The Loire Valley 
between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes (2000)

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The Loire Valley is an outstanding cultural landscape of great beauty, containing historic towns and villages, great architectural monuments (the châteaux), and cultivated lands formed by many centuries of interaction between their population and the physical environment, primarily the river Loire itself.  

France 1993. Chateau Chinon in the Loire Valley.

The Loire Valley is noteworthy for the quality of its architectural heritage, in its historic towns such as Blois, Chinon, Orléans, Saumur, and Tours, but in particular in its world-famous castles, such as the Château de Chambord and Chinon. 

The Loire Valley is an outstanding cultural landscape along a major river which bears witness to an interchange of human values and to a harmonious development of interactions between human beings and their environment over two millennia. 

The landscape of the Loire Valley, and more particularly its many cultural monuments, illustrate to an exceptional degree the ideals of the Renaissance and the Age of the Enlightenment on western European thought and design. 

Starting at the easternmost point of the site inscribed, and then continuing towards the west, the tour sets out at Chateau Sully sur Loire, and Chateau Gien. 

  • Thumbnail map of the Loire Valley. Copyright "The Chateaux of the Loire Valley, Editions Sun, Paris. 

These powerful fortresses which have managed to resist the centures, barely escaped disappearing under the bombardments of 1940. Constructed at the end of the 14th century, it was here that Georges de la Trémoille sheltered Charles VII, also known as the unlucky "King of Bourges". Also Joan of Arc stayed there on two occasions. 

France 1961. Chateau Sully-sur-Loire.

France 1973. Chateau de Gien.

The most majestic of all the castles is by far Chateau Chambord, also known as the Versailles of king Francis I. This sovereign stopped at nothing in order that the most luxurious residence imaginable be built upon the site of a castle which had served as a hunting lodge for the Counts of Blois.  

King Louis XV established his father-in-law, Stanislas Leczinski, the dethroned king of Poland, here. Stanislas Leczinsky has given name to the famous Place Stanislas in Nancy -- also a World Cultural Heritage Site -- which is shown elsewhere on this website. Chambord is the property of the French state since 1930, and was the first to initiate the famous sound-and-light spectacles. 
  • United Nations (Vienna) 2006. Chateau de Chambord. 

United Nations (Vienna) 2006. Chateau de Chambord.

France 1952. Chateau de Chambord at the sound-and-light spectacle.

France 2004. Chateau de Chambord.

Chateau de Blois was first owned by Thibault le Tricheur [Tricky Thibault], the first count of Blois, and also the indefatigable enemy of the king of France. It was originally constructed in the 13th century by the Châtillon-family. A descendant of this family, Charles d'Orléans, was a better poet than soldier; in the disastrous Battle of Agincourt he was taken prisoner and kept captive in England for twenty-five years.  

France 1960. Chateau de Blois.

During his absence his half-brother, who was the companion of Joan of Arc, was the master of Blois. Charles d'Orléans was 71 years old when his third wife, Marie de Clèves, bore him a son, who would later be the sovereign of France as Louis XII. 

In present day it has become fashionable among upper class people to celebrate their wedding af Blois. 

  • France 1960. Chateau de Blois. 

Slightly southeast of the Chateau de Blois, is located the Chateau de Cheverny. Time has had no effect on this castle, it appears today as it appeared when the last slate was put in place in 1634, and the lord of the castle settled in with is wife, whi had superintended the works; the perfect ordering of its classical façade stands forth majestically in the distance beyond the entrance gate. 

A rare thing, this chateau has belonged to the same family since it was built, and the Marquess de Vibraye, who maintains it at present with meticulous and unceasing care, is the direct descendant of Hurault de Cherverny, who ordered its construction under the reign of Louis XIII. The architect was a man named Boyer from Blois. 

Cheverny is located in the heart of a privileged hunting region, La Sologne. 

  • France 1954. Chateau de Cheverny. 

France 1954. Chateau de Cheverny.

On the rocky spurs which dominates the city of blue rooftops on the Loire rises, as on a pedestal, the chateau which Charles VII added to the royal domain by confiscating it from its owner, Louis d'Amboise. About one mile away, in the valley of the Amasse, the Clos-Lucé -- previously known as Chateau de Cloux -- gives an opportunity to get acquainted with the last residence of Leonardo da Vinci who, in 1516, travelled to France to enter the service of Francis I. He spent his last years at the Château de Cloux where he died on May 2, 1519. 

France 1952. Chateau d'Amboise and Leonardo da Vinci. France 1963. Chateau d'Amboise.

No chateau of the Loire Valley has greater elegance or seduction than Chenonceau. It is claimed that this is because women have loved it and cared for it through its entire history, which began in 1513, when the Treasurer General for Normandy, Thomas Bohier, acquired the castle. The castle is today the private property of the French Menier family. 

Constructed in 1532 by Jean le Breton, grandfather of the first Marques de Villandry, the chateau of today, surrounded by a moat, is composed of three buildings framing a court of honour which opens on the north over the smiling valley of the Cher, with a view extending to the hillsides of the Loire. 

Villandry houses today a museum of Spanish painting, collected by Dr. Carvallo, who also supervised the renovation of the chateau and the reconstitution of the French gardens in the Renaissance style. 

These gardens are unique in their style, and are laid out on three terraces; the lowest is reserved for the kitchen garden, the middle one is an ornamental garden, and the highest is called the "water garden". The stamp gives but a vague impression of the beauty of these gardens. 

  • France 1954. Chateau de Villandry. 

France 1954. Chateau de Villandry.

The castle of Azay-le-Rideau owes its curious name to Hugues Ridel, or Rideau, who lived in the 13th century and was knighted by Philip Augustus. In Rideau's time the castle commanded the route leading from Tours over the Indre to Chinon.  In 1417, the future Charles VII, then dauphin, on his way to Azay, was insulted by the Burgundian garrison which had placed Jean Sans Peur [John the Fearless] there, after occupying the city of Tours a year before. The ripost came immediately, and the fortress was taken by assault, the garrison massacred and the village burned. For a century afterwards, the town was called Azay-le Brûlé [Azay the Burned]. 

France 1987. Chateau Azay-le-Rideau.

Although built partly in Gothic style, and partly in Renaissance style, the castle, as it appears today, is considered the architectural masterpiece of the French Renaissance. 

Since 1905, Azay-le-Rideau has belonged to the French state, and a Renaissance museum, containing some remarkable tapestries and furniture, has been added. 

  • France 1987. Chateau Azay-le-Rideau. 

The Romans did not overlook the strategic value of the site of Langais on the Loire and constructed a "castrum" here. Around the year 1000, the impetuous count of Anjou, Foulques Nerra, who was a great builder, ordered the construction of a powerful keep, which is considered to be the oldest in France; the ruins are still visible at the bottom of the present park. The proper ownership of the castle was bitterly disputed between the rivalling houses of Touraine and Anjou, then the kings of England and of France. 

In the 12th century Richard the Lionhearted seized it, but his unyielding adversary, Philip Augustus, lost no time snatching it back from him. 

There is evidence to believe that the marriage of Charles VIII and Anne of Bretagne took place at the castle in December 1491. At any rate, this union joined to the French crown a duchy which had long rebelled and ended the role of sentinel, which had fallen to the lot of Langeais over the centuries. 

  • France 1968. Chateau de Langeais. 

France 1968. Chateau de Langeais.

At the end of the 11th century a Breton priest who had been a hermit for some time, Robert d'Arbrissel, founded a new religious order, the Order of Fontevraud, which adopted the rule of Saint-Benoit. The community included a men's monastery and three women's monasteries and was placed under the direction of an Abbess. 37 women governed Fontevraud, until the Revolution wiped out the order. Napoleon converted the abbey into a prison, and it was known as the Central House of Correction and Hard Labour until 1964. 

France 1978. Abbey of Fontevraud.

In the immense nave of the abbey are four statues of Henri II "Plantagenet", his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, their son Richard the Lionhearted, and Isabelle d'Angoulême. 

In spite of wars, revolutions, pillage and abandonment, the powereful counts of Anjou still affirm today that they are at home in the Fontevraud which they chose as their burial place. 

  • France 1978. Abbey of Fontevraud. 

No chateau in the Loire Valley, where the whole world seems to smile, has a more forbidding aspect than that of Angers. The flower beds and lawns which decorate the ancient moats, now filled in, cannot attract our eyes away from those 165 ft high walls and those seventeen round limestone and lead towers which rise a redoubtable enclose a half-mile long, upon a hill overlooking the Maine. Saint Louis, to whom is owed the construction of this feudal citadel inspired by the chateaux of the Holy Land, had it built upon the very site of the old Chateau de Foulques, the name of which evokes the history of Anjou from the tenth to the thirteenth centuries. Begun in 1230, the citadel was finished eleven years later and presented to the king's younger brother, Charles, to whom the province of Anjou, ravished by England in 1204, had been given in apanage. 

Angers is notably famous for the tapestry "Apocalypse", which has also been depicted on a French postage stamp. 

France 1980. Pre-cancelled stamp depicting the Chateau d'Angers.

France 1941. Chateau d'Angers.

The last of the Loire castles depicted on postage stamps is the Chateau de Loches.

France 1986. Chateau de Loches.

The small town of Loches, built upon the banks of the Indre, is capped with a crown of stone: the fortified enclosure of its chateau, which was built by Henri II "Plantagenet" in the 12th century. The fortress is composed of three parts: the keep, the round tower and the Martelet. 

The keep, built according to a rectangular outline, is 123 ft tall. Erected at the end of the 11th century by Foulques le Réchin, it had three stories, linked by staircases built into the walls. 

  • France 1986. Chateau de Loches. 

There are several dozens of such majestic castles in the Loire Valley, but only a handful of these have been honoured on French postage stamps.  

Sources and links:

Other World Heritage Sites in France (on this site). Please refer to the UNESCO-listing, section France for further information on the individual properties.  

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Revised 09 sep 2007  
Copyright © 1999 Heindorffhus 
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