Sunday, 21 August 2011

Grandiose Chambord-Loire Valley

What visit to the Loire Valley chateaux would be complete without a visit to this mammoth residence. It really is over the top in terms of extravagance and size yet it is somewhat unsatisfying to visit. This is because it is largely devoid of furnishings and human context.

It was built originally by François 1st as a hunting lodge and to display his power and wealth though he barely spent seven weeks there in total. There is debate about who designed it. Some suggest Leonardo da Vinci (who was supported by the King at this time and lived nearby) may have been the architect. Certainly the amazing double helix spiral staircase at the centre is reminiscent of his designs. The rooftop silhouette is so over the top with its hundreds of towers and chimneys that it resembles a mini city skyline.

The massive rooms, open windows and high ceilings meant heating was impractical. The château was not surrounded by a village or estate so there was no immediate source of food other than game. This meant that all food had to be brought with the group, usually numbering up to 2,000 people at a time. This sort of lifestyle is rather difficult for most of us to fathom these days.

As a result of all the above, the château was completely unfurnished during this period. All furniture, wall coverings, eating implements 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 François died of a heart attack in 1547, the château was not used for almost a century.

Various kings of France, as well as Napoleon, stayed there or attempted renovations or ignored it through the centuries. During the revolution its panelling and wooden doors were burnt for warmth while bits and pieces were being auctioned off. It’s a stark contrast to Cheverny which was never a royal residence and which never suffered deprivations.

  Chambord is the largest chateau on the Loire, and the largest in France.

Château Chambord was confiscated as enemy property in 1915, but the family of the Duke of Parma sued to recover it, and that suit was not settled until 1932; restoration work was not begun until a few years after World War II ended in 1945. Today, Chambord is a major tourist attraction.

In 1939, shortly before the outbreak of World War II, the art collections of the Louvre (including the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo) were stored at the Château de Chambord. An American B-24 Liberator bomber crashed onto the château lawn on June 22, 1944. Château Chambord was the inspiration for the Beast's castle in the 1991 animated Disney film Beauty and the Beast.

Audioguides are available. We enjoyed climbing the staircases to the ramparts, looking down on the lawns and the surrounding countryside. There aren't any gardens to speak of but there is a canal. If you get peckish there are eateries outside the chateau grounds.


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