The Loire en Famille
Recently, we toured the Loire Valley. I enjoyed that many of the castles tailored their activities around welcoming families with children. This is a great way to engage the kids and teach them some history at the same time. Here are a couple of my favorite places from our trip.
Château de Cheverny
This beautifully majestic and symmetrical castle has a Renaissance and classical feel. Unlike other castles in the region, it is completely furnished with pieces dating back to the period of Louis XIII. The comic-book creator Hergé used Cheverny as a model for his fictional château de Moulinsart (Marlinspike Hall in English) in The Adventures of Tintin, and presently, there is an exhibition about this on the property. Cheverny also houses hunting dogs, and you can watch them being fed and learn about their training—fascinating for any child who loves dogs.
The tour of Cheverny has three parts: the castle, the Tintin exhibition and an electric-car and boat tour of the grounds. Depending on how much time you have, you can do all three parts of the tour or just one or two.
There are numerous restaurants in town, as well as tables near the parking area where one can enjoy a picnic. This was super for us, as we preferred to carry our own lunch. Bringing lunch helps us keep our travel budget in line.
We started our exploration inside the castle with a self-guided tour. In addition to the tour map, the kids were also handed a search-and-find word puzzle guide. In each room, they had to answer multiple-choice questions, which meant counting items in a room, identifying objects or reading a document. They were thoroughly engaged in this game of learning, and when they finished their puzzle, it instructed them to head over to the Tintin exhibition to collect a prize.
After they received their reward, we explored Tintin’s world. The exhibition was fascinating, with life-sized toys re-creating Tintin’s adventures. The kids loved it. I loved the gallery of photos that compared the fictional characters with their real-life inspirations!
The grounds surrounding Château de Cheverny are beautiful and immense, containing forest and waterways. The electric-car and boat tour is a wonderful, peaceful and relaxing way to appreciate both the size and history of the grounds while you also soak in the outdoors. The girls enjoyed their afternoon, and as a parent, it was great to see a 5-, an 8- and an 11-year-old engaged and thrilled to be exploring such an interesting place.
Château du Clos Lucé
We spent another afternoon at Château du Close Lucé. This beautiful and unique building was constructed of pink brick and white stone during the time of Louis XI, so it looks very different from many of the other castles in the area. By 1500 it became a royal residence, and over the years housed many notable figures. One of the most interesting residents was Leonardo da Vinci. In 1516, at the invitation of François I, he left Italy and came to France. Château du Clos Lucé is located next to the royal palace at Amboise.
Today, Château du Clos Lucé has been restored to look the way it did when da Vinci lived in it, and it still contains furnishings used by him. Tours are self-guided, and children are given a booklet (available in English and French). The castle is interesting, and the kids were engaged by their booklet, which had them identify various items in each room. In the basement, miniature displays demonstrated many of da Vinci’s ideas and inventions. It’s fascinating to see what modern inventions were thought of by this man.
Surrounding the château is Leonardo da Vinci Park, an area dedicated to the Tuscan genius. It offers life-sized reconstructions of 40 of his machines, a video of his life, drawings, paintings and scenes depicting his scientific interests. This Renaissance man was far ahead of his time with his vision and ideas. The kids had loads of fun trying out many of the machines—all kid-friendly and workable. And the playground located in the park is also a great place to spend some time.
The Loire Valley was fun and easy to explore as a family—even my kids had a hard time picking a favorite castle, as they were engaged and intrigued by so many of them. We are looking forward to returning and enjoying more of what this area has to offer.
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