Friday, June 10, 2011

A week in the Loire 2: Un château ou deux

Of course one of the main reasons for visiting near the Loire is to see a number of the chateaux. On previous visits we managed to see Chenonceau, Villandry, Azay-le-Rideau and Montsoreau.We would have seen more had Nick not been ill last visit, so we decided to make the effort to see a number of new ones. The selection is eclectic and there were no particular reasons for the choices except they were places we though might be interesting.

Chambord was high on my list, along with a revisit to Villandry’s gardens. Nick wanted to see Cheverny as it had been in one family for generations so there was a continuity of history. We were recommended Montresor and chose to revisit Azay-le-Rideau as Nick had little recollection of seeing it last time. Loches has already been mentioned in the previous post and Villandry gardens will be discussed in the next post on gardens, so here are some photos and impressions. I rarely took indoor photos, generally  finding the exterior architecture more interesting.

Chambord is huge. Chambord is a folly in the grand manner but at the same time the way it fits together has immense logic and great planning, with a central keep around a double helix staircase, enormous public rooms around the stairs and more private rooms in the corners of the keep which opened off the central spaces. Wings were added too and the whole interior space surrounded by curtain walls which held service rooms such as kitchens. It was never intended to be a permanent residence and most of the time was empty. As our host said, “They put in the furniture for the tourists. The king travelled with his furniture.”

I just love the size and delight in the “over the top” architecture of the place. I mourn the loss of the parterre garden in the front. The gem has little in the way of a setting now.

Chambord from across its moat
What would have been the carriage entrance
This place is huge
One tower of the keep with its insane roofline

We found the video presentation most useful architecturally and historically and it would be best to see it before seeing the various rooms.

Cheverny has a long family history. Our sons are also aware that the central part was used as the model for Marlinspike manor, the home of Captain Haddock from the Tintin comic books. There was reference to this in the house and also in an exhibition. There are extensive stretches of beautiful lawn and trees and an orangerie and pretty garden out the back. The front is severe and the forecourt is gravel. The family also hunts stags and boar, so they have a kennel of huge hounds which I found scary.

Cheverny facade
And the yard went on forever
Cheverny from the arbour at the rear
cheverny hounds
The hounds with their distinctive shaved mark on the flank

In the interior the ceilings were often intricately painted across the supporting timbers and some of the furniture was very old. The chest of drawers for instance, was one of the first that replaced trunks as containers for clothes.

cheverny-ceiling cheverny-chest

And then the Tintin reference was brilliantly displayed on an actual wall of the outbuildings. I love the cat in the window.


We drove past, but did not visit, Montpupon, though I thought it an elegant chateau. It has a big emphasis on hunting which did not particularly interest us.


The chateau of Montresor was a favourite of our host, so we paid it a visit. It had an interesting past, having been built as a stronghold by Foulques il Nerra and lived in by his Captain, whose family memorial is in the corner of the collegiate church in the village.

Part of the castle is in ruins but much of the interior of the more modern part reflects its purchase by a Polish count in the Second Empire Naploeonic era. Obviously a wealthy and influential man, the family married into nobility in France and his descendants are still at the chateau, though in private quarters. Much of the interior dates from that time and is rather “lived in” which makes it a more genuine experience, with pictures of the family, decorations such as the Legion d’Honneur and stags heads in the hall that were as recent as 2000.

The older parts of Montresor with the spire of the collegiate church and lots of roses
The internal mahogany staircase is stunning

Externally there are double defensive curtain walls and a walk between them leading to lovely viewpoints. The garden tends to be less formal with a profusion of roses and huge trees, making it difficult to photograph the chateau itself.


Captain, wife, son and eight other family members lie in the tomb in the collegial church

We made a return visit to Azay-le-Rideau. Such a pretty building in a gorgeous setting but this visit wasn’t as I remembered the chateau. They were making repairs to part of the front and doing something in the moat that necessitated draining most of the water, leaving blotches of sand sticking up. It rather looked like a bridge to the chateau except there was no door for it to go to. There is to be some type of night festivities there so perhaps it was in preparation for that. Plus it was horribly windy and the surface of the water was covered in detritus from the trees. So my picture perfect chateau wasn’t there this time.


In addition, it turned out to be a French holiday, Ascension, so the crowds were thick, making it difficult to move through the rooms. We had been refused an audio-guide as “the group coming needs them” so we found it rather difficult to make much sense of the chronology. The groups in the rooms were not using audio-guides but but live guides speaking French, so we couldn’t even eavesdrop. We left feeling royally pee’d off.

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