It truly is a fall day as we head out into the Loire. Wet leaves blow across the road as we drive north and east towards Blois and into a grey and threatening sky. We anticipate the rain and we are both dressed for cool weather. I love this kind of day and am happy to layer on whatever I have in the suitcase. We have re-packed my big suitcase when we left Spain, filling it with most of our summer clothes.
It is Day One of Our Châteaux Hunt.
This area is not only châteaux-filled, but also crammed with the sagas concerning the tumultuous history between England and France as chronicled so well by a certain Wm. Shakespeare in his famous history plays, particularly the Henry series. Our first stop is the city of Blois, where much French and English history was shaped. We stop in the town centre and climb up to the château, but decide that we will not pay the 8 Euro each admission fee to go in. Its main drawing card is a double helix staircase; we know we will see another, better, later on this châteaux tour, at Chambord. We do a little walking and sip a quick coffee. We pull the car out of the public parking garage (the company Vinci has the parking-under-a-major-monument business all sewn up in France. Everywhere we go they have developed a system that is simple, safe, convenient and above all, relatively cheap. And there is always a parking space available!), and move onto our next destination.
We continue down the A10 to the domaine at Chambord. The skies continue grey and overcast but that sets a beautiful backdrop for the white, majestic castle that is Chambord. Built in 1519 by the ambitious young King François I, he designed it as a genuine fortress mostly to make a statement about and to establish his power. It is a Renaissance marvel. The white stone used in its design is locally-mined tufa and is a beautiful if somewhat fragile building material that appears to have been very popular with the Loire Valley Châteaux Builders Association. Many of the châteaux we will visit are under extensive exterior renovation because of the predominate use of tufa. Here at Chambord, the roof lines are covered with numerous chimneys, turrets and dormer windows and one of the highlights is a Da Vinci-inspired double helix (double return) stairway, slicing thorough the middle of the château from top to bottom. It was a major hunting lodge and was where Molière premiered many of his plays for Louis XIV. As it seems with all these châteaux, the building process is started by one ego and completed, years later, by another. Chambord was completed in 1685 by Louis XIV, who provided both good and bad modifications to the building. Even though Chambord was primarily a residence, it was actually only inhabited for 20 years over a period of 5 centuries! There are only a very few rooms that are furnished and these are representative of the supposed daily life in the Château, and there is a cold wind blowing through most of it. I would hate to try and stay warm here in February.
We have lunch on the Château’s grounds in a very small restaurant that is part of a “village” designed to service the tourists. We have soup and a sandwich and some white wine, and feel ready for the next château on our list, Cherverny.
And onto Cherverny
The Château of Cherverny still belongs to the descendents of the Hurault de Vibraye family, who were well known in Blois from the 13th century. They were a family of financiers who had given distinguished service to 5 different kings of France. It is a “smaller” warmer and much more manageable château, and the current family’s photos (in fact, the count, his wife and their two little girls live in the 3rd floor apartments) attest to the family life of this château. Each successive generation has enhanced and maintained the beauty of the Château of Count Henri, guided mostly by their own tastes and those of the period. We spend about an hour in and around the Château and its grounds before starting the drive home.
We wind our way back through quaint towns and backwaters that front onto the Loire and its various tributaries and babbling brooks. The parking gods reward us for a very productive day with a spot right outside our hotel and we trundle up the stairs and kick off our shoes for a nap.