Granted, it can be hard to tear yourself away from the history and grandeur of the Loire Valley’s stunning chateaux, however this diverse region has countless museums and galleries to offer curious visitors. Here we reveal 11 of the Loire Valley’s top museums; from magicians and five-headed dragons hiding out in bourgeois mansions, and long-forgotten crafts on display in monks’ dorms to architectural wonders awaiting in a former military base!
Located on a former military base in Orléans, FRAC Centre’s art museum combines contemporary art and experimental architecture from the 1950s to the present day. The project has received international recognition and the centre’s collection now comprises some 600 works, 800 architectural models and more than 15,000 drawings, as well as numerous architectural collections – plus the building itself is spectacular!
Musée de la Marine de Loire
Throughout history, the Loire has always been enormously important to France – both for trading and transport. Châteauneuf-sur-Loire’s marine museum tells the story of the people who helped it become the most important river in the country; from the sailors and bargemen to the traders. Spread across three levels, it covers antiquity to the 19th century, retracing life on the Loire through a collection of fascinating documents, photographs and objects.
Maison de la Magie
Awaiting you in a grand 19th-century bourgeois house in front of the Royal Castle of Blois, the bizarre House of Magic is the only one of its kind in Europe. An infamous six-headed dragon welcomes you to this strange house of curiosities. An exhibition that spans five floors, as well as countless optical illusions and magic performances, take your through the history of magic and the life and work of Robert-Houdin. This one will keep the kids entertained all afternoon… and you!
The Foundation of Doubt
Located in a former nunnery in beautiful Blois, The Foundation of Doubt is a contemporary art space dedicated to the 1960s Fluxus art movement – it is the only gallery of its type in Europe. The playful set-up is worlds away from the hush-hush museums and galleries of Paris, encouraging people to interact and question art.
The Foundation of Doubt, 14 Rue de la Paix, Blois, France, +33 254 55 37 45
Musée du Compagnonnage
Located in Tours, this museum is housed in the outbuildings of a former Benedictine abbey. The main exhibition hall was once the monks’ dormitory. Today, this unique museum is dedicated to the skilled craftsmen and women of the area. It showcases hundreds of items and pays homage to an enormous variety of crafts in every imaginable material. It also displays a nice collection of old photographs and an intriguing collection of over 300 tools.
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Orléans
Founded during the French Revolution, this popular museum has an impressive permanent collection comprising 2000 paintings, 700 sculptures and 10,000 drawings… not to mention its 50,000 prints. Focusing on European arts from the 15th to the 20th centuries, it boasts a particularly strong selection of Italian, Flemish and Dutch paintings as well as one of France’s largest pastel collections – second only to The Louvre. Its painting collections showcase the likes of Paul Gauguin and Pablo Picasso.
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Orléans, 1 Rue Fernand Rabier, Orléans, France, +33 238 79 21 83
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Tours
Residing in a bishop’s former abode, this museum and gallery certainly makes an impact upon arrival, with an unmissable stuffed elephant waiting to greet you. Inside is a great selection of sculptures, ceramics, drawings and paintings, including the likes of Degas and Monet. Make sure you pay attention to the enormous cedar tree in the courtyard, allegedly one of the country’s finest.
Musée des Beaux-Arts de Tours, 18 Place François Sicard, Tours, France, +33 247 05 68 73
Musée des Emaux de Briare
You could spend all day exploring Briare’s flower-fringed streets, waterways and famous 19th-century canal aqueduct, but make sure you don’t miss its enamel and mosaic museum. Thanks to Briare’s proximity to Paris and access to the Loire, it quickly became a leading producer of enamel. The museum tells the story of Briare’s famous enamel and showcases centuries of beautiful mosaics, accompanied by old photographs documenting the material’s creation and production.
Musée des Émaux de Briare, 1 Boulevard Loreau, Briare, France, +33 238 31 22 01
Located at Saché Castle, this literary museum is where French novelist and playwright Honoré de Balzac used to retreat to in order to write, making a dozen stays in Saché from 1825 to 1848. It is here that he penned many of the works within his La Comédie Humaine series. It is believed that he found the peace and quiet here a welcome respite from his hectic life in Paris, and that the serene environment allowed him to happily write for up to 16 hours a day. Make sure you look at his modest, second-floor bedroom; his haven.
Museum of Natural History of Tours
This engaging museum is a great choice for families, with dramatic displays featuring everything from tiny ants to stuffed bears. On the first floor you can see and learn about a range of live creatures, including fish, insects and reptiles. For a bit of local context, check out the permanent Touraine Yesterday and Today exhibition. It is great value and there are lots of opportunities for children to learn and interact – including themed board games.