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If there is one place that does the festive season right, it’s the Loire Valley of France. Here’s a quick rundown of how Christmas in the Loire Valley chateaux is celebrated.
Christmas in the Loire Valley chateaux
There are two ways you could look at spending Christmas visiting Loire Valley chateaus. One, it will absolutely ruin your festive holiday because as you wander through all the splendour it becomes sadly clear to you that you will never be a King of France or even a Duke of Orléans and have a fabulous French castle all to yourself.
The hopeful way of visiting the Loire Valley during the holidays
The other way of spending Christmas in the Loire Valley is to delude yourself that by working hard, drinking lots of Saumer wine from the Loire Valley region and wearing Renaissance outfits while out buying baguettes at your local boulangerie, you will magically be granted at the very least, a knighthood, and at best, a dukedom with a grand chateau of your own.
I prefer that option.
There’s another option for spending Christmas visiting Loire Valley chateaux
The other option is to visit the top chateaux of France, ooh and awe over their lavish holiday decorations and imagine yourself to be living there during a time when there were endless balls, court festivities and feasts.
So let’s do that right now. Here’s a quick recap of our whirlwind Christmas in the Loire Valley Chateaux, part of my Festive France blogger trip.
Five chateaux of the Loire Valley to visit
After flying Air France to Paris (did you know you can get a free stopover in Paris if you fly to another city in France?), we hopped on a train then visited five French chateaux in the Loire Valley in two and a half days (yes, I am a little fatigued, thanks for asking), and after every single chateau I thought we should quit while we were ahead because there was no way the next one could be as spectacular. And then it was.
Because just like a Christmas snowflake (a really ostentatious snowflake), each chateau has its own particular grace, magnificence and charm.
First stop, the Chateau de Meung-sur-Loire
A French chateau with imagination
Chateau de Meung-sur-Loire not far from the city of Orleans is a dangerous place at Christmas. You are very likely to run into a wolf or a reindeer in the drawing room, because for the holidays this entire Loire Valley chateau has been taken over by wild beasts wearing medieval finery.
The Chateau de Meung-sur-Loire is popular with locals, which is why it’s so fun to visit – because there are all these handsome Frenchmen, er, Frenchwolves hanging about.
They’re er, positively foxy, especially if you like your dates to sport antlers, furry noses and military uniforms.
Next up, the Domaine de Chambord
One of the most visited chateaus in the Loire Valley is the magnificent Domaine de Chambord. Surrounded by forest, it’s the largest of all the Loire Valley chateaus.
The Domaine de Chambord at Christmas time
The immense Chateau de Chambord is more like a monument than a lived-in home, though personally I could easily make myself comfy here. It was built for King Francois I in the 16th century though he rarely spent time here.
A Gothic-inspired masterpiece
In addition to experiencing the sheer magnificence of the chateau, with its famous double-spiralled staircase, towers, turrets and endless carvings of the salamander, which was the emblem of Francois I, one of the best ways to experience Christmas at the Domaine de Chambord is to visit the Biscuiterie de Chambord, a cookie store on the castle grounds.
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A Loire Valley Christmas involves sugar
What? You think chateau visits should be all about dates and history instead of cookies? What kind of festivities are you planning?
I’ll have you know I had to sample at least 12 different kinds of famous local biscuits along with my partner in crime, travel blogger Rachel LaTour from Decouverte Monde and our trusty PR guide, driver and organizer, Vanessa Treney from the Tourism Centre Loire Valle, and it was a lot of work.
So you visit chateaux your way, I’ll visit them mine.
Now on to the Chateau de Cheverny
A chateau with warmth
Chateau de Cheverny has a homier feel than the Domain de Chambord, probably because it’s one of the few grand chateaus in the Loire Valley privately owned and lived in.
It’s also the home of Tintin and Captain Haddock, who, in the Adventures of Tintin, live in Marlinspike Hall, which is modelled after the one and only Chateau de Cheverny.
What to wear at a grand chateau in France
Another reason I like Chateau de Cheverny is because it takes the guesswork out of what to wear for Christmas dinner. You simply wear your Christmas tree. France is so fashion forward, don’t you think?
Chateau de Chenonceau
One of the mightiest chateaus of all is at the same time the most feminine, home to many a forceful noblewoman such as Catherine de Medici and Diane de Poitiers.
The floral atelier at Chateau de Chenonceau does Christmas right
The Chateau de Chenonceau takes its flower arranging and holiday decorations seriously. In fact it’s the only chateau with its own floral atelier and each room is more gasp-worthy than the next.
Rooms of splendour
From the long galleries to the richly-decorated bedrooms lined with tapestries and Nordic-inspired Christmas decor, your head will be swivelling around like an owl on steroids, and I can just imagine the castle in the summer when the blooms are in full force.
Royal Chateau d’Amboise
Our Christmas in the Loire Valley chateaus ended with the fairytale-like Chateau d’Amboise, another home of King Francois I.
Christmas events at Chateau d’Amboise
At Chateau d’Amboise, after trying my hand at making a marzipan Santa Claus (I accidentally gave him a white hat) and failing miserably at Renaissance dancing, I spent as much time as possible hanging around the castle interior enjoying the Christmas spirit, and not just because I was suffused with the feeling of holiday goodwill, but because it was raining outside and I was trying to stay warm.
Christmas nativity scene at the Chateau d’Amboise
This gave me time to take a good long look at the castle’s marvellous nativity scene. All the terracotta pieces come from Naples which, I learned, is the centre for artisanal Christmas figurines. Who knew? You can really learn a lot in a French chateau, even if it’s not always about France.
Speaking of things that are not always about France, the very famous Italian painter, Leonardo da Vinci, is buried at the Royal Chateau d’Amboise, and somehow when I visited his tomb, I imagined he was sharing the spirit of a Loire Valley Christmas right along with us. And I just hope you do, too.
Thanks to Atout France for organizing this trip, as well as partners RailEurope, Air France and MyWebSpot, which helped keep me connected along the way.