Château de Chambord in the Loire Valley of France is one of the most famous châteaux in the world, featuring French Renaissance and medieval architecture. This post offers a photo tour of Chambord, info about the chateau, and my tips for making the most of the experience.
During our visit, the gardens of Chateau de Chambord were being refurbished, and were closed to the general public. While plenty of outdoor space was still open, the refurbishment work was clear (as was destruction from flooding), and closed off some of the prettiest areas (at least per photos we saw).
The good news is that as of Summer 2017, the gardens of Chateau de Chambord have reopened to the public after a major renovation! This restoration project was the culmination of over 14 years of historical research and public and private investment of 3.5 million euros (around $3.9 million). From what we’ve seen, Chateau de Chambord is looking better than ever!
Okay, let’s backtrack a bit with some historical context. Chambord is the largest château in the Loire Valley. This is despite the fact that it was never completed, after King Francis I of France began construction on it.
He built Chambord to serve as a hunting lodge where he would entertain guests while maintaining his royal residences at the châteaux of Blois and Amboise.
Attribution of the original Renaissance design of the Château de Chambord is contested: some scholars believe the design was principally done by Domenico da Cortona, but it is also widely believed that Leonardo da Vinci (or at least his designs) was involved with certain elements, including its famed spiral stairs.
There are many unknowns about Château de Chambord, and that’s in large part because its design was in flux during the 28 years of its construction, from 1519 until 1547. Significant portions of Château de Chambord’s history pertain to the French Revolution.
During that tumultuous time, many of the furnishings were sold and timber was removed from the building, while it was left abandoned.
Chambord’s interactive displays detail this period during its history, and how members of the royal family who had never even seen Chambord in person still pined for it.
These displays also detail over time periods, including restoration attempts in the 19th century.
They further cover World War II, during which the collections of the Louvre and the Château de Compiègne were moved to the Château de Chambord for safekeeping.
These interactive displays are particularly engaging because they are not just telling the story of Château de Chambord itself, but also French royalty, the French Revolution, and other periods in France’s history, and how each of these various historical threads intersected with Château de Chambord.
The stories told are fascinating, which makes the ‘museum’ side of Château de Chambord much more captivating.
This leads to my first tip, which is to allow ample time to tour Château de Chambord.
While you might be tempted to blow through so you can hit as many spots in the Loire Valley as possible, Château de Chambord is an experience that will be far more rewarding if you devote at least 2 (I’d recommend at least 3, ideally) hours to it.
Many of the rooms themselves in Château de Chambord are not altogether impressive (much of the space is empty), but the displays are dense with information, and it’s an incredible learning experience. Moreover, the items that are on display are quite cool.
Unlike other locations—Versailles, for example—that are a sensory overload thanks to their impressive and numerous works of art that adorn the building, Château de Chambord is impressive for the structure’s architecture, and general design.
It is known as “The Versailles of the 16th Century,” but I don’t think that’s totally apt when it comes to the rooms.
I would not say this makes it better or worse than a place like Versailles, just different. (And different is good, as variety makes each spot you visit in France more compelling.)
In terms of planning your visit to Château de Chambord, there are a few other things to know. The chateau has seasonal hours, opening earlier and staying open later during heavier seasons (e.g., summer). You can find its hours here.
Additionally, Château de Chambord charges both for entrance and for parking; we found the latter charge to be uncommon for other spots in Loire Valley. Pricing info is available on the Château de Chambord official website. This was one of the more expensive places that we visited in Loire Valley (thanks to the parking charge), but the difference was negligible.
Château de Chambord is supposedly the most-visited tourist spot in the Loire Valley, with 700,000+ visitors per year.
Despite this, I’m not necessarily sure you need to adopt any particular strategy here to beat the crowds.
This chateau is located on a huge parcel of land, and the building itself is essentially a sprawling complex. Presumably, you will be visiting multiple tourist hot-spots in Loire Valley.
Of the chateaux we’ve visited, we felt that Château de Chambord did the best job of absorbing crowds.
It has numerous interior rooms, many of which are large, plus expansive outdoor crowds. Even on a busy day, Château de Chambord is going to “feel” less crowded than many other spots in Loire Valley.
As such, my recommendation would be to visit at your convenience.
If you’re into photography, there are a few things you should know about Château de Chambord. First, it is presently undergoing a multi-year exterior refurbishment that impacts the front (as you’re approaching it) of the building.
The entrance is unobstructed, and I think is just as photogenic. I would not let the refurbishment impact your decision to visit.
Second, Château de Chambord has some exterior grounds that are accessible without purchasing a ticket (the above photo should be possible without purchasing a ticket).
Presumably (and I did not test this, so I can’t confirm definitively) these areas are accessible for sunrise and sunset, both of which fall outside the operational hours of Château de Chambord.
Overall, I cannot recommend Château de Chambord highly enough. The experience was educational and fun, and the duration of the experience made our value per hour worth the price of admission. I also found this to be very photogenic outside, with additional photo-worthy spots inside, and from the open-air upper terraces. While we have yet to experience everything Loire Valley has to offer, as of right now, I’d put this near the top of our must-dos for the region.
Planning your own trip to France? Check out our France posts, which cover a variety of places, from Normandy to the Loire Valley. In addition to these posts, I recommend planning with the Rick Steves France and Loire Valley Eyewitness guidebooks.
Have you visited Château de Chambord? What did you think of the experience? Any tips or thoughts to add? If you haven’t visited, is this a spot that is on your travel bucket list? Questions? Share any thoughts you have in the comments!