Five Hundred Years of Château de Chambord
This year marks the 500th years since this glorious Château was built. A friend on Facebook recently attended the 500 year celebrations and described it as a fairy tale. I love this description, but even without the fireworks and lighting, this grandiose and opulent Chateau looks just like a picture from a fairy tale. Château de Chambord is spectacular, but when people love a building, it’s rarely just about the building itself. It’s the history, the intrigue and the memories of a building that make people fall in love with it.
When I lived and worked in the Loire Valley I lived just ten minutes drive away and visited it as often as I could. Chris and I had our first date here, I had picnics in the grounds with my parents, my nephews and nieces had their first taste of macarons there and I also shook hands with François Hollande at the opening of the gardens in 2017. As a result, I have some beautiful memories and the Chateau will always have a place in my heart. Not just because it is a stunning example of renaissance architecture, but because of the memories I made there that I will cherish forever.
The Château is rich in historical and architectural significance and no visit to the Loire would be complete without exploring Chambord. Chambord is set in a charming hamlet of the same name and built in 1519 by King Francois 1er as a hunting lodge, the Château is the largest of all of the Châteaux in the Loire. Inside the Château there is a very intricate and impressive double helix staircase which is said to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci. It is also believed that he was involved in the design of the Château itself. Da Vinci did live at Clos Luce in Amboise around the time that Chambord was built, so it is definitely possible.
Chambord is open all year, except Christmas Day and New Years Day and is €14.50 for access to the Château and the French formal gardens, which re-opened in 2017.
I have visited the Château countless times and only actually went inside on two occasions. This is because there is so much to do in the grounds. The grounds of Chambord are vast and impressive covering thousands of acres of land, surrounded by a wall that is 31km in length and home to countless wild boar (sanglier) and deer. You can easily spend a full just exploring the grounds around the Château.
There are shops, restaurants and snack bars around the Château , but I would recommend taking a picnic. Then all you need to do is pick your favourite spot and soak up the sunshine while admiring the magnificent views. Once you’ve eaten, these are my top recommendations of things to do.
Horse and Bird of Prey Spectacle
The show takes place every day except Mondays from April to September. I have been to see this show a few times and it was superb every time. The show tells the story of François’ reign using jousting and incredible horseback acrobatics. The costumes are remarkable and you feel as though you’ve temporarily stepped back in time. It’s well worth watching. The audio description is only in French, but there is an information leaflet available in English. You may also occasionally see the riders exercising the horses around the grounds, often wearing full costume, which adds an interesting touch to your visit. Tickets are €15.50, but you can buy a combined ticket for the Chateau and the show for €26.
Walks Along The Canal
One of the best things about the grounds of the Château is that they are completely free to enter, although car parking is €6 per day. There are numerous walks around the Château, but one of the easiest is the flat, four km walk along the canal. There are also great views of the Château at the end of the canal. The walk is open all year and even in winter it is busy on a Sunday afternoon with local families and dog walkers. Along the canal path are several mini reserves where you can observe the local plant and animal life. There are information signs in both French and English and I have been lucky enough to see wild boar, herons and otters in these reserves. Also open from 2019 are more than twenty kms of guided pathways which is perfect if you have more time or want to explore a little deeper into the forest.
Hiring a small, electric boat is a lovely way to see the Château from a completely different viewpoint. If the Château is busy, as it often is in summer, you can guarantee that it will be tranquil and calm on the water. There is a canal to the rear of the Château and boat hire is available from approximately April to November and costs just €16 for 2 people for half an hour.
Call of the Deer
Chambord is the perfect place for nature lovers and the mating call of the deer is a truly impressive natural spectacle. The mating period (la saison du brame) is between mid-September and mid-October. Organised tours are available every day and allow you access to part of the forest usually forbidden to the public. It is just €40 for a 3 hour guided tour, if you choose to visit in the evening. Unfortunately, I never got around to doing this, so hope to return to the Château one day to take this tour. However, you can also observe the deer for free by parking in the nature reserves situated along the D112 between Muides-sur-Loire and the Château. The best time to visit is early evening, but you may struggle to park as many other tourists and locals also come to observe the deer and wild boar in their natural habitat. Stick around until you find a viewing spot though, it’s totally worth it.
Jeep Tour of the Nature Reserve
This was a fantastic way to see the forest around the Château by accessing parts of the grounds that are usually closed off to the public. A forest guide takes you on a tour in a 4×4, providing information on how the estate of Chambord manage the plant and animal life in the forest. You also learn about the wild deer and how their antlers develop in a trophy room, which I found incredibly interesting, but a little odd given the large amount of taxidermy in the room! We paid €18 for the tour which took an hour and a half. It was completely in French though as our guide didn’t speak English.
Whatever you decide to do at Chambord or however you spend your time, one thing I can guarantee is that you will not be disappointed. The Château is just like a fairy tale and you will leave with memories that you will cherish forever.
Have you been lucky enough to visit the Châteaux of the Loire? Let me know your thoughts about Chambord or any of the other beautiful Châteaux in France.
A bientôt !
www.chambord.org for more details on this spectacular Château