Sunday, 29 September 2013

A Pagoda in the Loire - rich man's folly

Some people have way too much money and not enough sense. Meet the Duc de Choiseuil who bought the Chateau de Chanteloup in 1761. He enlarged it considerably and added what can only be described as a 'folly'...

As you approach by foot you are surprised that you have to walk 600m down a path lined by lime trees to get to the entrance of the monument known as the Pagoda.

What is something Asian doing in the heart of the Loire Valley? Answer, because a rich man wanted to impress. The Duc was Prime Minister to Louis XV but fell out of favour in 1770 so he took himself off to Chanteloup where he received friends and illustrious guests and died in 1785. Along the way he created an extravagant estate full of water features and gardens and a luxury residence but for all his wealth and effort almost nothing remains.

Before you arrive at the Pagoda you go through gates in the chinese garden. There's a small stone building where some information and a video is available. Next you go through some rusting iron gates and walk towards a pagoda in stone which gives the impression of being on a slight lean. This monument measures 44m high and is held up by a ring of 16 columns and 16 pillars. Each story is constructed as a dome.

 The staircase is very narrow and steep. I went up to the top twice because JC didn't take a photo the first time. There's a panoramic view of the countryside but no chateau to see as it was demolished years ago.

I suffered a clear case of vertigo because the balcony is so narrow your bum touches the builidng while the railing touches your thighs. It's rather disconcerting to inch your way around the building like this. No, I refused to do a Titanic on the top.

The staircase is made of mahogany with a cast iron banister decorated with interlocking Cs. There used to be a large park and grand canal reminiscent of Versailles here but there's no sign of it. The gardens were destroyed during the French Revolution.

In 1802 the chateau was bought by Chaptal, a minster of Napoleon 1st. He was a bit of a scientist and was interested in developing the process of obtaining sugar from sugarbeet. In 1823 he let Chanteloup go and it fell into the hands of property speculators. The goods were sold and the splendid chateau was destroyed and the gardens divided.

The grounds today have been maintained by the Andre family for a century. It needs some serious renovation but each window will cost 10,000 euros, even with the French Government chipping in to help.

This rather odd monument is worth a look if you are visiting Amboise. It doesn't take long - maybe an hour, which you can fit in between visiting the chateau/palace and Clos Luce - Leonardo da Vinci's last home. More on the latter in the next blogpost.


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