Ahhh, spring. The sounds of birds chirping in the air… the little bits of green sprouting out of formerly barren trees… the beautiful daffodils that pop out their yellow heads followed by tulips full of colors … can you tell that spring is my favorite time of year? But before spring comes winter, and although winter isn’t my favorite time of year to visit the Loire Valley, the visit of some good friends of ours gave us the opportunity to take a short weekend trip about 2 hours south of Paris. Although this wasn’t our first time visiting the Loire Valley, we were able to discover 2 new chateaux in this former playground of the French royalty: The Château de Chaumont-sur-Loire and the Château de Blois. One underwhelmed us a bit and the other overwhelmed us with how interestingly it took us through the steps of French history.
Château de Chaumont-sur-Loire: The Transferred Château
The Château de Chaumont-sur-Loire was initially built around the year 1000 by the Count of Blois to keep watch over the border between his county and the neighboring one. Five hundred years later, in 1550, Queen Catherine de Medici (the wife of King Henry II), bought the château. She likely used this château as a hunting ground and a stopover between her primary royal residences – the Château d’Amboise and the Château de Blois. (A château as a stopover? Wow, the royalty were really living it large back then.) As nice as the château was, what Catherine really wanted was the Château de Chenonceau (I can totally see why), which was owned by Diane de Poitiers, King Henry II’s mistress. So… when Henry II died, Catherine de Medici forced Diane de Poitiers to give her the Château de Chenonceau, and she gave her the Château de Chaumont-sur-Loire in return. Diane didn’t really want this property, so she rarely stayed at Chaumont, choosing to live at Chateau d’Anet (another former gift from the King) west of Paris instead. Although she rarely stayed here, she still continued with its upkeep and construction, and the Château de Chaumont owes most of its current appearance to her.
Although I loved the exterior of the château, I honestly felt that the interior was underwhelming. After some of the châteaux we had visited in the area full of restored royal rooms and furniture, this château’s furnishings were primarily either from the 19th to early 20th centuries or collected from the owners at that time. The lack of royal furnishings is likely due to the fact that neither Catherine de Medici nor Diane de Poitiers really ever lived here.
Although the château lacks a bit in renaissance furnishings, one thing that it does have is lots of modern art. Now modern art in an old château may not be what everyone is looking for, but I found it a little interesting, and definitely different from other Loire Valley châteaux.
Another one of the château’s attractions are its extensive gardens. But since it was winter (and pretty cold by the time we explored them), we didn’t see much of the gardens. I would like to come again in spring or summer to see if that changes my impressions of the château.
Château Royal de Blois: A Château Right in the Middle of Town
The Château de Chaumont might have underwhelmed me, but the Château Royal de Blois overwhelmed me by how much there was to see. To be honest, the Château de Blois was never on the top of my list, mainly because I love seeing châteaux on sprawling properties, and this château sits right in the middle of the town of Blois, with cars whizzing by its imposing structure.
One of the first things that I noticed even before walking into the château was that this château has different architectural styles from one side to the other. For example, you can notice from the first photo of this château that the street-side view has a different look than the main entrance pictured above. The reason for the differences in architecture is due to its multi-faceted history, and the evolution of French architecture can be seen in its walls. The Château Royal du Blois was home to 7 kings and 10 queens throughout history and many of them literally “left their mark” on this château.
Let’s go into how the Château de Blois came to be. A fortress was first built on this site in the 9th century, and the Counts of Blois added to the property from the 11th to the 13th centuries. However, very few of these medieval structures remain. In 1498, Louis II, who was born in the town of Blois, was coronated as King Louis XII, and he went to work transforming this former fortress into a royal palace. Although typically French in nature, early Italian architectural characteristics can also be seen in his work.
Less than 20 years later, King François I took the throne and started construction on his wing in the château. Known as The François I Renaissance Wing, it was also inspired by the Italian Renaissance.
The final wing is the Gaston d’Orleans Classical Wing. Gaston d’Orleans was the brother of King Louis XIII and in 1634, he was heir to the throne. Being the heir, he decided to build a new wing to the Château de Blois which was supposed to be a large-scale project. Welllll, things didn’t go according to plan because in 1638, Louis XIV was born and Gaston d’Orleans lost his successor status as well as his funding for the project. This wing still sits uncompleted and largely empty to this day.
If you thought that the exteriors of this château hold some interesting history, there’s even more inside. An excellent job was done restoring many rooms of the château to its former glory. We only allowed ourselves about an hour and a half to explore the interiors and honestly, I think I could have easily spent another hour appreciating the art contained within the walls. In addition, included in admission is a tablet (also called a “histopad”) that gives a comprehensive audio tour of the restored rooms and virtually transforms the unrestored rooms into their former glory.
Since this château is located in the middle of the town, it didn’t have as impressive a garden as some of the other châteaux we’ve visited, but what it does have is a picturesque view of the town of Blois…
So that’s it for our winter view to the Loire Valley. Have you been to the Loire Valley before? Do you have a favorite château? Let me know in the comments below!
Until next time,
Former Loire Valley Posts
If you’d like to explore more of the Loire Valley, check out some of my previous blog posts:
- Château de Chambord and Château de Chenonceau in Autumn
- Château de Chenonceau in Spring
- Château de Clos Lucé and Château de Cheverny
- Château de Villandry, Château Azay-le-Rideau, and Château d’Amboise
- Tours, Montrésor, Loches and the surrounding villages