June 9 – 14
We had some time to relax at the bus stop before its arrival, and then a ride of 20-minutes or so before landing at Château de Chambord for the rest of the afternoon. We walked from the bus stop to the entrance to pay our entry fee of 14-euros apiece, the going price so far for visiting these incredible museums. We had a bit of time to kill before our entry time and so we each had a drink (Coke Zero for me) and engaged in some serious people watching, including hordes of cyclists, this being cycling country as we will soon explore.
Our bewitching hour arrived, and we walked to the back of the chateau to gain entry to this incredible edifice. It is one of the most recognizable châteaux in the world because of its very distinctive French Renaissance architecture which blends traditional French medieval forms with classical Renaissance structures. The building, which was never completed, was constructed by the king of France, Francis I.
Chambord is the largest château in the Loire Valley; it was built to serve as a hunting lodge for Francis I, who maintained his royal residences at the Château de Blois and Amboise; the king spent barely seven weeks there in total, that time consisting of short hunting visits. The original design is attributed to Italian architect Domenico da Cortona; Leonardo da Vinci may also have been involved or influenced the design. It was altered considerably during the twenty-eight years of its construction (1519–1547), during which it was overseen on-site by Pierre Neveu.
In 1792, in the wake of the French Revolution, some of the furnishings were sold and timber removed. For a time, the building was left abandoned, though in the 19th century some attempts were made at restoration. During the Second World War, art works from the collections of the Louvre and the Château de Compiègne were moved here.
As the château had been constructed with the purpose of short stays, it was not practical to live in on a longer-term basis. The massive rooms, open windows and high ceilings meant heating was impractical. Similarly, as the château was not surrounded by a village or estate, there was no immediate source of food other than game. This meant that all food had to be brought with the group, typically numbering up to 2,000 people at a time.
As a result of all the above, the château was completely unfurnished during this period. All furniture, wall coverings, eating implements and so forth were brought specifically for each hunting trip, a major logistical exercise. It is for this reason that much furniture from the era was built to be disassembled to facilitate transportation. After Francis died of a heart attack in 1547, the château was not used for almost a century allowing it to fall into decay. Finally, in 1639 King Louis XIII gave it to his brother, Gaston d’Orléans, who saved the château from ruin by carrying out much restoration work.
We walked through the outer walls and entered the chateau on the ground floor, home to the first few steps of the magnificent Double-helix staircase, the 18th century kitchens and a collection of rooms devoted to hunters, the Bourbon, carriages, and the illustrious. The two spirals of the staircase ascend the three floors without ever meeting, illuminated from above by a sort of light house at the highest point of the château. There are suggestions that Leonardo da Vinci may have designed the staircase, but this has not been confirmed.
One leaves the ground floor via the staircase to the first floor which contains different 16th to 18th century furnished apartments and a museum dedicated to the count of Chambord (19th century). Here one views the Queen’s chamber, a royal apartment, the governor’s chamber, the Moliere Theatre, and a guest apartment.
I spent the bulk of my time on this floor moving clockwise through the rooms on each corner of the main building and then branching out to each of two wings, first to take in the chapel and next the lodgings of Francois I, consisting of the bed chamber, a wardrobe, a study, an oratory, and a large public hall where he received courtiers.
Next, I ascended to the second floor, home to sculpted ceiling vaults bearing the emblems of Francois I and surrounding rooms containing temporary artistic or heritage exhibits.
From there I made my final ascent to the terraces, home to eleven kinds of towers and three types of chimneys. Writer Henry James remarked, “the towers, cupolas, the gables, the lanterns, the chimneys, look more like the spires of a city than the salient points of a single building.
Besides the towers and chimneys, the terraces offered incredible views of the surrounding countryside including multiple gardens. The château is surrounded by a 13,000-acre wooded park and game reserve maintained with red deer, enclosed by a 19-mile wall.
And so, I completed my top to bottom visit and texting Joanna to let her know I’d finished, headed outside to the concessions building to get myself a well-deserved beer. We were experimenting this trip with a new phone carrier, T-Mobile after switching from Verizon, our long-time provider. We’d discovered that Verizon has superior coverage in the United States but were now enjoying free cellular and data in Europe with T-Mobile, a costly proposition with Verizon. We would make great use of that access throughout the journey, making us feel better about the less than stellar coverage in the States.
What struck me time and again while here was how much money the royals spent on buildings like this while their subjects toiled, often in misery. Viewing the excesses of the chateaux’s here in the Loire and St. Chapelle in Paris, it is easy to see why revolutions occurred in France and Russia. Joanna soon joined me and rewarded herself with an ice cream and soon enough it was time to trek out to the bus stop for our ride back to Blois. We’d decided to catch dinner at La Duchesse Anne, a small bar/brasserie near the bus stop that we’d had a coffee at the day before. Joanna ordered a Kir Chambord (Chambord liqueur and bubbly) while I opted for one of France’s finer lagers, a 1664.
To eat, she would order the Cabillaud (baked cod in a delicate sauce) with white asparagus and for me, the fish and chips. Both dishes were nicely prepared and adequately proportioned, in fact just right for each of us as so often, entrées contain way too much food to consume in one sitting. We would polish off each of our meals and settle the tab at a reasonable 44-Euros ($47), walking back to the hotel to prepare for the next portion of the trip, three days on a rental bike for me (Joanna was to join me before she broke her arm) and Joanna moving from town to town via various forms of public transport. We’ll cover these new adventures starting in the next post.
Château de Chambord: https://www.chambord.org/en/