Saturday, 12 April 2014

The Châteaux of the Loire Valley - Part 1

I’ve been studying abroad this year, in a town called Tours in the Loire Valley. I’ve found the town itself isn’t particularly exciting, but I have been using the year to see more of France, and this region is well known for its many châteaux. There’s so many I couldn’t possibly go to them all, but I’ve managed quite a lot, so this will be the first of two posts (part 2 now available here) about them. A few generalisations to start with though – every château is either situated in either a town or out in the country, surrounded by large grounds, and therefore those with grounds are much nicer to visit when the weather is good. There are usually some parts of the château that are not accessible to the public, so larger ones may not contain any more than the smaller ones, and all have plenty of historical information, available in many languages.

Saumur



This château sits on a hilltop in the middle of the town of Saumur, so naturally there are some pretty great views from the top. There’s not much in the way of grounds, but the town itself is lovely for walking around. The château has a medieval feel, more like what we call a castle in English, than many other châteaux which resemble stately homes. The interior of the château has actually been converted into a museum, so there’s a lot of historical information in a more general sense, whereas other chateaux tend to be furnished and stick to their own history. While I was there, a horse show took place in the small sand arena next to the château, which was no extra charge to attend, although I believe it is only a summer occurrence. It was a medieval jousting tournament, and although it was all in French, it was easy enough to follow, and make for something a little unique to this château.

Amboise



This one is also on a hilltop in a small town, but still has gardens attached to it. The whole thing is surrounded by ramparts and towers up the hillside, parts of which you can walk around. The château itself is quite small, more like large house, but all furnished inside as it would have been in the past, and there is access to the tower and spiral ramp leading to it. The other building inside the walls is a small church, which is most famed for housing the tomb of Leonardo da Vinci, who spent his final years in Amboise. The gardens are most interesting behind the château, where the open lawns of the front are replaced by formal planting designs.

Clos Lucé




This definitely looks more like house, but is still classed as a château. It’s also in the town of Amboise, and was the home of Da Vinci in the years preceding his death. The house itself is furnished as he would have used it, and appears to have no restricted areas, unlike other châteaux. However, the main attractions are the basement and the grounds. The basement holds miniature replicas and animated films of many of his inventions, and full-scale working models are located throughout the grounds. The grounds also have many of his drawing and paintings transferred to huge canvases and hung from the trees. Even without these additions, the gardens are beautiful, but their presence makes for a fascinating visit.

Angers



This château is located inside one of the larger towns of the Loire Valley. From the outside, it is enclosed by a ring of towers, which you are able to walk around for views of the town, and what appears to be a moat, but is in fact drained and instead filled with formal gardens. Inside, after crossing the drawbridge, there are various buildings dotted about, the main one being the royal apartments. Unfortunately, during my visit these were closed, presumably for renovation. However, there are also gardens within the walls and access to the inside of the towers, which host various modern art pieces – a little unusual for a château, but certainly interesting. A huge gallery also holds The Apocalypse Tapestry, and you can have a guided explanation of it if desired.

Langeais



Although it is located in a tiny village, this is still worth a visit. It has a medieval design, with large towers, and grounds sloping up behind it. Inside, it is mostly accessible, although there was some cleaning work going on while I was there, and everything was fully furnished, however I did find the wax models in one room rather eerie. There’s natural progression for looking around it, which includes access to the walkway around the top of the building. The grounds are small, but host a defensive/look-out structure which you can climb up, a play-park, a tree-house (there were no other visitors in the grounds, so of course I went up it!) and a collection of fairy paintings, which were unusual but somehow fitted in well.

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