The Loire Valley is studded with grand chateaux, attracting tourists who pour into the region with the same relentless flow as the river Loire itself. We joined the tide of people escaping Paris Friday night and headed southwest to the beautiful Vallée de la Loire arriving at our B&B, Le Petit Clos, in the little village of Chaumont-sur-Tharonne in just over 2 hours. It was a perfect spot to stay for a getaway: close enough to all the must-see sights yet set away in a charming small village with plenty of serenity. Our welcoming hosts provided a delicious breakfast with the added delight of real Canadian Maple syrup to go with freshly made French toast and homemade jams for the croissants and bread. A great start for a couple of days of intense castle visiting. There are so many castles you could visit – we chose 4 – and at each there is such a lot that is interesting so I will just give you the vibe of each and let the photos add a bit extra flavour.
A handy tip – I’ve discovered that there are smart-phone and tablet Apps for some chateaux and museums (e.g. Jacquemart-André in Paris) that you can download for your own audio visual tour. Some are free, some have a small cost. I was really pleased with the Chenonceau App that I downloaded for €3.59.
Château de Chenonceau – glorious setting right on and into the river Cher, magnificently furnished and enriched with a history that flows like a soap opera full of scheming characters. There are stunning formal gardens and – my-oh-my – best of all the extensive geometric designed potager where vegetables and all the flowers for decoration inside the chateau are grown – inspirational!
Château Royale d’Amboise – panoramic views of the Loire River, the surrounding countryside and the beautiful town of Amboise. A deep sense of history here, the ebbs and flows of centuries of power and politics reflected in the architectural additions to this castle that dominates the city.
Château du Clos Lucé – only a stone’s throw from Chateau Royale, this is the residence that was given to Leonardo da Vinci by King François I. Leonardo lived here for the last 3 years of his life, thinking, drawing, designing and inventing things. He was an ideas man. There are working models of his designs inside and outside in the park. It’s a really interesting place to visit if you have even the slightest interest in “how things work”.
Château de Chambord – hailed as being the largest chateau of the Renaissance, its architecture is fascinating and clever. This chateau was built by King François I as a symbol of his power and wealth. Historians believe that Leonardo da Vinci may have contributed to the design as many of his “ideas” feature in the architectural details here – like the double-helixed staircase in the centre of the keep. This place is huge; we got lost many times over. For all the majesty of the chateau, it was never enjoyed as a place to live; it was horribly cold in the winter and too hot in the summer as well as being ridden with mosquitoes from the marshes nearby.
Well, there you have it – a man’s home is his castle, but I’d say his castle is not always his home.
PS: We didn’t see any jousting sticks.