Within the four days we were in Paris we took one daytrip to break things up a bit to the Loire Valley, home to centuries-worth of castles and royal chateaus. To reach it you can take a trip from Paris or take a cheaper train one hour away to Tours and book a tour there. We chose the latter option, which was a bit cheaper (although now that entrance fees are no longer included in the tour options, not by much) and allowed us to see Tours’s 900 year old Cathedral.
Our itinerary included four chateaus in the roughly eight hour trip, which made for a rather full day. Our first stop was Amboise, a more traditional castle overlooking a pretty medieval town and the Loire River. This is primarily known for the resting place of Da Vinci, who came to France at the behest of Renaissance-loving Francoise I, who gave him patronage and a small house nearby. His body is now in a small pretty chapel, next to an attractive manor house giving us a peek into the lives of royalty at the time away from the capital.
The next stop, Chenonceau, has been known as the “women’s chateau”, as its owners from royal mistresses, Medicis, and patrons of the arts left their mark. It’s perhaps the most fetching of the chateaus, framed by perfectly symmetrical gardens and built literally on the river, as half of its mass is on a bridge spanning the river. The inside was packed, especially when it started to rain, but boasted some truly impressive interior decoration. The room that sticks in the memory most is the “black room”, where the widowed Louise de Lorraine spent the rest of her life in dour-colored, but sumptuously decorated elegance.
After this and a quick lunch of crepes and galettes (both thin pancakes, one sweet and one salty and covered with all manner of toppings), we steered for Cheverny. This was the most modern (built in 1630) and least castle-like chateau, instead consisting of basically a large mansion surrounded by lawn and gardens. The inside’s the attraction here, from its weapons room with all manner of arms and armor to its multiple salons full of decadent-looking furniture and artwork, including pieces attributed to Titian and Raphael.
Our final chateau was also the most massive, with impressive spiral staircases, a crowded, spire-happy rooftop, and royal appartments scattered throughout its huge expanse. It first served as a hunting lodge for Francois I (which supports the theory of Da Vinci at least contributing to, if not being entirely responsible for its design), then a royal residence for Louis XIV among other noted owners. The view from the top of its sprawl and the surrounding curated lawns and canals was spectacular.