Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Loire Valley Castles- A Chateau to Suit all Tastes

The Loire is the longest river in France.  It takes its source from the Massif Central, travels north to just outside Orleans and then turns west for 600 miles before reaching the Atlantic.  In the region between Orleans and Angers called the Loire Valley, a rich and fertile land with temperate climate,  scores of chateaux were built on the bank of the River Loire and its tributaries—the Cher and the Indre.  Since 2000, the Loire Valley has been inscribed as a World Heritage site for its architectural heritage and natural beauty.

Each castle has a distinct history and an exploration of the Loire Valley merits a few days to sample the best.  Here are my favorites.

The Most Romantic Castles 

 Chenonceau is one of the most of the loveliest and most graceful chateaux of the Loire Valley.  It is built over the Cher river and owes its elegance to women's influence notably Diane de Poitiers, the favorite of King Henry II.  At the King  untimely death during a joust tournament, the Queen Catherine de Medici expelled Diane and took over the castle. She then undertook to embelish it further,  built the covered gallery over the river and enlarged the Italian gardens. The chateau was spared from destruction at the French Revolution because its then owner Madame Dupin (Grandmother of author George Sand) convinced the Revolutionary Guards that the bridge was essential being the only to cross the river for many miles 

Azay le Rideau is a gem of early Renaissance and rivals Chenonceau in its elegance. It was built on the island in the middle of the Indre river by Francois I's treasurer - Gilles Berthelot between 1518 and 1527 and features a  straight flight staircase rather than spiral, which was unusual at at this time period.  

The Most Majestic 
By  far,  Chambord is the grandest, most extravagant and most royal of the châteaux de la Loire.  Built by Francois I in 1519 on the site of a hunting lodge in the Forêt de Boulogne this castle counts 440 room, 84-staircase, 365 fireplaces. A tour of the chateau will you take through many grandiose apartments but most stunning is the double spiral staircase possibly conceived by Leonardo da Vinci.  The park is a national hunt reserve and enclosed by a wall,   the longest one in france (20 miles)

The Most Royal 
Blois was the favorite residence of seven kings and ten queens until Henri IV moved the court to Paris in 1598.  
It started as a medieval castle, residence of the Counts of Blois.  Louis XII, who was born in the castle,  upon becoming king in 1498 promptly undertook reconstruction of the residence allying gothic architecture with the new Renaissance style.  Francois I who succeeded him also undertook renovation of the royal residence  between 1515-1519.  He had a new wing built of brick and stone with its most stunning feature -an  octogonal spiral staircase.   Blois was the site of many intrigues and conspiracies most famous was the  murder  of the Duke de Guise by the king's guards. You will also discover on the tour of the castle that Catherine de Medici's bedchamber holds many hidden panels (237) ; secret cabinets to hide jewels, documents and even poison.

Medieval Fortress 
Langeais was originally a fortress keep built in the 10th century by Foulque de Nerra, Duke of Anjou. to protect from the territorial attacks by  his neighbor the Count of Blois.  The ruins of the stone keep are  the oldest surviving of this type in France. The present castle was quickly built by Louis XI  between 1465-1469 and features high walls, round towers, a crenelated and machicolated sentry walk and a drawbridge spanning the moat. The marriage of Charles VIII and Anne de Bretagne took place at the castle in 1491.  

Other medieval fortresses in the Loire Valley   are  Angeais  and Loches.  The former was built by Saint Louis between 1228 and 1238 and is home to the priceless tapestry of the Acopalypse;  its surrounding moat is now a lovely garden.   A tour of the medieval fortress castle of Loches,  will include the dungeons and cells where louis XI kept prisonners in cages.

Fairy Tale Castles
The white stone facade turreted castle of Usse was the inspiration for 17th century author Charles Perrault Sleeping Beauty.   You  will also love  a visit of the Chateau du Rivau near Chinon.  Its 14 whimsical themed gardens are inspired by fairy tales stories and other legends.  A walk through the garden is a delight to all - children and to anyone young at heart

Best Garden - 
Villandry castle was the last of the great chateaux of the Renaissance  built in the Loire valley.  It was a minister of Francois I, Jean le Breton who built it in the 16th century.  Being fond of the art of gardening and especially Italian landscaping, Jean le Breton had gardens laid out at the foot of the castle overlooking the River Cher.  Today, the reconstitued Renaissance gardens are the main attraction when visiting Villandry for they are magnificent. There are laid out in three sections- a vegetable garden in which over 80,000 vegetable plants have  planted in geometric patterns; an ornemental flower gardens dedicated to courtly love and the water garden.

The best furnished Castle 
Cheverny dates from the classical period, built between 1604 and 1634 and is still  lived-in  by the  descendants of the original family.  Inside it features lavish furnishings, tapestries, and a collection of armor.  One of the highlight of a visit of Cheverny is the feeding of the kennel hounds- a pack of 70- used for hunting in the nearby forrest. 

Visit Enchanted France for custom tours to the Loire Valley and other beautiful regions of France  www.enchanted-france.com

tags; #loire valley,# france castles; # loire valley castles,# Chenonceau,#Chambord, # Villandry, # Cheverny, # Chateau de Blois# , # Chateau du Rivau, #Langeais castle

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