Chateaux de la Loire

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June 3rd 2013
Published: June 29th 2013
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Perfect Way to Spend a Day

I do not quite remember when the information about Loire Castles came to my notice. I know that I wanted to visit them (a couple) the previous year, and that this year I bought a guided bus tour to three Loire Castles with FranceTourisme. I chose the company because of the price, it was 110 Euros per person as compared to 170 Euros with Visitscope (tours in Russian). I supposed this tour would be in English, but the language did not matter too much. The Chateaux de la Loire are part of UNESCO World Heritage. There is a very long list of them, and it is, I guess, possible to comfortably visit 3-5 of them within a single day. If one has a car, or a bike, or a motorcycle, I suppose all of them can be visited in the course of a week or so. There was a guy in motorcycle outfit visiting Chenonceau Castle, looking so out of place.

Our tour was due to depart at 7-15 a.m. from Quai St. Michel. The morning was cold and cloudy, becoming much better after we have left Paris and continuing perfect throughout the excursion. The traffic jam on the highway to Paris was formidable. Our guide turned out a most extraordinary person – she delivered the excursion in three languages, speaking with a lot of mistakes, but definitely encountering no major difficulties in speaking them, English, French, and Spanish, and seemed particularly fond of Spanish (French being her native one). I mean her speech did not seem learned by heart, but constructed on the spot. One might be horrified at her English accent, however, everything was clear and easily understood. Logically, there were English-, French-, and Spanish-speaking tourists (a lot of the latter were from Brazil, I gathered). Luda tried to catch the French speech, while I listened to the three with equal pleasure, more caring for the visual than the verbal. Unfortunately, this entry will not 5,000 words long, but I think one can write volumes about the castles.

I will now reproduce a short extract from her speech during the drive to Chenonceau I recorded on my player, skipping the portions I fail to decipher: “…decide…decide to buy ze property of the family marke (?)… and zis family was totally ruined, and zey decide to sell the property… so ze fields… a mille… a mile… and also a midieval casel… a.. Toma Bohier decide to destroy ze first casel…it was, it waz a midieval casel a feodal casel wis military architecture, it wasn’t the fashion anymore.. you have to know zat Louis emm Francis the first (Francois premier in France) became king in 1515 and he spent one year in Italia (in Italy) and when he came back, he came back with a new idee – ze Renaissance architecture and ideez and also he came back with Leonardo da Vinci… so the fashion was Renaissance style..a.. It was ze style zat ze wife of Toma Bohier choose to built the casel. You have to know zat at ze time of ze king ze court were nomads, a, zey moved castle to castle, city to city… he couldn’t take care of ze construkshen… So you will see it’s a femininine casel. Very elegant casel” The most prominent peculiarities were the sound “a” (heard as “a”, not “ei” and “ǝ” at the end of many words (those who learn French will understand what I’m talking about).

The appearance of Chenonceau was familiar to me, I distinctly remember seeing the picture of it in a school history textbook (there were sections devoted to worldwide culture and art). Our group being very large (up to 40 persons), it was natural that the guide did not take the whole crowd on a guided tour of the castle itself, but allowed us wandering there as we pleased for about one and a half hours. It is a very remarkable castle, with a bridge across the narrow river. It is the second most visited chateau in France after the Versailles Palace. The castle was built by Thomas Bohier, Chamberlain for King Charles VIII of France, between 1515 and 1521. In 1535 the château was seized from Bohier's son by King Francis I of France for unpaid debts to the Crown; after Francis' death in 1547, Henry II offered the château as a gift to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, who became fervently attached to the château, arranged the building of the arched bridge joining the château to the opposite bank.

We did not spend a lot of time inside the castle, most of all I liked the basement kitchen rooms with copper utensils, all clean and in perfect condition.

Cheverny, our second castle according to programme, is still owned (and lived in, so part of the rooms are closed to the public) by its initial owners, the Hurault family. In 1914, they opened the château to the public, one of the first to do so, and the château remains a top tourist attraction to this day, renowned for magnificent interiors and its collection of furniture, tapestries, and objets d'art. A pack of some seventy dogs are also kept on the grounds and are taken out for hunts twice weekly.

The castle is small but the furniture, as the guide pointed out, but its furniture was indeed exquisite and the interiors looked exceptionally cozy. I expressed the wish to live in such a private castle, but Luda said there were smells, and Ghosts, too. There’s also a beautiful garden behind the castle, and a kennel on the other side, with a multitude of dogs, whereof only one was barking; perhaps, he was a boss. All the other ones seemed indifferent to tourists’ gazes, but disturbed by the heat and lay under the sun with their own thoughts.

The third castle was the inimitable Chambord. Château de Chambord is one of the most recognizable (and the largest in the Loire Valley) châteaux in the world because of its very distinct French Renaissance architecture which blends traditional French medieval forms with classical Renaissance structures.It was constructed as a hunting lodge for King François I. One of the architectural highlights is the spectacular staircase: the two helices ascend the three floors without ever meeting (there are suggestions that Leonardo da Vinci may have designed it). The chateau is so big even the kings had trouble maintaining it (supplying provisions, furniture, a logistical nightmare, in short; heating the huge rooms was also a problem) and used to abandon it for many years at some point or other.

It is an immense edifice with towers and all sorts of decorations, and is the most impressive structure I saw so far. We walked on the top terrace, and in about ten minutes the excursion was actually over, and the bus took us back to Paris.

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