Visit the stately chateaux of France’s Loire Valley

With more than 300 chateaux (castles), the Loire Valley of France may have the highest concentration of architectural splendor in the world.

During the Renaissance and Enlightenment – between the 15th and 17th centuries – French kings went on an unrivaled architectural binge. Not wanting to be far from court, the nobility soon followed and the finest architects and landscape designers in the world converged on the Loire Valley.

Among the most popular chateaux is Azay-le-Rideau. Nestled on an island in the Indre River, Azay-le-Rideau is a superb example of French Renaissance architecture thanks to a reconstruction concept to merge contemporary residential aspects with features from the medieval past.

With its stunning series of arches spanning the River Cher, Chateau de Chenonceau is a visual feast. Chenonceau is often referred to as “The Chateau of Women” because of the five aristocratic ladies who left their personal imprints on its design. The castle features distinctively feminine elements and is smaller than many chateaux in the region.

Many have heard of Chateau de Chinon, but may not know why. When Charles VII, future king of France, encountered Joan of Arc at Chinon, she was challenged to identify him though they had never met.

Attempting to trick Joan, another man represented Charles, but she was not deceived. After this feat, Joan was granted the supplies she needed for the battle at Orleans.

Chateau de Villandry is famous more for its fabulous gardens than its architecture. In the early 19th century, Emperor Napoleon acquired Villandry for his brother Joseph. Now owned by the Carvallo family, Villandry is one of the most popular chateaux in France.

Chateau de Chambord is the largest chateau in the world. Originally built as a hunting lodge for King Francis I, some sources claim it was designed by Leonardo da Vinci.

Surrounded by a 13,000-acre park and game reserve, there are no nearby villages. Food was either imported for guests or hunted within the forest. To showcase his wealth, Francis had the roof designed to accommodate large parties and shooting events.

The seemingly limitless array of chateaux in the Loire Valley is among the best in the world.