Excursion Four: Les Châteux de la Loire, July 15, 2012

One of the more anticipated trips for the women, this Sunday we explored three separate castles around the Loire Valley.

Our first stop of the day was Azay-le-Rideau and it’s beautiful Renaissance atmosphere. The castle was built from 1515 to 1527, its foundations growing straight out of the river that surround it. The shape of the castle is fairly rectangular, with a charcoal gray roof top and gorgeous wooden accents in each window and doorway. The walkway leading up to the front door is covered in white rock that reflect the purity of the castle.

The beautiful colors of the Azay-le-Rideau.

A four-level marble staircase rests at the center of the structure, accompanied by grand windows looking out onto the front courtyard and garden.

A tall window with a view of the front gardens.

The floors of the rooms were a honey-colored wood and many bedrooms were covered in regal velvet wallpaper. The bed canopies rose up to the ceiling, with curtains just as long.

Beautiful red velvet walls and wooden floors.

The outdoor expanse surrounding the castle led off into darker tunnels of wispy trees and colorful wildflowers. The landscape was absolutely stunning. And to think, this was the smallest castle of the day!

The beautiful château surrounded by water.

Our second castle was likely the favorite of the day, Château de Chenonceau.

Continuing with the expected Renaissance theme, Chenonceau was constructed along the Cher River between 1515 and 1521; it’s original structure was torched in 1412 as a punishment to the owner for sedition.

A lengthy road through towering trees leads visitors to the estate, where large grassy lawns and a huge garden surround the castle.

Tall trees escort visitors along the road towards the château.

The building is exquisite, in both structural technique and size. There is no doubt about how regal the estate is.

Looking onto Chenonceau from the gardens.

Minute details of family crests and symbols were placed in every space that would have otherwise seemed empty.

An overly detailed doorway welcomes visitors into Chenonceau.

The number of rooms felt never-ending; one could easily spend a full day examining each corner of crevice of Chenonceau.

The gardens are the main attraction of the estate. To the left of the castle, a pristine fountain is surrounded by a geometric space filled with seasonal flowers and perfectly groomed hedges.

Flawless expanse of the primary gardens of Chenonceau.

Turning back from the castle and through the forest, a small labyrinth provides a bit of entertainment for guests. It was my first time going through one and I was definitely reminded of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. So cool!

To the right of the entrance of Chenonceau is a small pasture for a family of donkeys next to a beautiful and impressive garden of vegetables and flowers. We spent quite a bit of time attempting to translate the French labels into English, but from what we could tell, beds were filled with cabbages, squash, herbs, crabapples and more.

A bit of vegetables growing from the Chenonceau gardens.

Chenonceau is a gorgeous château and worth every second spent there…and then some.

Our final visit of the day was to one of the most elegant and recognizable châteaux in the world: Château de Chambord. This castle is breath-taking. Placed at the center of a grand expanse of grassy lawn and bordered by thick forests, Chambord was built (1519-1547) with the main intention of being a hunting ground for François I.

Approaching Château Chambord from the south.

There is a bit of debate over who officially designed the castle, Leonardo da Vinci being one of the rumors artists, primarily because of the unique double-helix staircase at the center of Chambord.

The double-helix staircase, rumored to be the work of da Vinci.

Yet another never-ending set of royal bed and sitting rooms, the detailing for each reflects years of thought and continuous care and maintenance. The walls and their art are flawlessly displayed, encouraging a steady and natural flow from room to room.

Gorgeous walls accented with vibrant gold.
Louis XIV’s ceremonial bedroom.

Spiral staircases allow visitors to climb higher onto the castle structure to observe the outer architecture and far-off hunting grounds. The gothic touch to Chambord is said to be the inspiration for the castle in Beauty and the Beast and that influence is certainly visible among the towering balconies.

Magnificent towers of Chambord castle.
Looking North towards the lawn from the balcony of Chambord.

Our exploration of each these castles left me lusting over royal life, fantasizing about fairytales, and placing myself in the 16th and 17th centuries when these beautiful structures were in their prime. It’s an entirely different world that I am sure to never fully know, but what a treat it is to have such wonderful pieces of history in our midst.


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