Part III- Day-Trip to the Loire Valley
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.
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!
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.