Prince Charming need not be so charming if he has one of these legendary estates in his back pocket. Mostly situated in the Loire Valley, these elegant country seats of royalty and their satellites are justifiably some of the most celebrated historic homes in the world.
Chenonceau: Perhaps the most elegant and breathtaking chateau in all of France, this fabled early Renaissance castle in the Loire Valley was once home to the tasteful royal mistress Diane de Poitiers. It was she who oversaw the building of the magnificent arched bridge over the River Cher and the lovely gardens. Other powerful women gracefully shaped the estate, including the iron willed regent Catherine De’Medici, Henry IV’s favorite, Gabrielle D’Estrees and Madame Louise Dupin, who hosted a salon frequented by the leading figures of the Enlightenment.
Chambord: Built as a hunting lodge for the sexy and sly King Francois I (Henry VIII’s rival in lusty living) in the busy, high French Renaissance style, this massive and masculine chateau is perfectly situated on a grand canal and surrounded by woods and a red deer game park. Guests can go on walks in the beautiful forests, attend one of many cultural events and workshops, or interact with the many deer and horses that still call the property home. Don’t miss the grand double helix staircase and the strange roof, which Francois wanted to suggest the skyline of Constantinople.
Chateau d’Usse: This beautiful 15th century castle in the Loire departement was the inspiration for Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty, and later for Disney’s animated royal palaces. With its lovely white towers, high gothic chapel, and formal terrace perfumed by orange trees, the exterior is as magical as it was when Bourbon loyalists would meet here secretly in the early 1800’s. Unfortunately, the interiors are marred by a plethora of creepy, period attired mannequins and rather clunky aesthetics.
Chateau Amboise: Leonardo Da Vinci, who lived out his old age at the nearby Clos Luc at the invitation of the king, is buried in this lovely 11th century stronghold’s gothic chapel. The idyllic childhood home of Francois I and Mary Queen of Scots- the chateau towers over the picturesque town of Amboise, and offers amazing views of the town and the adjacent River Loire. It has served as a prison, housed the exiled Emir Abd Al-Qadir and disgraced minister Nicolas Fouquet and was extensively damaged and demolished by French revolutionaries, Napoleon’s engineers and the Germans in World War II.
Chateau de Chantilly: This estate in the town of Chantilly was owned for centuries by the aristocratic Montmorency family and then the royal Grand Conde’s. The grounds feature extensive water works and cascades, a rustic faux village which inspired Marie Antoinette’s at Versailles, a race course, the Grand Chateau( boldly rebuilt- to mixed reviews- in the 1870’s), and the Petit Chateau, built in the 1500’s. The estate boasts one of the most important art collections (second only to the Louvre) in France. Major works include Raphael’s Three Graces, Botticelli’s Autumn, Guercino’s Pieta, and illuminations by the famed Limbourg brothers.