Just what is a chateau anyway? I looked up a bunch of definitions and basically what I found was this: A chateau is large country house or castle in France, often giving its name to the wine produced in the neighborhood. So, there you have it. I will say that the phrase “large country house” seems a tad understated for most of the chateaux of the Loire Valley that we saw!
Chateaux are scattered like constellations around the Loire Valley. A southerner might say, “you can’t swing a stick without hittin’ a castle round here.” Many of them are open to the public. The bottom line is that you have a plethora of choices and some decisions to make! My advice? Don’t try to see too many in a day. It would be easy to get chateau overload. You want to be able to enjoy and remember the ones that you choose to visit.
We were only in the Loire Valley for 2 nights and we saw three chateaux which were all quite different from one another.
Chenonceau is lovely, elegant, feminine, and…scandalous! King Henry II gave Chenonceau, not to his wife, but to his favorite mistress, Diane de Poitiers. After the kings death his wife Queen Catherine de Medici immediately sent Diane packing and took back the castle.
Many of its owners in subsequent years were exceptional women. Women seem to have always been drawn to the beauty and grace of Chenonceau and because women were the ones responsible for embellishing, restoring, and protecting this amazing place it is sometimes called “the ladies chateau.”
Chenonceau had a particularly harrowing and helpful role during the World Wars. The owners at the time, the Menier family, set it up as a military hospital during WWI and paid for all the operating costs themselves. During WWII the chateau became a point of access to the free zone because of its grand gallery across the river which was the demarcation line. The Meniers helped smuggle people out who were fleeing Nazi tyranny.
It was suggested to us that it was best to arrive in the afternoon for our visit and this ended up being an excellent tip. Parking was easy, there wasn’t a single person waiting in line to purchase tickets and hoards of tourists were departing as we were arriving. We basically had the gardens to ourselves and none of the rooms were crowded.
The chateau has a small maze with a gazebo in the middle and a long and wide tree lined entrance to the home. The castle is surrounded by lovely and interesting gardens. It has a gorgeous position on and spanning the River Cher. We rented the audio guide which was very nice to have albeit a little long winded at times. The rooms are beautifully appointed with the bedrooms of the ladies who lived in the chateau being the most exquisite. The views over the gardens from the balconies of the upper levels are glorious.
Seeing the kitchen and kitchen storage rooms is always my favorite part of seeing old castles and homes. They are always so perfect and pristine, but I enjoy imaging the rooms full of vegetables and meats and steaming pots and people chopping and calling out orders and running to and fro.
To me this is the most beautiful of the chateaux of the Loire Valley and is a must see if you are in the area.
Another chateau of the Loire Valley that you should definitely see is Clos de Luce which is located in the town of Amboise. This one is closer to the definition of a large country house rather than a castle. It is smaller, less pretentious, and most importantly it was the final home of Leonardo Da Vinci until his death. This would be an excellent place to bring your children or grand-children although we didn’t have either and still thoroughly enjoyed our visit here!
Leonardo da Vinci was lured here in the last years of his life by King Francis I who lived in the nearby Chateau d’Amboise by the promise of a lovely place to live, a pension, and freedom to think, dream, and work. Oh, and he had to be available to the King for intellectual discussion. Sounds like a deal to me!
Not only do you get to see the house, but you get a glimpse into the private life of Leonardo. You see where he slept and worked and ate. In the basement of the home there are rooms of models of many of Leonardo’s inventions that fully show the genius of the man. There is a sign saying that the models were built by IBM, they include things like locks and dams, guns, car-like machines, and draw bridges.
The gardens of the chateau are not only beautiful, but as you wander you encounter life size working models of some of Leonardo’s inventions. It causes you the realize just how far ahead of his time the man really was. One of the things that our guide book stated was that Da Vinci’s last words were “I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have.”
Well. Not sure there is any hope for the rest of us if the quality of his work wasn’t good enough.
This Chateau dominates the town of Amboise with its position high on a hill overlooking the Loire river and the village. I think my favorite things here were the views and the small chapel where Leonardo Da Vinci was buried.
This chateau was all but abandoned in the 17th century after the death of King Louis XIII. It was turned into a state prison for a time and then suffered at the hands of the Revolutionaries and Napoleon. A restoration was begun in the late 1800’s but that suffered setbacks during the World Wars. In 1974 a restoration was begun in earnest.
Because of the neglect and lack of ownership this chateau is sparsely furnished and definitely doesn’t contain the types of masterpieces of Chenonceau. Still it was interesting to visit. There is a fascinating large spiral passageway up the tower into the castle which allowed carriages to be able to drive right up inside. The views from the balconies and the beautiful terraced gardens are worth seeing.
To me this is definitely worth a visit if you are staying in town, but not a must see like the other two
We absolutely loved this area of France, it is beautiful and has great food and wine and places to stay and lots and lots of castles. We look forward to returning and seeing even more of the fantastic chateaux of the Loire Valley!
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