Chambord, Chaumont and Chenonceau are the three most-visited châteaux in the Loire, but the French themselves love the lesser-known “les petits châteaux” for their intimacy, beauty and the stories they have to tell. Here are five of our favorites.
A hunting manor that belonged to King Francis I was later transformed into a château by its successive occupants. Its most remarkable feature is the Portraits Gallery. Paul Ardier, King Louis XIII’s state treasurer, owned Beauregard from 1619 to 1638 and devoted the last years of his life to this project. The collection narrates 315 years of French and European history through 327 portraits of people who were the principal characters of their time. The gallery has a spectacular ceiling inlaid with lapis lazuli.
Château de Beauregard
12 Chemin de la Fontaine, Cellettes
This 16th-century château 20 miles from Blois has a rather racy past, since it was home to the lovers of poets Pierre de Ronsard and Agrippa d’Aubigné. The mistress of Ronsard was Cassandre Salviati, while Agrippa d’Aubigné courted her niece Diane. What makes this château particularly interesting is that the remarkably well-preserved rooms here are not only furnished with pieces by some of the most famous Parisian cabinetmakers, but still feel inhabited, as though the occupants had just stepped out for some air.
Château de Talcy
18 Rue du Château, Talcy
The charming château was built by Jean Le Breton, the secretary of finance under King Francis I, who supervised the construction of the Château de Chambord. Villesavin has preserved its almost perfect condition for four centuries. The richly decorated interiors date from the Renaissance through to the 19th century; the Musée du Mariage houses more than 1,500 objects and costumes from 1850 to 1950, including the contents of the trousseau and the bridal chamber.
Château de Villesavin
This castle is the smallest recognized château of the Loire. Located in Cheverny, it was the life’s work of Louis de la Saussaye, a historian and collector who recovered decorative elements from important monuments of the region. He put them on display here, making the château a public archive of Loire Valley architecture and design. De la Saussaye collected stone sculptures, ornamental carving from façades, painted ceilings, stained-glass windows, staircases and ironwork. The château also has two guest rooms where people can stay the night, plus two cottages for larger groups.
Château de Troussay
12 Route de Troussay, Cheverny
Contrasting with the fanciful architecture of many Loire châteaux, this one has an impregnable appearance with thick walls and three rounded towers with conical slate roofs. Constructed as a manor house in 1030, the property was turned into a miniature fortress in 1470 by Pierre de Refuge, the treasurer of King Louis XI. Around 1510, his grandson added Renaissance-style décor and a covered gallery. At the time of the revolution, the château had been acquired by René Lambot, owner of the neighboring Château de Boissay. He turned the property into a spinning mill, which it remained until 1901.
Château de Fougères-sur-Bièvre
1 Rue Henri Goyer, Fougères-sur-Bièvre