What part was just too much? Was it the competitive nature of each château we saw, with excesses piled on excesses?
Was it the thought that nothing ever seemed to be enough for French royalty – leading to a head problem – or the thought that each of them had to put their stamp on perfectly good homes that someone else had built?
Maybe it was the suspicion, that, at the end of the day, none of these places seemed exactly homey, so maybe they were just hoping to find something a little more comfy each time they rebuilt.
Or, was it the cumulative impact of touring three major châteaux in one single day, overwhelming the senses, and befuddling the mind with the dizzying history of French monarchs? Yes, I think that was it, although all other impressions also apply to some degree.
We stayed overnight in Blois and began yesterday at Chambord. Our dear friend François I started this one, with the intent of ‘doing his own thing,’ as evidently the last two castles we saw just weren’t enough for him. I refuse to narrate the complicated trail of ownership that followed his death, but suffice it to say that Chamboard, while magnificent, seemed to be the booby prize given to second-tier relations. Perhaps it was the mosquito problem in the summer, as it had been built on a swamp. Or the miserably cold winters. But no matter what the reason, poor Chambord had to be saved from complete decay several times in its history, and is now quite an amazing sight.
There is a belief that Leonardo designed the wonderful double-helix interior staircase, though he died before it was built. You can watch someone else ascend, without meeting them mid-stairs. Glorious, as are the recreated rooms where all manner of royalty worked, played and slept. There is an (likely apocryphal) engraving of the death of Leonardo in François’ arms.
Then on to Chateau de Cheverny. This is a most remarkable castle, having been in the same family for more than six centuries, surviving even the Revolution. There was just a brief period when Diane de Poitiers took it over while her new chateau was being renovated, just after she was evicted from Chenonceaux.
This castle feels like a home because it is. And the sense of continuity is amazing. There is the birth chamber, where generations of the Hurault family have been born. There is the bridal chamber, last used in 1994 when the current Marquise dressed for her wedding. There is the marriage chamber, the family tree, the dining room, the arms room, the bedchamber reserved for royal visitors, the chapel, the salon…all seems real and inviting. One of the Huralts went to America and fought in our revolution, thus meriting a commendation from George Washington.
The family continues the hunt tradition with gusto. Their kennels hold about 100 hounds, who are quite busy during the season. All in all, a wonderful place.
Our last stop of the day was the Chateau de Valencay. Not the same sense of home, but important historically as the home of Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord, and the chateau stayed in the Talleyrand family from 1803 till well into the last century, when it was given to the local government to run.
Talleyrand was the consummate diplomat and gourmand, and he remains a legend in both arenas. While the house is not as well-appointed and vibrant as Cheverny, it is stunning in its setting and remarkable for its evolution for the early 16th century. (And there are actually people working on the grounds!)
All in all, a day of stunning beauty and intertwined histories. How lucky we are that these monuments have survived.