Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Why you should avoid visiting Chambord*

You intend to visit the Loire Valley only once in your life? You have two or three days to spare to tour around? In that case, Chambord is an absolute must. It’s without any doubt one of the crown jewels of the region.

This impressive and yet elegant castle was commissioned by King François I. The typical Renaissance design is thought to be by the Italian architect Domenico da Cortona. Some, however, claim that it was Leonardo da Vinci, who drew the original plan. With its 440 rooms, 365 chimneys and 1036 windows it’s the biggest royal dwelling in the Loire Valley. It was never completed in François I’s lifetime, as it took well over 150 years to build. The last French monarch who commissioned work to be done was the Sun King Louis XIV, before abandoning the project to focus on the construction and embellishment of the Château de Versailles.

On our first visit to the Loire Valley in 1999, we were still behaving as ‘obedient’ tourists, doing things by the guide book. Chambord, Chenonceau, Cheverny … you just couldn’t get around them. At the time we were staying in a hotel in Tours, and it took us well over an hour and a half by ‘routes départementales’ to get to Chambord. The sight of dozens of tourist coaches in the immense parking lot should have warned us of what was about to come …

* Note to avid Chambord fans: Don’t let this title upset you. You’ll understand when you will have read the second part of this post tomorrow.

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