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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Loire Valley's Chambord Castle

The Chateau of Chambord, one of the most famou...

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By []John Giebler

I remember the first time I saw Chambord Castle. It's surrounded by a 20-mile wall and a thick forest that served the kings well for hunting. Several years ago, on a misty day, I was cycling toward it on one of the six alleys cut out of the forest. You don't catch a glimpse of the enormous mansion until you're close. And then, all of a sudden, it's standing in front of you in its majestic Renaissance glory.


Razing a fortified castle that belonged to the Counts of Blois, King Francois I began construction of this 'hunting lodge' in 1519. Mystery surrounds the architects, but it's likely that Leonardo da Vinci had something to do with the design. The Italian genius was close to Francois I and participated in many of his projects. Da Vinci was the king's guest from 1516 to his death in 1519, and lived in a manor house just up the hill from the castle in Amboise.

Chambord castle wasn't ever meant to be lived in for long periods. Other than the game in the forest, there weren't any nearby towns for food and supplies to feed the king's 2,000 person entourage. In addition, the rooms are massive and the high ceilings made heating a challenge.

Francois I spent less than two months there in all, usually for short hunting visits. After he died in 1547, French kings largely abandoned the castle until the 1600s when Louis XIII began restoring it. Visiting the castle today, you also see the influence of Louis XIV, who refurnished the royal apartments and added a 1,200-horse stable.


The castle is famous for its 440 rooms and 365 fireplaces. Two more highlights are the double-helix staircase and the rooftop. The two branches of the staircase wind together to the rooftop without ever meeting. The king could walk down the stairs without ever crossing people climbing it. Some say this served for defensive purposes; others say it was so his various mistresses wouldn't run into each other. Whatever the case may be, it's an amazing piece of architecture.

A sort of rooftop lantern caps the staircase and floods it with natural light. From here you step out onto the roof terrace, probably my favorite part. You wander through a virtual maze of expertly crafted columns, chimneys, windows, and gables to enjoy a stunning view of the surrounding countryside. This is where the king's court would spend a lot of its time, celebrating with parties, watching tournaments, and examining military drills on the castle grounds.


The wines of the Loire? Well, they're some of my favorites, but they'll have to wait for another article.

About the Author:

John Giebler is a certified sommelier and has worked in toursim since 2000. He develops and leads culinary tours for Insider Wine Tours. John grew up in the U.S. and has lived in France and Italy since 1998.

Visit []Insider Wine Tours for your next vacation in France or Italy.

Article Source: [] The Loire Valley's Chambord Castle

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