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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 Chenonceau: Tour of the Ladies Chateau

August 25, 2009 by · Comments Off on France ~ Chateau de Chenonceau: Tour of the Ladies Chateau 

Chateau de Chenonceau over the River Cher

Chateau de Chenonceau on the River Cher in the Loire Valley, France

The Loire Valley, just two hours from Paris, abounds with a wealth of historic chateaux. The former French royals discovered this enchanting area made a perfect getaway and I was ready to join them, even if that meant taking a group bus tour.

My daughter Laura and I were in Paris so we hopped aboard the comfortable vehicle at 7:15 am, which included about 20 other tourists. We were blessed with two knowledgeable guides who fortunately understood the need to nap.

First stop was Chateau de Chenonceau which sits not just on the banks– but directly over the River Cher. Chenonceau is often referred to as the ladies chateau as its designers and owners were women.

Marques Tower at Chenonceau

The Marques Tower of Chenonceau

Upon entering the grounds, we strolled down a long, sun-dappled tree covered pathway. Two lion statues acted as sentinels at the gates. Then, we passed the Marques Tower, the oldest standing building remaining from the original fortress built in 1432. The turrets are exactly what I imagine Rapunzel’s tower in fairy tales.

Our guide led us into the stone castle through the main entry with the original wooden doors. This section, built in 1513, was sold to King Francois I, in 1535, to pay back taxes and debts. In 1547, Henri II presented it to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. Diane loved the chateau and lavished her feminine touches on the property.

However, when Henri died, the queen (Catherine de Medici) took revenge and forced Diane out. Diane took Chaumont (another chateau) in exchange. In the end, the rival between these two women created the galleried bridge, the chateau’s most famous feature. Diane designed and installed a small lower bridge. Catherine then redesigned a large extension above and thus, the chateau grew over the river.

Chenonceau Bedroom

Royal Bedchamber- Chenonceau

Paintings, tapestries, original furniture and other Renaissance period pieces are scattered throughout the rooms. Visitors see the guardroom, chapel, bedroom of Diane de Poitiers, and another used by Catherine de Medici. I found it easy to imagine royalty dancing in the spacious gallery ballroom over the water. The view from the room’s windows, however, bespoke tranquility.

In addition, we saw Henri II’s bedroom with a portrait of Diane and the five queens’ bedroom- used by Catherine de Medici’s two daughters and three daughters-in-law. Louise of Lorraine’s bedroom was decorated in somber black and white after her husband, King Henri III,died. She then became known as the White Queen for joining the reclusive nuns who always wore white.

Chateau de Chenonceau Balcony

Laura overlooking the Chenoceau gardens

I took this photo of Laura in the upper window balcony because I thought she looked like a princess smiling down on her subjects.

The gardens burst with vibrant pink blossoms: one is a copy of Diane’s garden, the other is Catherine’s. These flowers are used to create the gorgeous arrangements that decorate each room in the chateau.

Chateau de Chenonceau

Chenonceau Chateau from the garden

Chenonceau gets a thumbs up. I would definitely return to this elegant chateau and spend an entire day. We didn’t have time to explore the maze, take a boat ride on the Cher, which would have offered a terrific photo-op or see the wax figures displayed in period costuming. The lunch area seemed lovely, and goodness, more time to stroll the grounds would have been appreciated. I suspect the grand illumination of the grounds during summer months is spectacular.

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