The little queen takes on the Loire Valley’s little-known Châteaux

The Chateaux of the Loire Valley boast a multitude of buildings, each more beautiful than the last. However, instead of concentrating on the most famous, come and discover the more anonymous ones through an alternative means of locomotion: cycling.

The Renaissance had a profound effect on the Val-de-Loire. During this historic period, many estates were renovated or built by noblemen to bring the Italian way of life to the region.

Amboise, Chambord, Chenonceau – these are the names that capture hearts and minds. They also have a tendency to draw all the attention to themselves, which prevents other remarkable châteaux from getting the spotlight.

To make up for this error, we’ve put together a tour that will show you that these buildings have nothing to envy their illustrious neighbors.

Thighs may be numb, calves sore, but the sense of accomplishment will overshadow it all. So get on your best bike and conquer the asphalt!

Day 1: Azay-le-Rideau to Tours

  • Distance covered: 37.3 km
  • Departure point: Azay-le-Rideau
  • Arrival city: Tours
  • Places to visit: Château de Saché – Musée Balzac and Domaine de Candé

This journey begins on the banks of the Indre, in Azay-le-Rideau to be precise. If you see this town’s château, take a good look at it, because it’s definitely not the theme of your trip.

Just 7 kilometers separate you from your first monument. To reach it, follow the stream until you see the Château de Saché. Once you’ve arrived, set up your bike stand and set off to discover the site.

Château de Saché, Balzac’s resting place

The Château de Saché is an excellent introduction to these little-known structures. Don’t expect to visit 1001 rooms or get lost between the West and East wings. What’s more, the building exudes a special atmosphere, the result of its various tenants.

chateau de Saché

View of the Chateau de Saché – Photo credit: Facebook –
Musée Balzac / Balzac Museum

The first stones were laid in medieval times, but the main body of the building dates from the 15th century. Then, in the 17th century, a first extension was added. 100 years later, a second construction was added, giving the building its final appearance.

The interior, on the other hand, is deeply influenced by the 19th century. Long before he inherited the château in 1812, Jean de Margonne stayed here regularly. He appreciated the silence of the place, and was keen to share it with his best friend, Honoré de Balzac.

The writer from Touraine is tired of his hectic life in Paris. To continue writing, he needed peace and quiet. Settled in the castle’s highest tower, he can finally take up his pen again. Inspiration returns, words flow easily onto paper and he begins to write more books. The bucolic setting became his muse, and to pay homage to her, he decided that his novel Le Lys dans la vallée would come to life in this idyllic setting.

Montage Balzac

Left: Balzac’s bedroom | Right: Balzac by Boulanger – Photo credit: Facebook –
Musée Balzac / Balzac Museum | Wikipedia : Musée des beaux-arts de Tours

In 1926, Paul Métadier bought the property, which was beginning to look seriously neglected. An idea germinated: the spirit of Balzac still seemed to inhabit the premises, so why not pay homage to him? The owner’s son, Bernard-Paul, convinced his father to turn the property into a museum.

Grand salon, dining room, everything looks period. As you stroll around, you’ll have the pleasant sensation that the author of La Peau de Chagrin is accompanying you as you discover his haven of peace. In front of his bedroom, you’ll even believe you’re watching him sit down to get down to business.

While the interior can be visited as a historical re-enactment, the 2-hectare park around the château is an invitation to contemplate the Indre valley landscape. Before getting back on your bike, take a moment to stroll around and recharge your batteries.

Jardin Musée Balzac

View of the Musée Balzac garden – Photo credit: Facebook –
Musée Balzac / Balzac Museum

Follow the road back to the Indre. Follow it as far as you can to come face to face with the Domaine de Candé.

Domaine de Candé

It’s an edifice in pure Renaissance style that awaits you. In 1499, François Briçonnet, mayor of Tours, bought the 600-hectare estate to build a pleasure pavilion. Unfortunately, he died in 1504 and was unable to enjoy his future property. His daughter decided to carry out the project, and work was completed in 1508.

350 years later, Santiago Drake del Castillo, an Anglo-Cuban nobleman, became the new owner. He commissioned Touraine architect Jacques-Aimé Meffre to make the building more spectacular. A new wing was added to the pavilion, tripling the living space.

Domaine de Candé

View of the Domaine de Candé – Photo credit: Wikipedia – Gilbert Bochenek

The grandeur and beauty of the building overwhelm you. It certainly has nothing to envy some of its peers! From the magnificent woodwork in the drawing room to the Skinner organ and the gigantic library, everything is worth seeing.

Another feature that catches your eye during your visit is the modernism of the premises. It’s the brainchild of the sultry Franco-American couple Charles and Fern Bedaux. The two billionaires bought the château in 1927 and installed central heating, electricity in every room and a telephone!

The Bedaux family also wanted their property to go down in history. Thanks to a series of connections, the Candé estate was able to host the « Wedding of the Century » between the Duke of Windsor and commoner Wallis Simpson in 1937. The union caused quite a stir at the time, as the heir to the English throne renounced his throne « just » for love.

Mariage du siècle

Le Mariage du Siècle – Photo credit: Facebook – Domaine de Candé

If you’d like to relive this event, head for the library, as this is where the reception for the two lovebirds took place. You can also admire the library’s immense collection of books. They belonged to Fern, a true reading enthusiast.

Widowed in 1944, she decided to bequeath the estate to the French state in 1951, but remained with the property until her last breath in 1972.

As your first day of sightseeing draws to a close, you’re already looking forward to tomorrow to continue your adventure. But to make sure you have the energy to get there, rest up in Tours.

Day 2: Tours to Chenonceaux

  • Distance covered: 45.7 km
  • Departure city: Tours
  • Arrival town: Chenonceaux
  • Places to visit: Montbazon fortress and Château de Fontenay

When day breaks over the ancient Gallo-Roman town, it’s time to get back on the road! After a hearty breakfast, put your foot back on the pedals and head for the Montbazon fortress to the south of the town.

Montbazon fortress

You’re in the middle of a family battle! This thousand-year-old monument began life as a simple wooden keep. But the Count of Anjou, Foulques III Nerra, replaced it with a 36-meter-high stone edifice with 3-meter-thick walls.

In the midst of a war with his cousin Eudes II de Bois to take Tours from him, he needed a base camp to be as close as possible to his enemy. In vain, the current capital of Indre-et-Loire remained in Eudes’ hands.

Over the centuries, the estate expanded. First by Foulques III’s direct descendant, his son Geoffroi Martel. Then, with the English king Henry II Plantagenet, it became an impregnable fortress. The crenellated walls, the parapet walk and the high tower are the traces of his passage.

In 1205, Philippe Auguste, King of France, became the proud owner. He had the round towers and ramparts of the second shirt erected. Several notable families took over the building – the Mirabeau, Savary and La Rochefoucauld families – only to find it abandoned after the French Revolution.

Despite the remaining ruins, you can still see the grandeur of the edifice and its military aspect. Trebuchets are still present on the site and you wonder how a master of war could have stormed the immense fortress.

Forteresse de Montbazon

Aerial view of the Montbazon Fortress – Photo credit: Facebook – Forteresse De Montbazon

The on-site entertainment will take you back to medieval times, and you’ll never see the time fly by. Of course, you’ll have to leave the building behind, as other treasures await you! Head east to Château de Fontenay.

Château de Fontenay

The castle’s history dates back to the 11th century. At the time, it was nothing more than a mill used to bring water from the river to the village of Bléré, then, as acquisitions were made, it became a castle. Finally, the worst happened in 1871, when a fire started by the Prussians ravaged it, leaving behind a heap of ruins.

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. Whether a folly of grandeur or a mark of recognition, his name appears on the pediment of the front door.

However, maintenance left much to be desired and the building was decrepit. Its salvation came in two stages. In the mid-1990s, winegrowers moved in to develop the vineyard part of the château. A decade later, a Parisian family bought the establishment and wanted to restore the building to its former glory. They renovated the château and turned it into a gîte.

Chateau de Fontenay

Château de Fontenay – Photo credit: Facebook – Le Château de Fontenay, Vins et Séjours Raffinés

Unfortunately, it’s not open to the public, and if you’d like to discover one of the four rooms, you’ll need to make a reservation. If you do, you’ll discover carefully decorated rooms that blend discreet luxury with traditional modernism.

On the other hand, the hosts will be delighted to show you around the vineyard. Along the way, you’ll be able to taste the wines produced locally. The grape varieties grow on a soil composed mainly of clay, sand and flint, giving complexity to the wine and an explosion of flavor on the nose.

Montage Fontenay

Left: the estate’s vineyards | Right: wine tasting at the Château – Photo credit: Facebook – Le Château de Fontenay, Vins et Séjours Raffinés

Don’t overdo the goodies either, as the pedals won’t work on their own. Unless you decide to stay overnight. Otherwise, Chenonceau is the place to be to recharge your batteries.

Day 3: Chenonceaux to Chaumont-sur-Loire

  • Distance covered: 58.3 km
  • Departure point: Chenonceaux
  • Destination: Chaumont-sur-Loire
  • Places to visit: Château de Montpoupon and Château de Fougères-sur-Bièvres

You’ll need to eat a champion’s breakfast to complete the longest stage of your escapade. A stopover at the Fontenay gite could therefore prove to be a rich idea. Nevertheless, Chenonceau is certainly home to a number of establishments capable of keeping you well fed.

When you’ve had your fill and are feeling good, pedal on to Château de Montpoupon.

Château de Montpoupon

Its name has nothing to do with a child lost at the top of a hill. It comes from a Germanic clan, the Poppos, who established their base camp on the site of today’s castle. Soberly named Mons Poppo, it eventually got its current name after a literal French translation.

Historical records show that the de Prie family were the first lords to take charge of the estate. Without their intervention, nature would have reclaimed its rights, as the original edifice was destroyed during the Hundred Years’ War.

Legend has it that François 1er slept here after a particularly grueling hunt. But this remains the property’s only claim to fame. Over the years, the château fell victim to the court’s move away from Versailles. Even its owners preferred to spend time in the Paris region rather than in their Loire Valley fiefdom.

The de la Motte Saint Pierre line, ancestors of the current owners, eventually bought the estate from the de Prie and restored it in the spirit of the Renaissance. Since 1974, they have allowed visitors to admire their property.

Montpoupon

Château de Montpoupon – Photo credit: Shutterstock – leoks

Start with the dining room. The room is rather austere, with black and gray beams adorning the ceiling. If you’ve visited Chenonceau, they’ll remind you of Queen Louise’s bedroom. She decided to decorate the room with these « mourning beams » after the death of Henry III.

To continue with the story of these particular frames, the Amboise room is just the place for you. This time, they’re red, thanks to a stain obtained from ox blood.

Take a tour of the small Musée du Veneur. 30 rooms are available to you with the sole aim of honoring the artisans devoted to hunting with hounds. You’ll notice that some of the walls are adorned with Hermès® squares, whose original motifs adorned the horses’ saddles.

Musee du Veneur

The many saddles on display at the Musée du Veneur – Photo credit: Facebook – Château de Montpoupon

If you don’t have much time or energy left, take the forest walk. Otherwise, get back on your bike to reach Chenonceaux.

Fougères-sur-Bièvre Castle

All that remains of the original 10th-century building is the keep. The English and the Hundred Years’ War were again to blame. We owe the château to Pierre de Refuge, advisor to Prince Charles d’Orléans and treasurer to Louis XI.

Refuge turned the building into a veritable fortress of military architecture, and it was ultimately his grandson who gave it its Renaissance style. He enlarged the gates, filled in the moat and, above all, removed the drawbridge.

Chateau Fougères sur Bièvres

Château de Fougères-sur-Bièvres – Photo credit: Shutterstock – Evannovostro

The Château de Fougères-sur-Bièvres shines in its sobriety, yet retains a certain charm. As soon as you arrive, you’ll be overwhelmed by the multitude of main buildings and sculpted pediments. In fact, there’s a reference to Normandy lurking in the background. You’ll see the effigy of Saint-Michel fighting the dragon.

Montage Fougères

Left: the Château’s inner courtyard | Right: carved door pediment – Photo credit: Facebook – Château de Fougères-sur-Bièvre

The interior still retains its military influences. Unlike your other visits, there is no furniture to fully immerse you in the Renaissance atmosphere or that of the owners. However, there are plenty of explanatory panels along the way, giving you all the information you need to understand the place.

Legs must be heavy and thighs bruised. A final effort to swallow the ten kilometers or so that separate you from Chaumont-sur-Loire to get a well-deserved rest.

Day 4: Chaumont-sur-Loire to Chambord

  • Distance covered: 38.9 km
  • Departure point: Chaumont-sur-Loire
  • Arrival city: Chambord
  • Places to visit: Château de Beauregard and Château de Villesavin

You’ve already been riding the roads of the Val-de-Loire for 3 days. The days and kilometers have flown by, and now you’re ready for the final stage.

Château de Beauregard

According to old plans, the first building was a manor house that we owe to Lord François Doulcet. However, for having swindled the royal family during the Italian campaigns, the châtelain had his property confiscated, and it went directly to the King of France.

François I used it from time to time between hunting parties, and eventually bequeathed the building to his uncle René de Savoie. He died tragically during the defeat at Pavia, but his wife retained possession of the château.

Less than 20 years later, Jean du Thier, King Henri II’s finance minister, bought the château for 2,000 écus. He then undertook major renovations to bring the château into the upper echelons of society. A gallery and a wing set at right angles were added, giving it a distinctly Italian air. At the time, it was already considered one of the most prestigious buildings in France.

chateau de beauregard

View of the Château de Beauregard – Photo credit: Facebook – Chateaux de la loire .fr

But it’s most famous for what’s inside. Paul Ardier, minister under Louis XIII, decided to treat himself to the château as a retirement gift. He and his descendants took it upon themselves to magnify the walls with delicate oak panelling and paint the ceilings with lapis lazulis.

They also managed to collect 327 portraits, which they stored all along the Galerie des Illustres. It’s up to you to guess who’s had their portrait taken! After seeing all this, a thought comes to mind. After all, you could call this château « Beauregard le bien-nommé »!

Galerie des Illustres

Galerie des Illustres – Photo credit: Facebook – Blois – Chambord

Just one more pedal to the Château de Villesavin. And after all you’ve done, that’s not much!

Château de Villesavin

As the jewel in the crown of the Châteaux de la Loire is rising from the ground, an outpost is needed to monitor progress. That’s why the building in Villesavin is called « La Cabane du chantier de Chambord ».

chateau de Villesavin

View of the Château de Villesavin – Photo credit: Facebook – Blois – Chambord

Its square-shaped pavilions are immediately striking. Unusual for its time, it was a pioneer in its field. Head straight for the chapel, the most beautiful part of the building. It’s a work of art in its own right! Its ceiling is covered with fleshy cherubs holding all the instruments of Christ’s passion.

Chapelle Villesavin

The cherubs in the chapel – Photo credit: Facebook – Château de Villesavin

Like Château de Montpoupon, the building also houses a small museum. Its collection focuses on the theme of marriage from the 1850s to the 1950s. Wander among the wax mannequins dressed in period costume and discover all the important stages of the life-changing event.

Musée Mariage

One of the many porcelain dolls in the Musée du Mariage – Photo credit: Facebook – Château de Villesavin

The tour ends in the Hall of Globes, with over 350 wedding crowns inside. Note the composition of the ornaments. Oak leaves, for example, symbolize the couple’s longevity, ivy their attachment…

The tour of the lesser-known Châteaux de la Loire is drawing to a close. However, like the cyclists arriving on the Champs-Elysées, you can finish on a high note by reaching Chambord. Admittedly, this would be an infidelity to the 8 buildings you’ve seen over the last few days…

Whatever your choice, the main thing is that you now know that other nuggets exist. Now all you have to do is go out and spread the word.