Chateau de Chenonceau
Built on the site of an old mill on the River Cher, Chenonceau was disassembled, torched, demolished and rebuilt successively from the 11th century until 1513. It's most known for the arched bridge at its base joining the château to the river's opposite bank.
A couple of centuries of crumbling disrepair was finally addressed right after World War II by the current owners (the family Menier, heirs to a chocolate-making fortune). Other than the Royal Palace of Versailles, it is the most visited château in France.
The village of Amboise is anchored by the grand Château Amboise, along the river Loire, just 20 minutes from Tours.
In recent times, the château Amboise has been partially restored and preserved, but has never returned to its 16th century glory, when Leonardo Da Vinci and Italian craftsmen lived on the grounds, building to the specifications of then King Francis I.
It's the only castle still owned by heirs to the French throne.
Chateau de Chambord
Chambord is the biggest Loire castle, yet was only built as a hunting lodge for King Francois I. It's been suggested, but not proven, Da Vinci had a hand in its design, but it's attributed to Phillipe Delorme.
Unique architectural features such as the minaret-like spires and grand double helix staircase add to its distinction. Onsite is the Museum of Nature and Hunting, and an especially rare collection of tapestries.
Chateau de Cheverny
Designed by the same architect who created Blois, Cheverny has stayed in the Count of Cheverny's family almost continually since it was built in the 16th century.
Intact interiors and priceless antiques are a must-see, but the famed hunting dog kennels on the grounds are the biggest draw, open for public viewing right next to the extensive kitchen gardens.