Well, I worked up the courage (or maybe it was desperation) to rent a car and drive out of Paris. The summer is proving to be warm; warmer than I have experienced in the past in Paris. My well-worn ‘appart lacks air-conditioning and airflow for that matter. I have fans strategically set-up which help, but the heat of the day seems to creep in despite my best efforts.
So, I went in search of a cool breeze and to explore the Château de Chambord in the Loire Valley. The region is not far from Paris, but train alone would not leave many options for seeing all the Loire Valley has to offer.
I booked several nights at Hotel Relais de Chambord which is on the grounds of the château. With beautiful views of the château and its formal gardens, the hotel was a a luxurious escape compared to my thrifty airbnb’s.
The Château de Chambord was first conceived by François I (reign 1515 – 1547) as a “monument” to his war victories. The enormity of the château was a symbol of his dominance and power. It was a castle built as a hunting retreat and despite the architectural opulence and grandeur, François spent very little time in Chambord.
The construction of the château can be traced back to local engineers and builders in the region, however no known architect is on file. This creates a bit of a mystery around the castle, because François I was known to enjoy Italian renaissance art and architecture. He was a tremendous admirer of Leonardo DaVinci and had invited DaVinci to France in this time period. DaVinci’s influence is undeniable in the castle – the double-helix central stairway* in the keep is an example. Was it DaVinci’s signature left on the massive château or was it constructed to honor him?
The Château de Chambord was located in a remote area – perfect for hunting, but not convenient to a village. Food was limited (except for hunted game) and had to be brought in for hunting parties. Invited by the king, these hunting parties could number into the thousands of people. The castle was largely unfurnished. It was not until years after François I when apartments were furnished and the chateau was livable for long terms stays.
Perhaps it is no surprise who furnished royal apartments in the château and took an interest in having an opulent castle for hunting? Louis the 14th. While he did not visit much, deciding Versailles was the center of his universe, he helped with restoration work on the château and added a 1,200 horse stable for his hunting expeditions.
The château was never lived in on a full time basis with the exception of Louis XV’s father-in-law, Stanislas Leszczyński. The dethroned King of Poland lived in Chambord for 8 years until it was safe for him to return home.
The castle passed through many hands over the centuries. In several instances, it was abandoned and fell into disrepair. While it was not mentioned in my studies about the castle, it seems that it was a bit inconvenient (geographically) and a bit oversized to keep up. Those who were awarded ownership of the castle and domain did not always embrace it. In 1930, the French state acquired the property and currently maintains the land and the chateau.
*The staircase consists in two separate flights of stairs, twin helices proceeding upwards around a hollow newel post. If two persons choose to use different flights they will espy each other through numerous loopholes as they ascend, without ever meeting. – explanation taken from the visitors brochure for the Château of Chambord.