The Château du Lude with its beautiful gardens stands on the green banks of the river at the heart of the undiscovered Loir valley. It’s a perfect place to see the different façades and interiors of four centuries of architectural changes.

The Château du Lude has a great history and has been in the same family for some 225 years. Built where the three regions of Maine, Anjou and Touraine meet, Lude was strategically important. The 11th-century castle of the Counts of Anjou played a major defensive role against attacks by the ambitious Normans. It was inevitable that the château was caught up in the constant warfare that plagued the middle ages.

Tower with Renaissance windows and battlements at chateau du lude
Château du Lude © Hubert de Maine/CC-BY-SA 3.0

The Medieval Château du Lude

The château’s medieval beginnings show most obviously in the towers that protected the castle, though Renaissance windows have replaced many of the original arrow slits. Massive military fortifications under the main buildings provided the foundations for the château’s defences.

A New Beginning

Aerial View of the Château du Lude with its towers, walls and courtyard in the Loir Valley
Aerial View of the Château du Lude © Duch.gege/CC-BY-SA 4.0

When the Hundred Years War limped to its end in 1453, everything changed. Now great lords showed off their power and wealth in grand buildings rather than on the battlefield. They competed to outdo each other in the size, opulence and decoration of their new architectural masterpieces.

In 1457 the adventurous soldier-knight Jean de Daillon acquired Lude. He began to rebuild his new property which had been badly damaged in the on-off century old war between the French and the English. This part of the secret Loir valley has found itself one of the main battlegrounds.

Daillon was a lucky man. In the convoluted politics of the age he had supported King Charles VII instead of his son Louis. When Louis became King Louis XI Daillon spent 7 years hiding in a nearby grotto (well that’s the story) before he was forgiven and reinstated.

The Italian Renaissance (and how to out-class the neighbours)

Château du Lude grand reception Renaissance room with huge marble fireplac eon right, decorated woodn ceiling, chandeliers and long gallery
Château du Lude Renaissance Grand Reception

And the Château du Lude was no exception. Grand staircases link the floors. The rooms built for some pretty ostentatious entertaining have wooden parquetry floors, painted ceilings and grand fireplaces.

I found the château sad. It feels rather neglected, like an old dowager who has lost her sparkle.

But there are good things to see. The most impressive room is the library which was added by the Duc de Bouillon in the 19th century for his 2,000 odd books.

And the all-important rooms housing the servants and the kitchens are great fun.

The Upper Upstairs

Château du Lude bare room with wooden floors, a chair and fireplace with washing dishes with Château du Lude on them
Château du Lude washing utensils © Alastair McKenzie

Go behind the scenes and it’s a different story. The nursery and the rooms upstairs for minor friends, children and servants are functional rather than ostentatious. But even here there are a few nice touches. Washing was rudimentary but fancy having jugs and pots inscribed with the name of your property. A touch of luxury to make you feel better?

The Downstairs Bit

Château du Lude Loir Valley kitchens in huge vaulted room with range in middle with pots and pans, copper pans hanging on wall opposite
Château du Lude Kitchens © Alastair McKenzie

I love kitchens and these are impressive, housed in the original medieval basements which you access from the outside. Here the downstairs lot laboured to keep the nobility and their friends well fed. But the food must have been pretty cold by the time it reached the owners and their guests in the rooms above.

How they got around

Château du Lude stables emptyof horses but showing cobbled floors, stalls with wooden dividers
Château du Lude Stables © Mary Anne Evans

Walk around the stables once busy with lads feeding and grooming the horses while other stablemen looked after the carriages that transported their masters from château to château. It all seems very grand, but early coach travel was far from comfortable. Suspension wasn’t introduced until the mid 17th century. Carriages were challenging in bad weather; until the 1680s when glass windows were introduced, all you had to protect your elaborate dress were simple blinds.

18th-century Womanpower

Works on rebuilding the west wing facing the river in the 18th century were carried out by the energetic half-French, half-English Marquise de la Vieuville. She was typical of her time – women were responsible for many grand building works (as well as producing those oh-so-important heirs), while their husbands hunted, wined and dined their friends.

The French Revolution interrupted the work but did no damage to the château. It did however cost her husband, the Marquis, his life. He was guillotined in Rennes in 1795 at the age of 82 which seems a little unfortunate.

The Marquise left the chateau to her daughter who married into the de Talhouët family. Their descendants, the Count and Countess de Nicolaÿ and their children still own and run Lude.  

The Gardens of the Château du Lude

Château du Lude Loir Valley terrace garden fromabove with formal geometric flower beds and gravel paths
Château du Lude Terrace Garden © Alastair McKenzie

The gardens are extensive and a major reason to visit the Château. They stretch out on two levels from the Château in splendid and typical French formal fashion. The upper grand terrace runs along a vista of green lawns, gravel paths and the odd statue. The formal gardens lie on a second level beside the river.

Château du Lude Loir Valley Jardin de la Source with water in background, charming little pavilion beside water and trees and green lawn to right
Château du Lude Jardin de la Source

The small Jardin de la source has a Chinese pavilion; come here in the spring for the hellebores, euphorbias, geraniums and Chinese peonies. Sadly the kitchen garden was shut on our visit.

Garden Events through the year

Château du Lude Loir Valley Rose Garden withpeople among rose trees and green bushes in front of elegant 18th century classical facade
Château du Lude Rose Garden

The best way to enjoy the gardens is the first weekend in June, when the château hosts La Fête des Jardiniers. Or book for one of their Journées Potagères et Gourmandes in the summer/autumn when you can visit the kitchen gardens and watch a cooking demonstration in those fabulous old kitchens. In 2021 it’s on October 31.

Château du Lude
4 Rue Jehan de Daillon
72800 Le Lude
Tel: +33 (0)2 43 94 60 09
Open Open: May & Jun: daily 11am-12.30pm & 2.30-6pm; Jul-Aug 22: daily 10.30am-12.30pm & 2pm-6pm; Aug 23-Sep 30: 11am-12.30pm & 2.30pm-6pm; Oct 1-17, 31: 2.30-5.30pm
Admission Château & gardens: Adult €11; child 7-15 years €6; Garden only: Adult €7; child €5

How to get there and more information

We took the DFDS ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe. It was a 321 km/200 mile drive taking around 3 hrs 5 mins. The Château du Lude is the Sarthe department in the Pays de la Loire region.

More about Ferries to France from the UK.

We were on a self-driving press trip organised by the Vallée du Loir tourist office. The trip also took in Le Mans, slightly to the north east of the Château de Bazouges.

Also check out the Region’s Atlantic Loire Valley Tourism website

More to see in the region and surrounds

This part of the secret Loir Valley has plenty to offer. Check these out:

Medieval Baugé has a great castle (good for children), a former hospital with enough gruesome details to keep everyone happy and a spectacular historic apothecary.

Make a small diversion to see the delightful Château de Bazouges with its family history and lovely gardens.

If you want to see the Loir’s famous cousin, here’s a guide to the complete Loire Valley Tour.

Read more about travel to France at the time of Covid-19 regulations.