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Published: April 15th 2018
This afternoon we visited yet another of the châteaux for which this area is famous, thanks to the generous offer of our lovely and charming hostess, Sophie. She insisted upon driving us to the village of Azay-le-Rideau, located about 15 miles southwest of Tours, so that we could visit one of the most beautiful Renaissance buildings in the Loire Valley, the Château d'Azay-le-Rideau.
We arrived at the entrance to the château at 3 o'clock, and Sophie would return to collect us at 4:30, telling us she would do some shopping in the village. But I suspect she parked nearby, and then passed the time on her smart-phone, while sitting in the car, until it was time to rejoin us! Dee and I cannot even begin to express our gratitude for all the kindnesses Sophie has extended to us during our stay; she is one very special lady.
As we walked approached the château, it gave us the impression of a much smaller, more intimate hideaway than the larger châteaux we'd visited earlier in the week. Set on an island in the middle of the Indre river, a tributary of the Loire, the château of Azay-le-Rideau seems to rise straight
Dee and Sophie
Leaving the Château d'Azay-le-Rideau.
out of the water, which reflects the castle's façades so that the château appears to float in its own image.
The famous French writer Honoré Balzac, who was an occasional guest at the château, greatly admired the building, describing it as "a facetted diamond, set in the Indre". This stunning setting has helped Azay-le-Rideau to become one of the most famous of the Loire's many châteaux.
Built during the reign of François I, the château is considered to be one of the foremost examples of French Renaissance architecture. Although both wings were built in the early years of the 16th-century, the château did not take on its final form until the 19th-century.
The current château occupies the site of a former feudal castle dating back to the 12th-century, which fell into ruins until 1518, when the land was acquired by Gilles Berthelot, one of the king's treasurers. Desiring a residence to reflect his wealth and status, Berthelot set about reconstructing the building in a way that would incorporate its medieval past with the latest architectural styles of the Italian renaissance.
The château was still incomplete in 1527, when Berthelot was forced into exile as a result
of some corrupt financial dealings. Disregarding the pleas of Berthelot's wife, François confiscated the unfinished château and, in 1535, gave it to one of his cronies, who undertook only minor renovations.
So the château remained incomplete, with only the south and west wings of the planned quadrilateral ever being built. As a result, the château was left with its distinctive (but accidental) "L-shape", which it retains to this day.
After passing through the hands of various nobility, the château was eventually purchased by Marquis Charles de Biencourt in 1787, field marshal of the king's armies. By that time, the château was in poor condition, and from the 1820s onward, Biencourt undertook extensive alteration work.
In 1905, the château was acquired by the French state for 250,000 francs, and became a listed Historical Monument. During the early years of the Second World War, 1939-1940, the château provided a home for the Education Ministry when it, like many other French ministries, withdrew from Paris. The Château d'Azay-le-Rideau is now one of many national monuments under the protection of the Centre des monuments nationaux
, and also forms part of the Loire valley UNESCO World Heritage Site.
We began by
ascending to the first floor via a Grand Staircase (the so-called "escalier d'honneur"
), and one of the château's most prominent features, to explore the Great Hall, Psyche's Room, the Renaissance Chamber, and the King's Chamber.
After I climbed a narrow set of stairs to visit the attic, we descended to ground level for a peek at the ornately decorated Biencourt Salon, the Billiards room, kitchen and dining rooms, and the Salon/Library.
When we had finished with the interior, Dee waited in the impressive courtyard, while I took photos from various angles during a walk-a-round of the château. The setting is gorgeous, with the flowing river and surrounding foliage complementing the elegance of the château itself.
When we rejoined Sophie at 4:30, we walked through a part of the cute village of Azay-le-Rideau on the way back to her car. During the drive home, she surprised us once again by offering to accompany us to Amboise, a château town east of Tours, tomorrow afternoon!
Dee's comments: What a wonderful afternoon with my new, little French sister, Sophie! She has been so nice; the other day I had asked her about some l'Occitaine shampoo provided in our bathroom,
so today she gave me two bottles to take along to London.
Oh--almost forgot, she introduced me to a tantalizing new fragrance, which she wears. I liked it so much I bought some at Galeries Lafayette, an upscale department store, a few days ago. Mitch calls it "Sophie's Scent". LOL! Merci beaucoup!
During the trip to the château, I rode shotgun while she drove, and we had some wonderful conversations, despite some language difficulties. She has been SO thoughtful and kind during our stay--we are going to miss her. :-(
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