Standing on an island in the middle of the Indre River, about 15 miles (24 km) southwest of Tours, lies one of the finest châteaux of the Loire Valley: the Château Azay-le-Rideau.
A Brief History of the Château Azay le Rideau
Château Azay-le-Rideau was built during the reign of King François I by a rich financier, Gilles Berthelot, who wanted his fabulous new home to have all the technical innovations of his time and the allure of French Castle.
Château Azay le Rideau had a very turbulent history. The current castle sits on the site of a former medieval fortress built in the 12th century by seigneur Ridel (or Rideau) d’Azay, a knight in the service of Philip II Augustus. The fortress was erected here to protect the road from Tours to Chinon.
During the Armagnac–Burgundian Civil War the original castle fell victim to a dispute between the two political groups who burned it to the ground. The fortification remained in ruins till the mid 1500s, when Gilles Berthelot, Mayor of Tours, acquired it.
Berthelot wanted the building to reflect his wealth and status. He built the château in an Italian renaissance style, but added some medieval elements – like the bastion corners and the turrets – which were a symbol of prestige.
The building process was slow and tedious. The ground was so damp, that the builders had to drive stilts into the mud in order to build the château.
A Never-Ending Construction
Unfortunately, Berthelot was never able to finis his dream castle. Amid betrayal and unfortunate circumstances he was forced to flee the country and go into exile, where he died a few years later.
Francis I of France confiscated the unfinished château and gave it to Antoine Raffin, one of his knights. Raffin attempted some minor renovations, but never completed the project either.
Out of the entire building plan, the only parts ever built were the south and the west wings. Hence the distinctive L-shape of the château.
Over the centuries, the castle changed hands many times and even came close to burning to the ground again. In the 19th century, the turrets were added at the corners of the chateau to create the illusion of a completed castle.
What to Expect at Chateau Azay le Rideau
Despite being unfinished, the château doesn’t seem to be missing anything: the structure is perfectly symmetrical. Its elegant turrets, perfectly proportioned windows, delicate stonework and steep slate roofs are very pleasing to the eye.
The famous, Italian-style loggia staircase overlooking the central courtyard is decorated with salamanders and ermines, symbols of King François I and Queen Claude.
Unlike other water castles which are surrounded by water filled moats, Château Azay le Rideau was actually built on a small island in the middle of the Indre River. So the water that you see around the castle is not actually a moat, but the river waters.
The lovely English-style gardens are well worth a walk around. There are many examples of ‘world trees’ offering shade from the hot summer’s sun.
The interior of the chateau is equally charming. The decor was created by the Marquis Charles de Biencourt (who bought the château after the Revolution). All the rooms are furnished in a variety of period styles, mostly from the 19th century.
With its great living room and extraordinary fireplace, the castle’s furniture tries to recreate the luxury and cozy atmosphere of the Biencourt family. Don’t miss the wood paneling, painted ceilings and curtains.
Château Azay le Rideau is neither grandiose, nor historically important. Yet, it’s one of the most beautiful and romantic castles in the Loire Valley and a perfect example of the elegance of the Renaissance era.
Practical Information for Visiting the Castle
We visited the château on a self-guided tour. The château offers a one-hour free guided tour in French. Also, audioguides are available in five languages.
There are several guided tours which you can book online. There is one which includes Azay Le Rideau, Langeais and Villandry castles. You can also reserve your ticket online, to skip the lines.
Where to Eat Around Azay le Rideau
There are quite a few nice place to eat within a few hundred meters of the château, in the attractive, stone-built village centre of Azay Le Rideau.
If you are looking for some low budget restaurants, try La Fringale, or Brasserie Des Halles. These are both very decent places where you can have burgers, pizzas, soups and salads, at very affordable prices.
L’Aigle d’Or serves a 3-course lunch for €33 in a nice and relaxed garden setting. The food was very tasty and beautifully presented.
If you are looking for fine dining in a beautiful setting, Auberge Pom’poire has you covered. The restaurant is tucked up off a small country road along the orchards. The menu changes with the seasons and includes many vegetarian and even vegan dishes.
Azay-le-Rideau is 26km southwest of Tours. If you are coming by train from Tours, the train station is just 2.5km west of the château.
October to March : 10 am to 5:00 pm
April to June and in September : 9:30 am to 6 pm
July and August : 9:30 am to 7 pm
Last admission: 1h before closing
The Château is closed on January 1, May 1 and December 25
Adult rate: €11.50
Children less than 18 get free admission (with family)
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