Renowned for its sumptuous chateaux, the relics of royal days gone by, the glorious valley of the Loire is rich in both history and architecture. Like the river Loire, this vast region runs through the heart of French life. Its sophisticated cities, luxuriant landscape and magnificent food and wine add up to a bourgeois paradise. The lush Loire valley is supremely regal.
Orleans was France’s intellectual capital in the 13th century, attracting artists, poets and troubadours to the royal court. But the medieval court never stayed in one place for long, which led to the building of magnificent chateaux all along the Loire. Chambord and Chenonceau, the two greatest Renaissance chateaux remain prestigious symbols of royal rule, resplendent with their ornamental gardens.
Also ripe for discovery are the troglodyte caves, sleepy hamlets, and small Romanesque churches decorated with frescoes. Inviting inns offer game, fish and abundant fresh vegetables to be lingered over with light white Vouvray wine, or full-bodied Bourgueil. Overindulgence is no sin in this rich region.
The Chambord castle, pinnacle of the Renaissance, combined the dream of King Francois the First with the imagination of Leonardo da Vinci, who has lived at Clos Luce, in Amboise for many years. The result is a real “mathematisation” of architecture, a grandiose creation: 440 rooms, a fabulous double helix staircase, a chimney for every day of the year, and unique roof terrace. Over its history Chateau Chambord has only ever been used as a residence for 20 years.
The Blois Castle, capital of the kingdom for a short time (1498-1595), was stirred by the last starts of the Valois dynasty. It is like visiting four different chateaux rolled into one – so different are the architectural elements at play in the different wings.
The Chenonceau Castle, the “Chateau des dames”, is absolutely stunning and built on a bridge across the river Cher. King Henri II gave it to his favourite, Diane de Poitiers, but his wife Catherine de Medici demanded it back upon the untimely death of Henri II after a jousting accident – who can blame her it is such a jewel. Diane was offered Chateau Chaumont in exchange. But she never set foot there, instead retreating to Chateau Anet, where she died in 1566, and seven years after the death of Henri.
The Azay le Rideau Castle, one of the purest creations of the Renaissance, was built on an island of the Indre River ideal setting for an architectural jewel.
Corina Clemence runs Chateau du Guerinet, near Blois a luxury chateau for up to 15 people set in the middle of a 4000 acre forest perfect for visiting Loire Valley’s best chateaux and vineyards. Rent a castle in France
http://www.loirechateau.com Rent a French Chateau