Château de Chambord - the largest castle in the Loire Valley


While visiting the Loire Valley, I was reminded of how justifiably proud the French are of their rich cultural heritage and how this sentiment is passed down from one generation to the next. After overhearing some parents explain to their children that Francois I built Château de Chambord as a royal hunting lodge in which he spent a mere 72 days during his 32 year reign (1515-47), I teased Stéphane about his country's lack of opulent castles. His immediate response was that while the Swiss may not have any extravagant châteaux, they also didn't incur staggering debts. Sensible, but not quite so romantic...

A young French girl taking notes in King Francois I's chamber

The 426 rooms of Château of Chambord are largely unfurnished, just as they were in the sixteenth century. Francois I, a tireless traveler who roamed his kingdom with an itinerant court numbering close to 2,000 people, carried most of his belongings with him. Beds and furniture, such as folding chairs, were designed to take up as little space as possible on the wagons to facilitate transportation.


One of the most impressive features of the castle is the double helix staircase that may have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci when he traveled to France at the request of King Francois I. Decorated with ornamental carvings, it's made of two concentric spiral staircases that wind around a central column. Even though there aren't any opulent Swiss castles, it's interesting to note that there is a remarkable "Chambord" staircase at Nestle's world headquarters in Switzerland. Extending from the first to the sixth floor, two people can take a different flight of stairs and see each other through the openings but never meet. It's a clever way for employees to avoid their boss when they're ready to go home!


Even with a constant drizzle of rain, the most memorable part of Chambord are the terraces, the perfect spot for a secret rendezvous. American-born author Henry James wrote, "This roof, which is in itself a sort of castle in the air, has an extravagant, fabulous quality, and with its profuse ornamentation, the salamander of Francis I is a constant motive, its lonely pavements, its sunny niches, the balcony that looks down over the closed and grass-grown main entrance, a strange, half-sad, half brilliant charm." Try as I might, I couldn't figure out a way to take photos that would do it justice.


Standing on the terrace and looking at the vast estate covering 13,443 acres (5440 hectares), which is the largest enclosed forest park in Europe and the same size as Inner Paris, I could easily understand why the French are so proud of their heritage. With its 77 staircases, 282 fireplaces and 426 rooms, Chambord is as much of an architectural masterpiece now as it was in the sixteenth century.

The Château of Chambord is open all year round except on New Year’s Day and Christmas Day. As the castle was built to make an impression and not for comfort, it's best to wear warm clothes during the colder months because there isn't any heating.

Comments

  1. Wow, what an enormous, intimidating castle! And those staircases are beautiful.

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    1. The staircase is incredible - it's hard to believe that it was designed in the early part of the sixteenth century. Leonardo da VInci, or whoever came up with the idea, was very clever, indeed.

      Stephane and I were tempted to take a different staircase and meet at the top but were worried that we would get separated and never find each other again. ;) While were were visiting Chenonceau, aka the ladies' chateau, Stephane kept saying that women make more comfortable castles than men. At least, it was more livable!

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  2. I loved visiting all of the different chateaux in the Loire Valley and so sad I missed out on this magnificent one (it was just too far away)! We overheard quite a few parents explaining the history of a castle and the owners to their children and I can only imagine what memories they're creating with their kids.

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    1. We also missed out on a lot of magnificent castles and plan to return to visit the ones on the Western side, which are probably the ones that you saw since they're closer to Brittany. Did you have a favorite? When we start planning our next trip, I'll have to search your blog and read about your trip to the Loire Valley to get some pointers.

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  3. The last photo is really good, give a great sense of the scale and architecture. I love the double helix staircase. I've never seen one. As you may know, in addition to carrying their furniture with them, it was customary for people to travel with their own silverware, even guests would bring their own if they were coming to eat (if they used silverware at all that is). I wonder who started the trend of leaving homes furnished. I'll have to think about that and see if I can find an answer.

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    1. What a coincidence - I took a photo of some portable silverware sets from the 18th century when we quickly visited the exhibition, "The art of the gastronomic meal in the Loire Valley'. I was planning to email it to you! Have you ever seen the movie, Vatel? I haven't but they were showing it at the exhibition so there must be some dining scenes in it.

      I hope that you get to see a double helix staircase sometime. Even when you "know" how it's constructed, it's still a thing of wonder.

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    2. I did see Vatel but I'm forgetful. I'll have to add it to my queue on Netflix.

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  4. Oh, could you add dates to the history here? When was Francois I's reign?

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    1. Thanks, Fraussie Grout, for answering Joseph's question about the dates! I'll do a quick edit to include them in the post.

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  5. It truly is a magnificent château. I love the rooftops and the staircase. We were just there on 1st May at the annual brocante but didn't visit the inside this time. François I, born in 1494, reigned from 1515 to 1547. The house we have just bought in nearby Blois was built in 1584 when Henri III was on the throne.

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    1. I told Stephane about your lovely house when we stopped in Blois for lunch - you almost had visitors! ;) For someone coming from a relatively young country like the USA, it's hard to imagine living in a house that was built in 1584. I'm sure that you must feel "if only these walls could talk" when you're there.

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    2. I want to live in a five hundred year old house (or close enough). Or do I? I expect there are some challenges.

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  6. Joseph, you don't "live" in a five hundred year old house. The house allows you to stay for a while as you are just passing through. The house never belongs to you as it is passed on to future generations. LOL!

    I visited Château de Chambord, amongst others, two years ago on a Loire Valley road trip with four internet friends. I agree it is very impressive...and that coming from someone who has lots of old castles in her country! So thanks for nice reminders for me.

    Love denise from Bolton.

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  7. We had on and off rain drizzles as well but the sun did come out for awhile to enjoy a bike ride around the grounds. To be honest, this chateau was our least favorite out of everything we toured. The outside is magnificent and made for a great view w/ an afternoon apero but the inside was so disjointed and did not flow. I know it never really had a lot of furniture but I just didn't like the energy.
    If anything, all of this castle touring has made me so much more interested to learn more about French history (for something reason my high school left a lot it out!)

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