Chinon is a picturesque Loire Valley town situated in the historical region of Anjou, with its castle spread widely across the hill behind a row of attractive house that front the river. Sitting high on a plateau, the huge Chateau de Chinon dominates the town.
After visiting Chinon castle, see also the lovely old town squeezed between the River Vienne and the buttresses of the castle. Chinon was one of our favourite places along the Loire Valley and, whilst small, would make an excellent base for visiting the surrounding castles.
The narrow streets are full of beautiful buildings and in ‘Rue Voltaire’ and ‘Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau’ in particular there are lovely mansions and churches from the Middle Ages that are very well conserved. The houses are a charming mix of stone and half-timber buildings with lots of decorative features amongst them.
Particularly noteworthy are the Hotel du Gouverneur (XVII century), very scenic with its portal, arches and stairs; the States General Palace (XV century) which houses the Museum of Local History; the ‘Red House’ (XIII century); and the ‘Palais du Bailliage’ [Palace of the Bailiff].
The governors of the town were once housed in the castle but this became quite run down in the 17th century and they refurbished and moved into the Hôtel du Gouverneur. The house has a lovely double staircase and wrought iron balustrade leading from a small courtyard which was the entrance for carriages to the property.
The 15th century house in the photo above was once joined to the Palais du Bailliage which served as law court and council meeting place for the town. It no longer exists.
Among the churches, those worthy of note are the Church of St. Etienne (fifteenth century, of Gothic style); the Collegiate Church of St. Mexme (eleventh century) and the Saint Radegonde Chapel, (thirteenth century) of Romanesque style. There is a lovely fresco of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her son King John of England in the Chapel of Saint Radegonde.
According to tradition, Queen Radegonde (520-586), the wife of King Clotaire I (died 561), turned to a hermit, Saint John, who lived here to seek guidance on the construction of the monastery of Sainte Croix at Poitiers. The hermit's cell was later converted into a chapel.
As well as the lovely streets and buildings of Chinon it is its riverside setting and the sight of the fortress stretching along the top of the hill above the town that add to its charm. The fortress is made up of 3 castles which are in various states of disrepair though still worth a visit and the views from the castle are fabulous.
You could conclude your visit at the famous ‘caves’ i.e. the ‘Cellar’ made famous by Rabelais, and today managed by local vine-cultivators. The wine production is important locally and the vineyards stretch themselves out as far as the eye can see on the banks of the River Vienne, producing the famous ‘Cabernet’, which goes well with meat (hare and wild boar) and cheeses.
Rabelais, the great French author, physician, monk and humanist that wrote 'Gargantua and Pantagruel' about the adventures of two giants, is thought to have been born near to Chinon in 1494.
Places to visit nearby
The Chateau d'Ussé and the Chateau d'Azay le Rideau are both much more romantic in style than the fortress-castle of Chinon and make for a nice contrast for a visit. Chinon makes a good base for visiting the Loire but if you are looking for something bigger the nearby town of Saumur is also very nice.