Traveling through Europe means one thing to a lot of people: Castles. Castles and country homes are the biggest draws in Europe (especially for American travelers), for a multitude of reasons.
They are mysterious and old, with centuries of history — from their time as fortresses to when they became symbols of social status as country homes fit for kings and queens.
Britain may lay claim to the most famous castles, while the Czech Republic actually has the most castles per capita. But it is in France where castles live as symbols of a unique past — representing royalty while also surviving as functional epicenters of tourism, farms, and architectural wonders.
These incredible chateaux hold a distinct beauty — balancing functionality with aesthetics including unique architectural touches and beautifully manicured grounds.
One of the smaller castles on this list, Château Azay-le-Rideau is located in the Loire Valley and was built in the 1500s during the reign of King Louis the 1st.
Widely regarded as a pristine example of early French Renaissance architecture, the castle has gone through many renovations to maintain its historic look.
One of the unique things about this chateau is the reflector pond, which, when seen at night, lights up in multiple colors, creating a fairy-world kind of atmosphere. Night tours of the castle highlight this special view.
No exploration of the castles of France would be complete without this quintessential palace — the inspiration for “Sleeping Beauty” — and it’s easy to see why.
Author Charles Perrault is reputed to have written the classic “Sleeping Beauty” fairy tale while on a stay in this picturesque castle. Furthermore, Chateau d’Usse was one of the main inspirations for the castle at the center of Disneyland.
Nestled among delectable fairytale-like grounds, explorations of the castle will make you feel as though you are in your own Once Upon a Time. The castle takes its legacy in stride, and rooms in the castle are set up to reflect the story of “Sleeping Beauty.”
Da Vinci used to spend many vacations here during the reign of King François I, as his personal guest. In fact, the prolific painter and inventor spent his last days here.
Today the castle celebrates da Vinci’s legacy, offering tours of the castle, and the extensive grounds, where some of da Vinci’s own inventions have been replicated from his illustrations.
The castle has a sprawling history spanning several centuries, including spectacular tales of intrigue, royal scandal and romance.
A visit here is to be among the picture of pure luxury and elegance. Notable for being largely conceived and constructed by women over the centuries, the Château Chenonceau as it currently stands was designed in 1513.
The castle is decorated with priceless artwork and opulent furnishings. Today you can stay in the luxurious rooms, enjoy garden strolls, gourmet meals and rub shoulders with the fabulous ghosts who centuries earlier called this beautiful chateau home.
Château de Villandry
The gardens at Château de Villandry are the main draw for many travelers. They were designed in the 1600s by Jean Le Breton, who was inspired by the fashionable geometric garden designs of Britain at the time.
Today the gardens are available for explorations and private events — the perfect way to spend an afternoon in the idyllic Loire Valley countryside!
While the gardens are truly the star of a visit to Villandry, the building itself deserves almost just as much notice. Originally a fortress, when Jean Le Breton acquired ownership in the 1500s he began the process, which would continue into the later centuries, of turning the building into a home.
Read reviews of more Road Scholar learning adventures in France at Stride.com, the world’s largest search and reviews site for tours and adventure trips.