One of our absolute favourite châteaux in the romantic Loire Valley is Chenonçeau:
We followed the canoeists' example and Digby rowed me over the sparkling green River Indre. Chenonçeau’s most illustrious inhabitant was the seductive Diane de Poitiers who was the king’s beloved and celebrated chief mistress for many years – despite being 20 years his senior:
It is widely noted that Diane was the most powerful woman in France at the time and she was the only royal maîtresse in French history to have a coin minted in her likeness.
Chenonçeau is one of the few French châteaux which has furniture as most palaces and manor houses were plundered during the Revolution with their splendid interiors often destroyed.
Next stop: Azay-le-Rideau:
Being Aquarius, perhaps I have an inherent preference for water castles?
Azay-le-Rideau is one of the smaller royal French châteaux but absolutely stunning! No wonder this region is poetically called ‘le jardin de France’: The Garden of France.
And as a practical ‘overlanding babe’ I can't help wondering what people did before the arrival of hoovers…
Nighttime is the right time… Bienvenue à Amboise:
Only a proverbial stone's-throw away from Amboise, we come to another gem in the crown of this fabulous region of France Clos Lucé - the former summerhouse of the French Royal Family:
Passionate about Leonardo da Vinci’s talent, the French monarch proudly declared him “Premier Painter, Engineer and Architect of the King" and offered him the luxury of the pretty Château of Clos Lucé where he stayed for the last three years of his wonderfully creative life. He died in this bed in this room in 1519:
Almost all the quaint towns we were driving through are peppered with beautiful half-timbered houses many of which are hundreds of years old – like in the old part of Orléans:
The magnificent gardens of Villandry are definitely worth a visit as well:
We’ve often driven from London to the Loire Valley with Blois always our first proper stop after Paris.
The impressive Château Blois is famous for its staircase tower – the first in a castle where ascending and descending people don’t meet; possibly another clever invention of Leonardo da Vinci’s and certainly an architectural novelty at that time. Blois combines the styles of four different eras:
And just as many times we’ve stayed in Tours – and enjoyed a nice glass of chilled Loire wine in the picturesque Place de Plumereau dating back to the 14th century. Jeanne d’Arc’s armour was made around the corner:
What an excellent place for absorbing the culture and life of Tours where you can have friendly conversations with residents, students as well as other tourists – although we did not meet any fellow overlanders this time.
Chambord is one of the most magnificent royal palaces. It is the largest in the Loire at six times the size of most, it has 440 rooms (only 80 of which are open to the public) and a fireplace for every day of the year:
Originally, Chambord was designed to be the king’s hunting lodge or 'weekend retreat' and built within 15 years. However, François I didn’t quite feel at home in this fabulous vast building and spent only 72 days there. Better use of this splendid palace was made by the Polish King in Exile Stanislaus Leszczynski who resided here with his family from 1725 to 1733. No wonder there was a revolution a few decades later (the aristocracy lived well enjoying many privileges like being exempt from tax – not so the people belonging to the Third State)…
‘Harmony’ between wallpaper, bedlinen, drapes and whatever else possible as displayed in one of Chambord’s countless apartments can (sadly) also be found in some French country hotels:
A more noticeably stark martial world awaits us at Loches, the site of another Royal Residence and a proper castle:
Just look at the massive keep! The castle was occupied by Richard the Lionheart during the 12th century. In its heyday, Loches was a huge military fortress before the French King Charles VII gave it to his mistress, the gentle Agnel Sorel as her residence:
And back to my moated 'pleasure palaces' – Château Sully:
Château de Sully sur Loire is a genuine medieval fortress that once defended a bridge spanning the River Loire. It actually consists of two buildings - the medieval fortress and Le Petit Château which was remodelled during the 18th and 19th centuries. Sully still has its original wooden roof structure which the best master-carpenters of Orléans built in the 14th century! Their expertise and talent enabled the roofs to resist the wear and tear of centuries. Today it boasts fine collections of furniture and paintings. The philosopher Voltaire was one of the many free thinkers who sojourned at the castle during the 18th century.
A trip to the beautiful Loire Valley would not be complete without a visit to one of the many delightful vineyards – like the one here at Château Chinon:
There are many more wonderful places in this charming region of France and we shall be back!