258km (160 miles) SW of Paris; 40km (25 miles) SE of Tours
Forever linked to legendary beauty Agnès Sorel, Loches is the cité médiévale of the valley, situated in the hills on the banks of the Indre. Known as the acropolis of the Loire, the château and its satellite buildings form a complex called the Cité Royale. The House of Anjou, from which the Plantagenets descended, owned the castle from 886 to 1205. The kings of France occupied it from the mid-13th century until Charles IX became king in 1560.
Château de Loches, 5 place Charles-VII (tel. 02-47-59-01-32), is remembered for the belle des belles (beauty of beauties) Agnès Sorel. Inside is her tomb, where two angels guard her velvet cushion. In 1777, the tomb was opened, but all that remained of the 15th-century beauty were a set of dentures and some locks of hair. Maid of honor to Isabelle de Lorraine, she was singled out by Charles VII to be his mistress and had great influence on the king until her mysterious death. Afterward, Fouquet painted her as a practically topless Virgin Mary, with a disgruntled Charles VII looking on. (The original is in Antwerp; the château has a copy.) The château also contains the oratory of Anne de Bretagne, decorated with ermine tails. One of its outstanding treasures is a triptych of The Passion (1485) from the Fouquet school.
You can visit the château without a guide daily. It's open April to September from 9am to 7pm, and October to March 9:30am to 5pm.
The ancient keep, or donjon, of the comtes d'Anjou (tel. 02-47-59-07-86) is open the same hours as the château. The Round Tower of Louis XI contains rooms used for torture; a favorite method involved suspending the victim in an iron cage. In the 15th century, the duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, was imprisoned in the Martelet and painted frescoes on the walls to pass the time; he died here in 1508.
Nearby, the Romanesque Collégiale St-Ours (Collegiate Church of St-Ours), 1 rue Thomas-Pactius (tel. 02-47-59-02-36), spans the 10th to 15th centuries. Sculpted figures, damaged but still attractive, decorate the portal. Stone pyramids (dubes) surmount the nave; the carving on the west door is exceptional. The church is open daily from 9am to 7pm, except during class; admission is free.
Finally, you may want to walk the ramparts and enjoy the view of the town, including a 15th-century gate and Renaissance inns.
Allow 3 hours to see Loches.
5 place Charles-VII. [tel] 02-47-59-01-32. www.chateau-loches.fr. Tickets to the château and the dungeon cost 8.50€ for adults, 6.50€ for students and children 7-18. Children 6 and under enter free. Open April to Sept 9am-7pm; Oct to March 9:30am-5pm.