Exploring the châteaux of the Loire Valley was quite a special experience while I was visiting France. I have seen a numerous amount of palaces, castles, and chateaus throughout Europe, but there was something very distinctive about Loire Valley and its châteaux. There are over three hundred in the region that range from traditional fortified castles to stately residences. I had visited three of the loveliest châteaux in the Loire Valley- Chateau d’Amboise, Chateau de Chambord, and Chateau de Chenonceau. All were full of royal history, and extraordinarily beautiful- they were a site to behold.
The Châteaux of the Loire Valley were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000. They are an important part of the architectural heritage in the historic towns along the river Loire in France. All illustrate the ideals of design of Renaissance France, attracting the finest architects and landscape designers.
Visiting the Châteaux of the Loire Valley can be an enlightening experience, especially for those who enjoy European history and architecture. All three can be done with a tour group or on your own, since they are a short distance from each other. I have added website links to the list of Châteaux, to assist you on planning your visit to these regal residences- Enjoy!
Château d’Amboise majestically overlooks the river Loire, which is a UNESCO World Heritage River. It is one of the Renaissance’s architectural jewels, and was a residence for French Kings during the 15th and 19th centuries. Henry II and his wife, Catherine de’ Medici, raised their children here at the Château along with Mary Stuart, the child Queen of Scotland, who was to be married to the future French Francis II.
The château can be traced to various historical moments during France’s history. This royal residence is a true expression of centuries of French luxury, with its terraced gardens, balconies overlooking the river Loire to its grand interiors.
There have been many artists, literary figures, and nobility that have been invited to Château d’Amboise. One significant figure during the Renaissance period who was a guest here was Leonardo da Vinci. He was invited by King Francis I in December 1515, where he lived and worked close by in Clos Luce. Da Vinci died four years later on May 2 in 1519, and his tomb resides at the château inside the Chapel of Saint Hubert.
For visitors information- Château d’Amboise
Château de Chambord
Château de Chambord is the largest château in the Loire Valley, and the most recognizable in the world. The architecture is stunning and blends traditional French medieval forms with classical Renaissance features. Charmbord was used as a hunting lodge for Francis I, who also maintained royal residences at Château de Blois and Amboise.
The design of Charmbord was attributed to Italian architect and Domenico de Cortona, as well as Leonardo da Vinci. The Charmbord staircase, which is the most famous feature of the Château, is attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. There are two intertwining spirals that give an outsider the impression that the staircase is a single structure. The genius behind this double helix is that two people can use it at the same time, and not run into each other.
Double Helix Staircase
For visitor information – Château de Chambord
Château de Chenonceau
Château de Chenonceau spans over the river Cher, and is one of the best loved châteaux in the Loire Valley. The current château, which was built during 1514-1522 has its foundations on an old mill that expands over the river. The storybook architecture is a mixture of late Gothic and early Renaissance, and it is the most visited château in France besides the Palace of Versailles.
There were several fascinating women in French royal history that were connected with Château de Chenonceau, which happen to be three of my favorites- Diane de Poitiers, Louise de Lorraine and Catherine de’ Medici. All of them left their personal marks at the château, in the most fascinating of ways.
Diane de Poitiers, was the royal mistress of King Henry II. She was an intelligent woman who possessed great power within the French court. Henry was very fond of Diane, which caused Queen Catherine much jealousy. Diane was an integral part of transforming Chenonceau into the Renaissance jewel that it is today. She even went so far as to embellish rooms of the residence with a clever monogram of D&H (Diane and Henry). Although Diane lived at Chenonceau, it was legally owned by the Crown. Through many years of complicated legal maneuvers, Diane took ownership of the castle for herself in 1555.
Louise de Lorraine-Vaudemont was married and completely in love with her husband, King Henry III (Queen Catherine’s son). When Henry was assassinated in 1589, Louise moved to the château, which she had inherited upon Catherine’s death.
While mourning at the château, Louise was known as the “White Queen” due to her wearing white mourning clothes. She had also installed black tapestries, and painted her bedroom black with patterns of skulls and crossbones. This was a popular motif during this era- The Danse Macabre. Louise had mourned Henry’s death throughout her full life, and after her death Château de Chenonceau had never been a royal residence again.
Catherine de’ Medici was a clever woman and had an Italian maze constructed at Château de Chenonceau. There were 2,000 yew trees planted that covered over a hectare of land. In the maze’s center there is a raised gazebo that offers an elevated view of the whole labyrinthe.
For visitor information – Château de Chenonceau
With age, comes wisdom. With travel, comes understanding…– Sandra Lake
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