including the first ever fireworks display in France.
Entrance: £13; chenonceau.com.
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10 ways to see the Loire
1. River cruise
Admire the magnificent castles of the Loire from the water on a relaxed cruise along the river itself. The 96-berth MS Loire Princesse departs from Nantes with a day trip to the castles and wine tasting in the cellars of Chateau de Brissac.
Croisi Europe (020 8328 1281; croisieurope.co.uk) offers a five-night Loire Valley cruise, a Royal Legacy cruise. From £1,487 full board, excluding travel. Departures on certain dates between May and October.
2. Self-guided walk
Explore the region’s forests, vineyards and riverside trails on a self-guided hotel-to-hotel walk, traveling up to 20 km per day along ancient tracks following tributaries of the Loire, Vienne and River ‘Indre. The routes pass by several castles and the Abbey of Fontevraud.
Inntravel (01653 617001; inntravel.co.uk) offers a self-guided seven-night Castles and Vineyards walking itinerary. From £1,090 including three dinners and three picnics. Tailor-made departures between April and October.