July 22, 2015 at 1:20 PM
You may or may not have heard of the “Loire valley” but it is France’s Renaissance cradle.
Come with us discovering the amazing landscapes and patrimony of this incredibly rich region.
The Loire valley is located in the geographic centre of France and spans over 200km (about 130 miles) along the banks of the river Loire (the longest in France). This area was the peace haven of the Kings of France during the troubled times of the Hundred-Years war and remained as so till the late 1500s. Influenced by those years of Royal presence the architecture reached unprecedented levels, RS Motorhomes takes you on a tour of this fantastic area that will take you from Chambord to Nantes on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Let’s start by Francis I of France’s main vanity castle; Chambord.
If you take the ferry from Portsmouth to Ouistreham, it should take you about 3 hours to reach the National Domain of Chambord. Lost in the middle of immense park where hunting was reserved to the sole use of the French Republic Presidents until 2010 when this privilege was abolished.
This Italian-renaissance-style castle is surrounded by water. Mixing gothic and renaissance styles this castle is geometrically perfect. This castle of 426 rooms and 282 fireplaces is remarkable by its looks in addition it features some innovations such as the double revolution staircase (unique as two people can use it and never cross paths with each other) designed by Francis I of France’s friend, mentor and spiritual father Leonardo Da Vinci. This unique castle is probably one of the most emblematic landmarks of the area and of the 1500s in France. Now let’s drive to a smaller castle that is part of the French popular culture.
Known by all French and Belgian children as Moulinsart this is the castle that inspired the famous Belgian cartoonist Hergé to be the castle of Captain Archibald Haddock, descendent of Sir Francis Haddock whom was offered the castle by King Louis XIV. As a matter of fact the castle was built as a medieval fortress and then once rebuilt, offered by King Henri II of France to his mistress Diane de Poitiers she then sold it to the original owners of the property; Philippe Hurault whose family still owns it. That castle is also surrounded by a wonderful park. About 20 minutes-drive away is the Royal castle of Blois. If it’s night already you can go to Cour-Cheverny at the Relais des Trois Châteaux.
The Royal castle of Blois is unique (yes, I know, you could say that every castle is, but this one really is!). Throughout the centuries the castle has been built, nearly every king has marked this castle with the addition of a new building. Originally built as a medieval fortress and bought by Louis, Duke of Orleans brother of King Charles VI of France. The castle is divided in 3 major wings each representing an era of the castle from gothic to renaissance then to classic. The only remains of the medieval fortress is the “Tour de Foix”. One notable room is the “Salle des Etats Généraux” with its fantastic ribbed and barrelled vaults covered with yellow lilies over a royal blue background, making this room the oldest example of gothic style seigniorial rooms in France. The castle was also the place where the Henri I, Duke of Guise was assassinated on the orders of King Henri III of France as he was considered a threat to the Royal power.
About ½ an hour’s drive from the castle of Blois is located another Royal residence, the Royal Castle of Amboise was home to several kings who were raised in this same castle including King Francis I. This castle saw most of the Valois dynasty being born and bred in this same place, it also lived atrocious events such as the Amboise conspiracy that led to 1,200 Protestants (Huguenots) being executed and strung from the town’s walls. The castle is also home to the last resting place of the most famous artist, engineer and architect in the world; Leonardo Da Vinci who was buried in Saint-Hubert’s chapel.
650 metres away is the Manor of the Clos Lucé, it was home to Leonardo Da Vinci having been invited by King Francis I. The legend says that a secret tunnel allowed King Francis to visit Da Vinci whenever he wanted without being disturbed. The castle is currently hosting a museum to the glory of the Italian master. Now let’s drive about 15 minutes south to reach one of the most-known castles of France.
Unique by its architectural style it mixes late Gothic and early Renaissance and is the only castle that wass built over the Indre-et-Loire River during the 1500s. The castle was seized by King Francis I for unpaid debts to the Crown. This castle was then granted to Diane de Poitiers by his son Henri who commissioned the most spectacular part of the castle to be built, the “arch bridge wing”. The castle was then returned to the Crown following the pressures on Diane from the widow of King Henri. This castle offers an indescribable feeling of romance and amazement.
Next to Chenonceau you will be able to rest at the Hostellerie du Château de l’Isle.
Built originally during the 12th century as a medieval fortress by a knight of King Philip II of France, this fortress was supposedly built to protect the road between Tours and Chinon, during the Hundred-Years War the original fortress was burnt to the ground by Charles VII in 1418. At the end of the 15thcentury, the domain was purchased by Martin Berthelot, treasurer of King Francis I. The current castle was built between 1518 and 1523 by the son of late Martin Berthelot but was seized by the king in June 1523 and granted to Antoine de Raffin in 1535 even though its occupation only started in 1547. The castle stayed in their family ‘til 1751 and was then passed to their allies before being purchased by Charles de Biencourt. Presently, the castle is a museum about renaissance and the 19th century.
About 50 minutes’ drive further West is Saumur, known for its castle and its horse-riding school.
In 960 AD, Count Thibault I of Blois had the castle of Saumur built, it was seized and incorporated to the royal domain in 1203 by King Philip II. In 1227, King Louis IX made some improvements to the castle. It was then inherited by the Duke of Anjou who was also King René of Naples, Aragon and Jerusalem. After he passed away the castle was restored as part of the royal domain.
The castle also has a darker history; it was a prison under King Louis XIV and Napoleon. More recently it has been used as a museum of the decorative arts and recently it added a horse section due to the key role of Saumur in the French equestrian tradition and in the world, being one of the Big 4 (Vienna Equestrian School, the Cadre Noir of Saumur, the Royal Andalusian School of Jerez and the Portuguese School of Equestrian arts of Lisbon). Don’t hesitate to stop in one of the famous troglodyte restaurants and have a nice glass of Saumur wine to accompany your meal. Now let’s drive to the Loire River mouth and historical capital of the Dukes of Britany: Nantes.
Before you take the road you should stop by the Hôtel Saint-Pierre for you to enjoy the nightlife as well as the beauty of the city once the sun has set.
Capital of the late independent state of Britany it was united with the Kingdom of France in 1547 when Claude of France became queen marrying Francis I. This independent state covered a large territory including present-day Britany and part of Normandy and of the Pays-de-la-Loire. The city was a high-place of the slave trade and almost represented 75% of the traffic. The main landmark of the city is the castle of the Dukes of Britany, still considered nowadays as the main symbol of the independence of the region. The castle dates back to the 13th century and was commissioned Guy de Thouars, Duke Regent of Britany. During the 14th century the castle was enhanced by the adjunction of octagonal towers. In 1466, Duke Francis II of Britany decided to completely rebuild the castle making it both his residence and an impregnable fortress. The castle is nowadays regrouping multiple museums including an archaeological and history museum as well as the museum of arts, popular traditions and a navy museum. Nantes is a beautiful city try to lose your way in its streets.