Top 3 Japanese Gardens

Most list of Japanese gardens list the same three gardens in no particular order, the so-called three Great Japanese gardens. After visiting dozens of different Japanese gardens, we came to a different conclusion. Continue reading to broaden your horizon.

Nr. 3 Ritsurin-koen

Ritsurin-koen is not on many other lists, but undeservingly so. Maybe because the garden is in Takamatsu. Which is on the island of Shikoku and not part of most tourist itineraries. Yet, this garden is worth the detour. Ritsurin-koen is Japan’s largest garden with over 750,000 square meters.

Work on this garden started in 1625 by Ikoma Takatoshi, making this the oldest garden on the list. Takatoshi began with the development of Nan-ko, the southern lake and used the beautiful vegetation of Mount Shiun as a background. Further improvements and enlargement of the garden would take another 100 years. Construction of the garden finished in 1745. After the requisitioning by the Meiji government the garden opened to the public in 1875. The Japanese government designated Ritsurin-koen as a ‘Special Place of Scenic Beauty’ in 1953.

There are different ways to enjoy this garden: Take a boat ride on Nan-ko to take in the views from the water. Or go for a cup of tea in the teahouse which overlooks the lake. From the hill in the garden, you have a complete view of all its beauty. Japanese come to this garden to get a quintessential view of Japan, so did we and so should you.

If you decide to make the trip, also visit the nearby open-air museum of Shikoku village. Here, you can experience the way people used to live in this area and view some great art.

Nr. 2 Korakuen

Construction of Okayama Korakuen started in 1687 and finished in 1700. Apart from some small changes, the garden looks the same today as it did back then. We know this because there are many period paintings and records describing the garden. The garden opened to the public in 1884. It was heavily damaged during floods in 1934 and bombing in 1945. But has since been restored with the help of the before mentioned paintings and records. Korakuen garden was designated as a ‘Special Place of Scenic Beauty’ in 1952.


The garden has great open spaces which allows for these great views. Streams of water cut through those open spaces to add depth. Rice fields seemingly transfer into the grass and rows of trees line the paths. The garden has a different palette of colours every season because of all the different blossoms, foliage and flowers. The beautiful backdrop of Okayama castle enhances the scenic beauty of the garden. This is also the best way to view Okayama castle since it’s not so good looking up close. And as in any garden, there always is a teahouse nearby to relax and take in the views.

Okayama lies on the route from Kyoto to Hiroshima and the island of Kyusu. It also is an ideal base for visiting the islands of the inland sea, like Naoshima. Or the Ritsurin-koen in Takamatsu, which is just 1.5 hours away by train.

Nr. 1 Kenroku-en


This is our favourite Japanese Garden as it combines all the characteristics perfectly. Great views as far as the distant sea. Big and small streams of water. Hidden views, solitary trees and the famous bound pine trees that can handle the snow and provide the idyllic winter pictures. There is even scientific research done to explain why people like this garden so much.

Maeda Tsunanori developed the first garden on this site in the second half of the 17th century. The garden was called “Renchi-tei garden” and was used for banquets and moon viewing. It burned down in 1759, but Maeda Harunaga restored it. He added the Midori-taki waterfall and the tea houses and in 1776 the garden had its current form. Kenroku-en opened to the public in 1874.

Kanazawa lies along the shore of the Japanese Sea on the other side of the Japanese Alps. Therefore, it isn’t on everybody’s itinerary. But it should be, not only is this garden worth the trip, the city of Kanazawa has an outstanding modern art museum, geisha’s and old samurai houses to enjoy. If that’s not enough to convince you, let us tell you that the trip there crossing the Alps is a great adventure on its own.

Other gardens worth mentioning

Kairaku-en in Mito

Kairaku-en is usually included in the list of the three great gardens of Japan. We found it the least interesting of the three and prefer Ritsurin-koen to this garden. That said, it is famous for its plum blossoms and of all the gardens listed here it lies closest to Tokyo so it makes for an easy day trip. Read our article about a day trip to Mito for more information.

Adachi museum of art

The private Adachi museum of art has a stunning garden and the views from the museum are breath taking. Although you can’t really wander in this garden, viewing this garden is certainly rewarding. The museum itself also houses great works of art, so make the detour and stay in nearby Matsue and visit this beautiful museum and garden.

Top 3 Gardens

The 7 best Loire Valley Castles

The Loire Valley in France is home to around a hundred different castles. They range from small manors to royal hunting palaces and from single donjons to big fortresses. And don’t forget the romantic places where you can imagine fairy tales taking place. The area has one of the biggest castles densities in the world. This all results in abundant choice for tourists.

We’ve visited this region for more than 30 years and have seen them all, many multiple times. We made this list to give you an overview of what the Loire Valley has to offer. Hopefully this makes you hungry for more.  We’re looking forward to your feedback: do you agree with our list? Do you have other castles to add? Let us know!


Nr. 7 The Royal Château de Blois

History of the castle

The Royal Château de Blois was built in the middle of the town of Blois and overlooks the Loire river. Work on it started as early as the 13th century. The current castle is a mixture of several buildings ranging from the 13th to the 17th century with a central courtyard. The castle was the residence of several French kings. It also served as a base of operations for Joan of Arc during her successful attempt to relief the siege of Orleans.

The oldest part of the castle is the “Salle des États Généraux”. This gothic hall served as a court and as the place for the French parliament (the Estates General) to assemble. The French king Louis XII (1498 –1515) made the castle his residence and capital and added a wing to the castle. His successor François I added another wing and created a library. But he stopped using the castle after the death of his wife.

Royal Château de Blois

After the French revolution, the castle was set to be demolished. It survived serving as a military barrack. In 1841 is was declared a historic monument and restoration started under the direction of the architect Felix Duban. Nowadays, the town of Blois owns the castle and it’s open to the public.

What makes the castle special

Blois castle is one of the few French castles used as a permanent royal residence. The different styles of the castle give a great overview of the architectural development throughout the 13th to 17th centuries. It also provides great views of the Loire river from the castle grounds.
The castle is centrally located both in the town of Blois and in the Loire Valley.

Nr. 6 Château de Chaumont

History of the castle

Odo I, then count of Blois, founded the Château de Chaumont in the 10th century. After the failed rebellion by its owner, Pierre d’Amboise, the original castle was destroyed in 1465. Charles I d’Amboise rebuilt the castle between 1469 and 1475.

The wife of King Henri II, Catherine de Medici acquired the castle in 1560. Among its famous visitors was the astrologer Nostradamus. After the death of her husband the King, Catherina forced his mistress Diane de Poitiers to swap castles. She received the castle of Chenonceau in exchange for the castle of Chaumont.

Château de Chaumont

What makes the castle special

Chaumont castle overlooks the Loire river. Its exterior has the classic look of a medieval castle. The castle is host to an international Garden Festival every year. Here contemporary garden designers display their work in the English-style garden. The gardens are huge and an attraction on their own.

Nr. 5 Château de Cheverny

History of the castle

At the end of the 15th century the Hurault family acquires the estate of Cheverny. In 1510 Raoul Hurault starts building a fortified manor at the estate. Henri Hurault replaces this building with the current castle in 1624 when he decides to raze to old building. This building is finished in 1634 and hasn’t been changed on the outside since. The Hurault family still owns the estate today. They lost ownership twice, but managed to get it back both times.

Château de Cheverny

What makes the castle special

Even as the castle has been opened to the public since 1925, the original owners still live at the property. The castle has a great hunting estate and hundreds of hunting dogs are kept for annual hunts in Autumn. Château de Cheverny also served as inspiration for Hergé. As he based Captain Haddock’s castle Marlinspike Hall (Château de Moulinsart) in the ‘The Adventures of Tintin’ on this castle.

Nr. 4 Château de Chinon

History of the castle

Chinon is one of the older castles in the region. Theobald I, Count of Blois founded the first castle at this spot in the 10th century. In the 11th century the counts of Anjou acquired the castle. Henry II, member of the House of Anjou was king of England and took the castle from his rebelling brother in 1156. He made Chinon the administrative centre for his continental possessions. Most of the structures seen today can be attributed to his reign. Henry died here in 1189.

At the beginning of the 13th century, King Philip II of France beleaguered the English lands in France. In 1205 he captured Chinon, the castle remained under French control ever since. On 6 March 1429 Joan of Arc arrived at Château de Chinon. Here she convinced the dauphin Charles VII to let her join the army at Orleans and try to lift the siege.

The castle fell into disuse at the end of the 17th century. Aside from brief use during the ‘Reign of Terror’ at the end of the 18th century, it was left to decay until the beginning of the 21st century.
Massive excavation and restoration works started in 2003. They finished in 2010, resulting in the castle as it can be seen today.

Château de Chinon

What makes the castle special

Château de Chinon is a proper medieval castle with an interesting history. It hereby fits the preconceived picture of castles and knights. The link with the mystical hero of Joan of Arc adds extra flavour to the castle. There is a museum dedicated to her on the grounds. The castle is located on the bank of the Vienne river and is quite the sight as it towers the under-laying village.

Nr. 3 Château d’Azay-le-Rideau

History of the castle

A local lord named Ridel (or Rideau) d’Azay, built a fort at the site in the 12th century. The future French king Charles VII burned this castle to the ground in 1418. He did this as a reaction to the insults thrown by the occupying Burgundian soldiers.

Gilles Berthelot, mayor of Tours and treasurer to the King, started construction on the current castle in 1518. The new castle was a blend between its medieval past and the latest architectural styles of the Italian renaissance. The French state bought Azay-le-Rideau in 1905 and listed it as an historical monument.

Château d’Azay-le-Rideau

What makes the castle special

Together with Ussey, Azay-le-Rideau has the highest fairy-tale castle vibe. The castle is one of the best examples of early French renaissance architecture. The location on an island in the Indre gives this castle an edge. Visit the castle early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the light is softer. This way you can get a perfect picture as the castle is reflected in the water.

Nr. 2 Château de Chambord

History of the castle

Chambord was built to act a magnificent hunting lodge for King Francis I in 1519. Construction was only finished in 1547, the year Francis died. The castle was abandoned by his successors and fell into decay. In 1639, Gaston d’Orleans got the castle as a present from his brother King Louis XIII. He restored much of the castle. His work was continued by King Louis XIV who added a 1,200-horse stable. But in the end, he also abandoned the castle in 1685. This pattern would repeat itself, until the French government bought the castle in 1930. Restoration work started after the second world war.

Château de Chambord

What makes the castle special

It was hard to make a decision on the number one castle. Chambord has so much going for it. It’s huge and it has dozens of towers big and small. Both the exterior and the interior of the castle are embellished with emblems, gargoyles and double staircases. This all provides a unique experience. Added bonus is the controversy about the architect of the castle, was it Leonardo da Vinci or not?

But in the end, it’s the size which keeps this castle on the second spot. The castle feels a bit like an empty shell, still waiting for a king and his court to move in. You should go and visit, and decide for yourself.

Nr. 1 Château de Chenonceau

History of the castle

The original castle of Chenonceau was built somewhere in the 13th century. it burned down in 1412 to punish to owner Jean Marques. After a turn in fortune, he rebuilt the castle and fortified the mill in the 1430s. The new owner Thomas Bornier demolished the castle except for the keep in 1513. He build the current castle on top of the foundations of the fortified mill.

Francis I seized the castle because of outstanding debts. His successor Henri II gave it to his mistress Diane de Poitiers. She initiated the building of the bridge to connect the castle to the other side of the river. When Herni II died in 1559, his wife Catherine de Medici forced Diana to exchange Chenonceau for Chaumont. The castle became Catherine’s favourite residence. She added the gallery on the bridge and added new gardens.

The Dupin family bought the castle in 1733. Louise Dupin held famous literary salons at Chenonceau. They attracted famous French enlightenment writers like Voltaire, Montesquieu and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau also served as her secretary and tutor to her son. She saved the castle from destruction during the French revolution. She convinced the Revolutionary Guard of its importance for travel and commerce since it was the only bridge for miles.

The Menier family bought the castle in 1913, and still own the castle to this day. In the first world war the castle served as a hospital. During the Second World War it was a route to the unoccupied part of France on the other site of the river.

Château de Chenonceau

What makes the castle special

We visited this castle many times and it keeps drawing us back. It has an unique bridge design and beautiful formal French gardens. And on top of that, there is the Shakespearean story about Catherine de Medici, Diane de Potiers and Herni II. If you can only visit one Loire Valley castle in your life, let it be this one. Just know that it’s the river Cher, a Loire tributary and not the Loire itself, the castle crosses.

Follow up Where to go alternatives

If you still haven’t had enough try some other castles. To name a few, go to Ussey, Sully, Amboise or Villandry. But even after visiting those there are still dozens more to explore and discover. And while you’re in the area, visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bourges Cathedral.

The seven best Loire Castles