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A château (plural châteaux - French for castle) is a manor house or residence of the lord of the manor or a country house of gentry. This word is often used to refer to a residence of a member of the French royalty or the nobility (for example, the château of the Louvre or the château of the Luxembourg).

The chateaux of France's Loire Valley represent a nation of builders starting with the necessary castle fortifications in the nine hundreds to the splendor of those built a thousand years later. When the French kings began constructing their huge chateaux here, the nobility, not wanting or even daring to be far from the seat of power, followed suit. Their presence in the lush, fertile valley with its moderate climate, began attracting the very best landscape designers. Before long, and to this day, it is known as the "Garden of France".

By the middle of the 15th century, King Francois I, had shifted the center of power in France from the Loire back to the ancient capital of Paris. With him went the great architects but the Loire Valley continued to be the place where most of the French royalty preferred to spend the bulk of their time. The ascension of King Louis XIV in the middle of the 17th century permanently made Paris the permanent site for great royal chateaux when he built the Palace of Versailles. Nonetheless, those who gained the king's favour and the wealthy bourgeoisie, continued to renovate existing chateaux or build lavish new ones as their summer residence in the Loire.

The French Revolution saw a number of the great French chateaux destroyed and many ransacked, their treasures stolen. The overnight impoverishment of many of the deposed nobility, usually after one of its members lost their head to the guillotine, saw many chateaux demolished.

Today, these privately owned chateaux serve as homes, a few opening their doors to tourist visits, while others are operated as hotels or bed and breakfasts. Many have been taken over by a local government authority or the giant structures like those at Chambord are owned and operated by the national government and are major tourist sites, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

The Loire Valley (Val de Loire) is home to more than 300 chateaux. Some of the most spectacular chateaux of France are:

See also List of castles


There are many estates with true châteaux on them in Bordeaux, but it is customary for any wine-producing estate, no matter how humble, to prefix its name with "Château". This is true whether the building itself is a magnificent palace or a shack.

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