Back in the day, the river Loire was a strategic place, marking a kind of frontier between the north and the south of France. This led to many noble folk to build their castles and fortresses in the area. Extravagant, amazing, grand, romantic, decadent, delirious, beautiful, class conscious, … When seen by today´s eye, many adjectives can be applied to the area, apart from humble or modest.
There are so many amazing places in the area that it´s hard to make a choice and focus your attention to just a handful, so that you don´t end up having a devastating overdose of grandeur. Luckily both Yvonne and Christian have been here before, even if long ago, and have some memories that help decide where to go.
We start our chateau journey at Azay-le-Rideau, which is ´small´, but perfectly formed. The brochures describe it as a symbol of the dream Renaissance, as it was built in the 16th Century mixing French, Italian and Flemish styles. The building and surrounding gardens are like extracted from a fairy tale. The interior comes to life through some smart automatic displays and dressed mannequins.
We stop in Amboise since we want to visit the Clos Lucé, the chateau where Leonardo da Vinci, sponsored by king Francois I, spent his last years, exercising his multiple talents as engineer, architect, thinker and artist. Is not everyday that one has the chance to stroll through the bedroom where he slept or the studio where he worked or the kitchen where his vegetarian cook cooked.
Equally interesting are the gardens of the little chateau, where models of many of his inventions and artworks are displayed.
Afterwards nothing better than to have a walk through the tremendously monumental town of Amboise, dominated by the 15th century fortified chateau.
We enjoy a dinner at little traditional restaurant La Fourchette, accompanied by a great local wine and friendly service.
The day after we head to Chenonceau. I must say though that at first we get a bit discouraged by the crowds and the very unfriendly security guards, but soon one has to surrender to the beauty of the place and try to ignore the masses. This happens as soon as you set foot on the majestic gardens and contemplate the beautiful building standing on the water. It is known as the Ladies´ Chateau, probably because during 400 years it was owned or inhabited by ladies. It´s very interesting to read about the plot and schemes that seem to have kept them busy through history, even though, they luckily also dedicate a fair amount of time to make the castle beautiful.
The interior is even more impressive than the outside. You get the chance to walk around through the kitchen, dinning room, and different bedrooms and chambers. They all destile the essence of the lifestyle and richness that once inhabited the place. I get particularly impressed by the tapestries covering many of the walls, the rich furniture, the colourful velvet pillows, the curtains. the paintings. Everything is heavy and rich.
Beautiful are as well all the florals displays that get freshly made with flowers and plants from the gardens.
The castle by excellence has to be Chambord though. Magnificent and outrageous, testimony of the delusions of grandeur of those kings and nobles.
It is hard to believe that it started to be built as a weekend hunting lodge for Francois I, even if later it evolved to be the most ambitious architectural project of any French monarch and turned out to have 440 rooms, 365 fireplaces and 84 staircases, including the famous double helix staircase.
It is crowned by a jungle of beautifully ornate towers, turrets and chimneys.
The moment has come to say Tot Ziens to Yvonne, since she has to go back up North. So we hug and kiss goodbye at the gardens.
By the way that the surrounding gardens and forests are impressive. We stay to sleep in the premises, since they have kindly enabled a space for camper vans, next to the forest, which is inhabited by dear, wild board and who knows what else. During the night we can hear the wildlife roaring in the surrounding, it´s nice and scary at the same time.
Early in the morning it is a magical experience to see the castle slowly raising through the mist, waking up with the raising sun.