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Château de Chambord, Chambord

France 41250
Tel: 33 2 54 50 40 00's insider take:

François I's 440-room "hunting lodge" is the largest of the Loire châteaux and one of the most extravagant commissions of its age. From the outset of construction in 1519, the original patron's principal objective was to outshine the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, and the results are impressive. The castle's uncompromising design even involved diverting the Cosson River. A highlight of the building is the double helix staircase—thought to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci—which can be climbed by one person and descended by another without the two ever meeting each other. Don't miss the rooftop walk, where you can look down on the parkland below amid a forest of ornate chimney pots.

Information may have changed since the date of publication. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.