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France ~ Chateau de Chambord, a da Vinci Design

September 16, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

Part III- Day-Trip to the Loire Valley

Chateau de Chambord

Excitement grew as our bus approached the last stop of the day–the famous Chateau de Chambord. To me, even the name sounded majestic. This grand dame, a UNESCO World Heritage site, remains closely linked with Leonardo da Vinci and his imaginative designs.

The sheer size of the chateau tips the scale. Chambord rests within a 13,500-acre national forest, surrounded by a twenty-mile-long wall. The fortress contains an awesome 426 rooms, 77 staircases and 282 fireplaces. But, the guide told us, “King Francois I, who ordered construction of what he called a hunting lodge, spent only 72 days there.”

At first glimpse, the immense symmetrical wonder (almost as long as two football fields) flaunts a fantastic array of towers, windows, dormers and hundreds of decorative chimney stacks. The roofline resembles an Old World town whose buildings hint of Seusical whim. Certainly an ideal place for a game of hide and seek.

Rooftop and Chimney Stacks of Chambord

Rooftop and Chimney Stacks of Chambord

The architecture consists of a central square, called a keep, with rounded corner towers, two wings and courtyard. A medieval curtain wall encircles the building and beyond that, a partial moat. I’d say a cross between a fortified, ancient castle and the timely, delicate flourishes of Italian Renaissance.

Begun in 1519, the massive construction project was interrupted by the King’s Spanish imprisonment (1524-1526). After his return, plans were scaled back, truly hard to imagine, since it took twenty minutes just to walk to the entrance.

Francois died in 1547, leaving the royal residence unfinished. His son, Henry II, ordered work to continue, which it did until his death in 1559. One hundred years later, King Louis XIV, who loved hunting, made a few changes but used Chambord just nine times. The French government bought the decaying estate in 1930, and it remains under renovation.

Researchers credit Leonardo da Vinci (whom Francois brought to France) with conceiving the general design and famous double spiral staircase. The structure comprises, “two concentric spiral flights of stairs that wind independently around a hollow central column, so if two people each take one flight, they can each see the other through the opening in the center, but never meet.” Like most visitors, we tried this for ourselves-fun!

Lantern detail on the roof of Chambord

Lantern detail on the roof of Chambord

Needless to say, our tour visited only a small portion of the rooms, but highlights included the ornate carvings on the vaulted ceilings, the grand staircase, king’s chamber, lantern and the chimney stacks. Laura liked the winding stairs and rooftop best. I enjoyed looking out at seemingly endless vistas from the terrace, originally planned as a vantage point for hunt spectators.

 

As with the other stops on our day-trip, we didn’t have nearly enough time to absorb Chambord. I understand the mansion and park dazzle with lights, lasers and fireworks on summer nights. How I would enjoy that! If planning a tour of France, I suggest a stay in the Loire Valley to include the grand illumination of Chambord.

Aerial View of Chambord

Aerial View of Chambord

France ~ Chateau de Cheverny: Tally-Ho and Tintin

August 27, 2009 by · Comments Off on France ~ Chateau de Cheverny: Tally-Ho and Tintin 

Chateau de Cheverny

Chateau de Cheverny in the Loire Valley, France

My bus trip continued to the Chateau of Cheverny, a Loire Valley location renown for fox-hunting. Cheverny was built in the 1620’s for Henri Hurault, the Comte de Cheverny and Governor of Blois. The architecture flaunts Louis XIII style with classical symmetry, five pavilions (divisions) and two roof-top domes. The 1640’s interior decoration presents some of the finest paneling, painted ceilings, and fireplaces of the era.

Diane de Poitiers, who owned Chateau de Chenonceau (which Laura and I had visited earlier that morning), also held deed to an earlier castle on this site. She sold the property back to the original family owners in 1565.

The current mansion underwent a major twelve-year renovation during the late 1770’s. The Hurault de Vibraye family, descents of the original builders, acquired the estate in 1825 and have kept it in the family ever since.

Tintin_and_Snowy

TinTin

Perhaps the facade, decorated with sculpted roman busts looks familiar? Cheverny inspired the mythical Chateau of Moulinsart in Herge’s famous Tintin stories. We noticed some darling children’s toys and Tintin memorabilia in the gift shop, but Laura did not recall the story. I recognized TinTin, but honestly have never read the books.

Cheverny

The ground of Chateau de Cheverny

After entering the main gate, visitors walk down a long, wide gravely path dividing a manicured lawn. They enter the house through the small main door, into the lobby boasting a grand limestone staircase with elegant carvings. The ceilings feature finely painted exposed beams which create a lively colorful mood. The walls are covered with wood paneling decorated with more flowers and mottos. The swanky drawing room dazzles with examples of French decorative arts and period furniture.

We toured the bedrooms including the King’s Chamber where Henri IV slept, the dining room, and armory. I was impressed but felt at ease with the gracious home-like atmosphere. Some members of the bus tour group visited the private apartments, which were used until 1985. They raved about the interior but time was short with so much to see.

Dining Room at Cheverny

Dining Room- Interior of Chateau de Cheverny

Laura and I chose to walk across the grounds to the kennels. We heard barking, then found at least seventy fox hounds of mixed English and French breeds. Our guide said feeding time is popular with tourists, especially children, who delight in watching the dogs gobble their dinner.

The Dogs of Cheverny

The Dog Kennels at Chateau de Cheverny

Sadly we missed seeing: the formal gardens, the organery (where the Mona Lisa was secretly kept during the Second World War), the woodland park offering boat rides on the lake and the trophy room- filled with over two hundred stag horns. Hunts are still held on the property.

But, our schedule demanded departure: tally-ho and away we go. Next stop-Chateau de Chambord .

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