Saturday, 19 April 2014

The Châteaux of the Loire Valley - Part 2

This is my second post about the various châteaux of the Loire Valley (part 1 is here), which I’ve been visiting while studying abroad this year. Aside from Blois, the châteaux in those post are all further out in the countryside than most of the others I visited, which means they have very large grounds attached, which are lovely to visit, but I did find some of them more difficult to get to. Chambord and Beauregard both involved a train to Blois and then a bus out to the countryside, and due to the bus timetable I only got a limited time at Beauregard and far more time than required for Chambord.  Both châteaux themselves were lovely though.

Chambord



This château is usually described as the grandest in the valley, and is certainly the largest. As a former hunting lodge (not that you’d guess, as it more resembles a palace), it stands in the middle of a vast park, isolating it from the rest of the world. It’s very peaceful, although rather than formal grounds, it is mostly forest and grass that make up this land. There is a small “village” near the château, made up of cafés and shops for the visitors. The château itself is stunning to look at, both from the outside and from within, with all the building work is ornately decorated, a double helix staircase standing at the centre and access to the rooftop where you can wander amongst its turrets. While only the central building is accessible, it still provides plenty of rooms to explore, including the chapel and an exhibition of carriages.

Blois



While not nearly as grand as the châteaux in its surrounding countryside, this one stands on a hilltop in the centre of Blois, giving a rather nice backdrop to the town. The château is built around a central courtyard, and there is a church and a tower as well as the main buildings, although only the basement of the tower is accessible. The most interesting section of the château is the royal apartments, well decorated and informative, and allow for views over the town. The château is also home to the town’s fine arts museum, a lengthy gallery of paintings – every town in France seems to have a fine arts museum, but most are in their own building, so I wasn’t expecting to see it here.

Beauregard



The day I visited here I think there must have only been three or four other guests in the grounds. It’s smaller and less well-known than some others nearby, but still very nice. The château itself is more like a manor house, and only one wing is accessible, but it’s superbly put together, and the portrait gallery is brimming with paintings. I was a little thrown by the exhibition of dog paintings on display, but they did make for something different! The majority of the grounds are open grassy space and the formal gardens were not yet in bloom; but there’s a nice pond, chickens and sheep and a sort of fun fact trail, which I didn’t have time to read much of, but seemed like it would be interesting.

Chenonceau




I think this may have been my favourite château all year. I got a beautiful day when I went, and although it’s out in the countryside, it’s easily accessible from its train station. The château itself is built in arches across the river, making it very memorable amongst all the others in the valley, and inside, this section is a bright and sunny gallery. The rest of the château is fully furnished and provides plenty of information, like all others, but I found it particularly interesting to discover the history of the women who lived there, given that most châteaux have a male-dominant story to them. The grounds are stunning, with two distinctly different formal gardens (created by different women who once lived there) in full bloom during my visit, a hedgerow maze, a waxworks gallery, a wine cellar, a farmstead, vegetable gardens and donkeys. While some châteaux can be covered fully in an hour or two, Chenonceau merits at least a full afternoon.

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