After three days in Provence, Emily and I drove to Blois (stopping in the cutest medieval castle-town on our way). From Blois we explored the Loire Valley, which is famous for its gorgeous chateaus.
This region is brimming with renaissance chateaus, most of which were royal residences. Throughout the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries the French monarchs built and expanded on a series of chateaus in this region. The entire court would travel, moving from one chateau to the other throughout the year.
Emily and I had three days in the Loire Valley. We dedicated our first day to driving and exploring Blois, and split six chateaus we wanted to visit between the two remaining days. Our first full day of chateau hopping included the royal chateaus of Blois and Chambord, and Cheverny.
Blois was one of the primary residences of the French kings from Francis I to Henry IV. As someone who studies the Medici, it was pretty interesting to see the apartments of Catherine de Medici, which included the very room she died in. You might recognize her name from the popular show Reign, which depicts Catherine, her son Francis, and his wife Mary Queen of Scotts. The show is, of course, quite fictionalized, but it’s a good introduction to these historical characters (and no shame, highly entertaining).
From Blois we headed to Chambord. Chambord might be one of the most famous royal French chateaus (it is certainly the largest). Unlike Blois, however, Chambord was rarely lived in. In fact it was built to be a hunting lodge for the king (it is good to be king). Its excessive size meant it was hard to heat and notoriously uncomfortable to live in. Both Blois and Chambord epitomize the ideals of French Renaissance architecture under Francis I and it is rumored that Leonardo da Vinci had a hand in Chambord’s design. My favorite were the intricate spiral marble staircases.
While Chambord is the one of the most famous French chateaus, Emily and I were a little disappointed. The entire estate felt cold. It was large and gorgeous, but felt abandoned and lacked formal gardens. I think we were most excited to see this chateau (I mean, it is gorgeous online), but were surprised that we actually preferred some of the smaller chateaus.
One such smaller chateau was Cheverny. Although at one point it was briefly property of the crown, Cheverny was never an official royal residence. It has, however, been passed down through the same noble family for almost six centuries! And unlike Chambord, Cheverny was constantly lived in until it was opened to the public in 1922. The property is an easy 10 minute drive from Chambord and there is a great wine tasting shop just off the property… just saying, wine is an important part of French culture.
Exploring all three chateaus in one day is easy to do. Although I would not advise trying to see more than three a day (chateau fatigue is real).
Have you visited any French chateaus? Which was your favorite?