Castles of the Loire
A visit to the Loire Valley always includes castles because there are hundreds from one end to the other. This used to be the playground of kings who came to their castles in the Summer to avoid the heat and stench of Paris.
Kings had their vassels and nobles, many of whom built their own castles so there are all shapes and proportions and a tourist never ceases to be amazed by this most beautiful area of France.
On our river cruise wine tour, today was dedicated to castles and we visited 3 of the most beautiful. First was Azay-le-Rideau, described as the most beautiful Renaissance building in the Loire Valley. Built in the early 16th century during the reign of François I, it was a direct reflection of the influence of the Italian Renaissance. A complete restoration was just completed and we were able to imagine what it was like when it was first opened.It is a delight to visit under any weather circumstances but today in the crisp autumn sun, it was shimmering as it stood on the river.
We had lunch at Villandry before we visited its magnificent Renaissance gardens. Villandry is privately owned and was built in 1536. The gardens are best viewed from the belvedere where you can appreciate the intent to demonstrate man’s control of Nature.
There is the Ornamental Garden with its symbolic messages of Tender Love, Passionate love, Flighty love and Tragic love. For instance in Tragic love the drawings represent the blades of daggers and swords used in duels caused by rivalry in love. The flowers planted here are red begonias, symbolizing bloodshed.
There is also the Water Garden, the Sun Garden, the Maze, the Herb Garden and the Vegetable Garden.
Our last visit was to Chateau d’Ussé, supposedly the castle that inspired Sleeping Beauty and Walt Disney. Ussé is privately owned by the Duke de Blacas and the original was built on a foundation dating to the 15th century. The sections that are open to visit (there is one wing where the owner resides) have period furniture pieces and mannequins wearing period costumes.
How many chateaux are there along the Loire? There are as many chateaux as there are villages since each town, each city has at least one chateau or manor house.
For background reading I highly recommend Ina Caro’s The Road from the Past.