|Château de Valençay in the Loire Valley, France|
With 71 historical sites, it's difficult to know where to start when planning a trip to the Loire Valley. While many people concentrate on the "C" castles - Chambord, Chenonceau and Chaumont-sur-Loire - consider moving further along in the alphabet. Continue all the way to "V" for Château de Valençay, one of the most attractive Renaissance castles in the region.
Although it was built on the ruins of an old feudal castle in 1540, Valençay's claim to fame is that it was the home of Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, Napoleon Bonaparte's foreign minister, at the beginning of the 19th century. Talleyrand, whose club foot and political machinations earned him the nickname "the lame devil", was a man of many contradictions. During the time that he was the Abbot of the wealthy monastery of Saint-Rémi-de-Reims, he devoted most of his time to gambling and women, his two great passions. After his excommunication from the church, he switched careers from religion to diplomacy.
Napoleon instructed Talleyrand, who was both admired and mistrusted by his peers, to acquire a beautiful estate that could be used for entertaining noteworthy foreigners and ambassadors. In 1803, Talleyrand purchased Valençay, which was partially funded by Napoleon, sight unseen. It turned out to be the perfect choice.
|The Blue Salon at Château de Valençay in the Loire Valley|
The elegant Empire-style furniture, paintings, sculptures and other precious objects give visitors a rare glimpse into life during the Napoleonic era. One of my favorite rooms was the surprisingly modern kitchen, the domain of Antonin Carême. Known today as the founder of Great French Cuisine, Carême created a year's worth of completely original menus using seasonal products for Talleyrand's illustrious guests. Not only did Carême invent thousands of recipes (including vol-au-vent), lighten dishes with sauces, use different herbs and lay the foundations of modern French cuisine, he also shared his expertise by writing several memoirs.
In keeping with the historical importance of French cuisine at Valençay, the châteaux features renowned chefs from the Tables Gourmand de Berry. On the first Thursday of every month, one of the association's chefs reinterprets a traditional recipe and invites visitors to sample the finished dish.
|The Theatre at Château de Valençay in the Loire Valley|
If you have the good fortune to visit Valençay on a Wednesday afternoon (2:00 pm) or Sunday (11:00 am and 12:00 pm), be sure to join the guided tour of the theatre. This beautifully preserved jewel was built at the request of Napoleon for the Spanish princes who were imprisoned, albeit in a golden cage, at Château de Valençay. The well-preserved decor and backdrops are unique in France.
In more recent history, the château was spared by the occupying German forces during World War II because the owner at the time, the Duke of Valençay, managed to establish his neutrality as Prince de Sagan (duchy of Sagan in Prussian Silesia, now part of Poland). Thanks to this technicality, one of treasures of the Louvre Museum, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, was safely sheltered at Valençay and remained unscathed during the war.
The 53 hectare estate offers many surprises, including an outdoor ballroom and a Spanish tavern that were built to entertain the Princes during their long captivity, a pond where ice was collected during the winter, a bats' cave and the tuffeau caves left after the stone used to build the château was extracted. Four-seater electric golf carts are available for rent (30 minutes for €12.00).
Château de Valençay
2, rue de Blois
Click here to see additional photos of the château and estate taken during my visit.
|Château de Valencay in the Loire Valley, France|