The term castle has been applied to structures as diverse as ancient hill forts and Renaissance country houses. Over the millennium that castles were built, they took on a great many forms with many different features, but in the popular mind castles feature a range of elements including battlements, drawbridges and arrow slits.
Historians enjoy debating the scope of the word, but usually accept a castle to be the private fortified residence of a monarch or nobleman. This definition excludes fortresses, which were not homes, and also fortified towns, which were public defences rather than private residences.
The Loire Valley (Vallée de la Loire) is home to more than 300 châteaux. They were built between the 10th and 20th centuries, firstly by the French kings followed soon thereafter by the nobility; hence, the Valley is termed “The Valley of the Kings”. Alternatively, due to its moderate climate, wine growing soils and rich agricultural land, the Loire Valley is referred to as “The Garden of France”. The châteaux range from the very large (often now in public hands) to more ‘human-scale’ châteaux such as the Château de Beaulieu in Saumur or the medieval Château du Rivau close to Chinon which were built of the local tuffeau stone.