Loire Valley Châteaux and Paris

September, 2006

We flew from Marseille to Paris CDG airport, rented a car, and drove to a hotel in Chinon, where we stayed for three nights. From our base in Chinon, we visited six châteaux in the Loire Valley. At the end of the tour of châteaux, we returned to Paris.
Château de Chinon. The town of Chinon and the château are situated on the banks of the Vienne River, just before it joins the Loire. The mount of Chinon was fortified as a stronghold by Theobald I, Count of Blois in the year 954. In the 12th century Chinon, located in (then) Anjou in present day France, was a primary residence of Henry II Plantagenet (Angevin King and King of England). Henry was responsible for construction of almost all of the massive chateau. King Henry, his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their son King Richard the Lionheart were all buried at nearby Fontevraud Abbey.

In the keep or donjon, called the Tour de Coudray, Templar knights were imprisoned during the brutal suppression of the Templar Order that occurred in 1307.

The chateau was a residence of Charles VII, the dauphin of France in the early 15th century. It is the place where Joan of Arc came on March 8, 1429 to recognize the dauphin and to urge him to declare himself king and raise an army to liberate France from the English.

Château de Chinon
Château d'Azay-le-Rideau. The château of Azay-le-Rideau was built from 1518 to 1527, one of the earliest French Renaissance châteaux. Built on an island in the Indre River, its foundations rise straight out of the river.

Gilles Berthelot, state treasurer of François I and mayor of Tours, began building on this already-fortified site, that was partly his wife's inheritance. However, it was she, Philippe Lesbahy, who directed the course of the works, including the novel idea of a central staircase that is Azay's greatest innovation. When Berthelot was suspected of collusion in embezzlement he was forced to flee from incomplete Azay-le-Rideau in 1528; he never saw the château again. Instead, the king confiscated the property and gave it as a reward to one of his high-ranking soldiers.

Château d'Azay-le-Rideau
Château de Loches. Situated in the Indre valley, Loches is the most impressive fortress of the Loire region. Begun by Foulques Nerra (the "Black Falcon") during his reign 987 to 1040, the donjon (keep) is now in ruins but still an impressive sight to behold. Built more than 1,600 feet above the Indre River, the huge castle, famous mostly for its massive square keep, dominates the town of Loches. Captured and occupied by Henry II of England (Plantagenet) and his son, Richard the Lionhearted during the 12th century, the castle withstood the assaults by the French King Philippe II in their wars for control of France until it was finally captured by King Philippe in 1205. Construction work immediately turned Loches into a huge military fortress.

Loches had something of a heyday during Charles VII's reign, after Jeanne d'Arc persuaded him to go to Reims in 1429 to be crowned. He then set up court in Loches and held wild parties, as far as we can tell, in honour of his mistress, the beautiful and deadly Agnès Sorel who died pregnant (and possibly poisoned) in 1450 at only 28 years old. Even the pope fancied her and so Charles was the first king to have an official mistress!

Château de Loches
Château de Chenonceau. Chenonceau, near the small village of Chenonceaux in the Loire Valley, was built on the site of an old mill on the River Cher, sometime before its first mention in writing in the 11th century. The original manor was torched by Royal troops in 1411 to punish owner Jean Marques for an act of sedition. He rebuilt a castle and fortified mill on the site in the 1430s. Subsequently, his deeply indebted heir Pierre Marques sold the castle to Thomas Bohier, Chamberlain for King Charles VIII of France in 1513. Bohier destroyed the existing castle and built an entirely new residence between 1515 and 1521; the work was sometimes overseen by his wife Catherine Briconnet, who delighted in hosting French nobility, including King François I on two occasions.

Eventually, the chateau was seized from Bohier's son by François I for unpaid debts to the Crown, and after François' death in 1547, Henry II offered the château as a gift to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers who became fervently attached to the château and its view along the river. She would have the arched bridge constructed, joining the château to its opposite bank. She then oversaw the planting of extensive flower and vegetable gardens along with a variety of fruit trees.

Diane de Poitiers was the unquestioned mistress of the castle, but ownership remained with the crown until 1555, when years of delicate legal maneuvers finally yielded possession to her. However, after King Henry II died in 1559, his strong-willed widow and regent Catherine de' Medici had Diane expelled. Because the estate no longer belonged to the crown, she could not seize it outright, but forced Diane to exchange it for the Château de Chaumont. Queen Catherine then made Chenonceau her own favorite residence, adding her own series of gardens.

Château de Chenonceau
Château de Chaumont. The Château of Chaumont, originating in the 11th century, was built on the Loire River by Eudes II, Count of Blois. In 1560, the castle became the property of Catherine de' Medici who entertained numerous astrologers there, including Nostradamus. On the death of her husband, King Henry II, Catherine used her power to take over the much coveted Chateau of Chenonceau from her husband's mistress, Diane de Poitiers. As certain legalities had to be met, Diane was forced to accept Chaumont as payment for her beloved Chenonceau. Diane de Poitiers lived at Chaumont for only a short time when the castle was sold.

Château de Chaumont
Château d'Amboise. Built on a promontory overlooking the Loire River to control a strategic ford that was replaced in the middle ages by a bridge, the château began this life in the eleventh century, when the notorious Foulques Nerra, Count of Anjou, rebuilt the stronghold in stone. Expanded and improved over time, in the mid 1400s, it was seized by Charles VII, after its owner, Louis d'Amboise, was convicted of plotting against Louis XI and executed in 1431. Once in royal hands, the château became a favorite of French kings; Charles decided to rebuild it extensively, beginning in 1492 at first in the French late Gothic Flamboyant style and then after 1495 employing two Italian mason-builders, who provided at Amboise some of the first Renaissance decorative motifs seen in French architecture.

Amboise was the site where a garden laid out somewhat in the Italian manner was first seen in France: the site of the origin of the French formal garden.

King François I was raised at Amboise, which belonged to his mother, Louise of Savoy, and during the first few years of his reign the château reached the pinnacle of its glory. As a guest of the King, Leonardo da Vinci came to Château d'Amboise in December 1515 and lived and worked in the nearby Clos Lucé, connected to the château by an underground passage. He died there in 1519 and is buried in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert, adjoining the château.

King Henri II and his wife, Catherine de' Medici, raised their children in Château d'Amboise along with Mary Stuart, the child Queen of Scotland who had been promised in marriage to the future French King François II.

Château d'Amboise
Paris. After completing our quick tour of the Loire Valley châteaux, we returned the rental car and stowed suitcases in our hotel near the Charles de Gaul airport. We then took an underground train into Paris, popping up in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral. From there we walked along the Seine, exploring a few side streets along the way, and ending up at the Louvre. We walked around the interior plaza in the drizzling rain and spotted the Eiffel Tower, Obelisque of Luxor, and Arc d'Triomphe in the distance.


Website created by Wayne Matchett, 29 Dec. 2006

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