Bonjour, Welkommen, Hello Europe! travel blog

Ali wanted another day of rest today to finish off a book, so I hopped in the car (again!) and took a drive downstream. Along the way I passed several famous chateau of the Loire. The first of which was Chateau Chaumont-Sur-Loire. The chateau sits nice and high above the town below, and looked resplendent from the opposite side of the river. I was tempted to go pay it a visit, as the opposite side looked very interesting in a documentary I saw. The chateau used to belong to Catherine de Medici, wife of Henri II. However, when he passed away, he forced Henri's mistress, Dianne de Poitier to exchange Chaumont for Chenonceau (which we'll see soon).

The drive along the river was a bit unusual. Every now and then you would get these beautiful views of the river bending around a corner, with the sun bouncing off the water (it was before midday). However, I couldn't stop to take a picture, as the road was 1 lane either way, with no where to park. Oddly enough, everytime I passed an area like this, about 500m later, there'd be an area to pull over and park, however the river would be obstructed by trees! It was highly annoying.

The next stop was the town of Blois. It is one of the larger towns on the Loire, with over 50,000 people living there. It also has a magnificent chateau, with an exterior spiral staircase and huge library being significant sites. But again, I wasn't going to stop, because I wanted to go even further along the river.

I had to cross the Loire, and go to the opposite bank, and go through a couple of tricky one way streets. One of them had a traffic light half way down the street, with no obvious use. I stopped because it had a red light (of course), but I wondered what the hell it was for. Then it turned green, and I approached an intersection. I did so slowly - much to the chagrin of the people following, who all honked their horns to tell me to hurry up. After I entered the intersection, I found it was a square\place, with 4 streets coming off of it. It was very oddly shaped, but I noticed each of the streets had traffic lights quite a distance back from the intersection.

I drove along and then pulled over, as I had a wonderful view of the chateau and the churches of the city of Blois, all of which were now on the opposite side of the river. It also gave the impatient french drivers a chance to speed right past me.

A bit further along, I saw a sign pointing to Chambord castle. I followed the signs for a bit, which took you off the main road along the Loire. In the distance as I drove, I could see a plume of clouds, and 2 nuclear reactors. I knew that they generated a fair bit of electricity in France from Nuclear Energy, but it was a bit confronting to see it near such a renowned cultural "beauty". It was also very close to I know why the grapes all glowed in the dark. (just kidding!)

As I snaked my way through some small country towns, and in between some recently harvested corn fields, I saw more and more signs leading to Chambord. I followed them (of course) even though we were coming back tomorrow to see it. Eventually, I entered a heavily wooded area, which is the nature park outside of Chambord. I followed the road for a bit, and then went into a car park to have a sticky beak. Ali had been very generous, putting up with me whilst I listened to audio guide after audio guide in every place we went, and I thought it might be a good idea to take a sneak peak and use the audio guide so as not to slow us down.

The chateau itself was magnificent, but I'll post more about that one tomorrow. Inside the chateau is a keep. The keep also forms 2 of the towers of the exterior walls, and surprisingly, it was not used as a defensive mechanism like most other castles. The keep was done in the form of a Greek cross, and it had rooms in each of the towers off the main hall (which formed the cross). In the intersecting arms of the cross, were 2 spiral stair cases.

These were made out of marble, and were designed so that 2 people could walk up\down the adjacent stair case, and periodically look through a carved window to see each other. In the middle of the two stair cases was a small circular (maybe 5 feet in diameter) area which was created to filter light into the stair wells. The other interesting thing is that the two staircases never intersect. Although they spiral upwards and adjacent to each other, almost like they are entwined in a dance, they never meet.

I looked through all of the rooms on display on the first and second level, and to be honest, I thought it was a bit disappointing. Although the chateau used to be a royal chateau, it was when the French monarchy lived like nomads. They would move from one castle to the next, and as such, they did not have much in the way of furniture or decoration. This was because it all needed to be packed up and stored for the next castle they moved to.

So, most of the rooms in Chambord were, whilst not quite bare, sparse. The most interesting rooms were on the second level, where Louis XIV had his bed chamber. This was interesting, not so much because the room was spectacular (it was), but because he used to hold court in bed. Adjacent to his bedroom, were two waiting rooms. The first (and furthest from his bed chamber) was for those people whom Louis did not really want to see. They had to wait there on the off chance that he would walk from his bed chamber through that wing.

The second, and closest waiting room, was for people who had important business, or were familiar to Louis. Here there were small tables with a couple of chairs at each. Apparently the people waiting would be given drinks, and be allowed to play games of cards etc, whilst they waited to be summoned.

The other thing that I learnt from this room, is that Louis turned his getting dressed into an actual ceremony. People would scurry about when he rose from his bed, tending to his needs.

Some other interesting areas where the room of one of the Counts of Chambord. His father had died, and he was raised for a while at the palace. Near his bedroom was a very small study chamber, and then there were two rooms in a very short distance. The rooms were like a veritable treasure trove of portraits, all of which were pictures of his relatives and the French aristocracy. It was as if these rooms were designed for him to learn who he was, and how he fitted in to his world.

The last area I visited was the cathedral, which all castles have. It was a bit bare, but did have marks of the various kings who had stayed at Chambord. There was a lizard like creature (a newt?), the sun (Louis XIV) and a big letter H (for Henri).

After walking through each of the rooms, I then went upstairs through the double spiral staircase. The third floor had a very, modern art exhibit, which looked a bit like puke on canvas. I shouldn't be so judgemental, but many of the paintings I saw did not look artisitic, they just looked like images on paper.

After this I went up even further, and onto the terrace roof of the chateau. From here I could survey the entire woodland around the chateau. The view was particularly beautiful from up here, but very much the same on all sides. The chateau was the beautiful thing to admire here, not the gardens, which were very much just woodlands.

I then headed back to the car, and drove out the other side of Chambord. I was heading out of the wooded gaming area, almost to the very exit, when a wild boar ran across the road in front of the car, scaring the crap out of me. It would have been about 2 feet tall at least, and very solid. It was obviously scared of me as well, because it didn't stop, it just kept running. The speed limit through that part of the grounds is quite slow - 30km\h, so I didn't have to worry too much about hitting the breaks hard. As a matter of fact, by the time I was close to where it had ran out, I was almost at a complete stop, and it was off the road and disappearing into the trees. Still a bit of an adrenaline rush though.

Outside of the castle grounds, I kept driving, and let the GPS show me the way back towards Amboise. As I was driving though, I came across a sign that said Chateau Cheverny. This was one I'd seen on paper, but did not know much about. It was also not on our itinerary as a place to visit, but I thought I'd go have a look anyway.

When I got there I had to park quite a distance from the entrance. The chateau is inside a high fenced area, and the car park is a long one way road, with angled parking either side.

At the end of the car park is a small shop (boutique!) where you buy tickets. I bought myself a ticket and walked into the grounds. I think I'd call this the Dog Chateau, not so much because it's a bad place, it was actually quite beautiful. What was obvious though, is that this was another hunting Chateau, as there was a large area full of dogs barking their little heads off, each time someone came near.

I went straight into the chateau, as I wasn't sure how much time it would take to view. There were two interesting parts to the gardens to view as well, but they took quite a while to get to - the Chateau offered golf buggies to get to them, or you could go on a safari ride as a tour group.

The other attraction at the chateau of note, was a Tintin exhibit. The author of Tintin apparently used the likeness of the chateau in one of the comics, Chateau de Moulinsart. I didn't elect to go see the Tintin exhibit either, as you had to pay extra and I never read the comics, so it would have been lost on me.

The chateau was one of the first in the Loire to be opened to the public. For almost all of the past 600 years, the Chateau has been owned by the Hurault family. The first name I can remember from the tour, was Raoul Hurault, who was controlled of finances for Francis I, King of France. Philippe Hurault, his son, inherited Cheverny (which had already been in the family for a few generations), but had it confiscated by King Henry III.

It ended up in the hands of Diane de Poitiers, who some claim to have bought the castle legally. This was so that she was close to Chaumont whilst it was being renovated for her (after she had been "evicted" from Chenonceau). When she moved into Chaumont, Philippe had to buy the chateau back.

The chateau was lost a second time, when one of the heirs of the chateau did not take much interest in the inheritance. The chateau passed through several hands for a few years, before it was purchased by Anne-Victor Hurault. He (yes HE) took ownership in 1825, after the French revolution (which it managed to escape unscathed, as one of the revolutionists, an "ambassador" took ownership during the period).

Inside the castle, it was very lavish, and well decorated. The interior decorator, Jean Monier, who was a Loire Valley native (from Blois) had won the favour of Queen Marie de Medici. She sent him to Italy to be trained. When he returned, she had him work on the Luxembourg Palace in Paris. When he finished there, he returned to Blois, where he was asked to come and work on Cheverny.

The palace itself is still inhabited by the Hurault's, who have some apartments in one wing of the Chateau. The other parts, which are decorated very exquisitely with tapestries and frescoes (who'd have thought!) had a guess room for the King to visit. In the King's bedroom, the bed was decorated as if to lie flat, however during the time it was built, people slept raised. There were two reasons for this, the first was that people feared sleeping on their backs may lead them to swallowing their own tongues, and the second was that only the dead were left to sleep on their backs. The bed was also raised, and had insulation put under it, so that it would keep out the cold and damp coming through the floor.'

There was also a magnificent large room (largest in the palace), which was an arms room. It had several suits of armor and weapons adorned the walls. Each of the rooms seemed to be covered in Flemish tapestries, or with painted portraits of family members. There was even a small room where the wall was covered by a family tree, with a picture of the current owners on a table adjacent.

Afterwards, I went outside in the garden to admire the building. It wasn't very large, wide but narrow I guess you would say. There were 2 wings either side of the main and rear entrance. On the ends were larger square structures. The building was made from stone, and each stone had lines cut into it horizontally, which I learnt were called "bosses". There was also a series of roman sculptures decorating the facade, which was a throwback to renaissance style. The palace was meant to be designed in a similiar fashion to the Luxembourg Palace (not suprisingly), although I have not seen it to compare. This style was to become a de facto standard in French architecture.

After admiring the building, I walked through the gardens to the boutique restaurant called L'orangerie. I needed to get a drink, and thought they would have a baguette or quiche there I could eat, however when I arrived, they were in the middle of packing up. I was able to buy a drink, and was left to pick over the pastries or ice cream. I ended up going for a macaron which was almost the size of a saucer. It was salted caramel flavour. Yum!

After eating this, I walked back through the gardens again, and contemplated trying to walk to the canals, until reason got the better of me and I headed back to the car. I used the GPS to get back to Amboise so that I wasn't too late. It took me past another Chateau called Beauregard (yes I was tempted!) but I drove past it and headed to the motorway. The motorway dropped me back in the middle of Blois, so I then followed that back along the river, and to the accommodation.

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