Taking up Royal lodgings
The clatter of horse hooves and exuberant shouts of riders in high spirits, ring in the air. King Francois 1st is arriving at his Loire hunting lodge with guests, on the quest for wild boar, deer and other game. The estate is Chambord.
Sitting just a few metres from the Chateau’s grand entrance, the scene is an easy one for today’s visitor to imagine.
Now owned by the state, Chambord, the largest Chateau in the Loire, still boasts a hunting reserve full of game together with a wildlife reserve covering 54sq kms, plus accommodation across from the Chateau in the forty room Hotel Du Grand-St-Michel.
Built originally as the royal kennels, the comfortable hotel gives uninterrupted views overlooking the Chateau. Front rooms with double windows open wide to take in the full castle view, while an expansive front terrace where drinks, lunch and dinner are served in warmer weather, offers the opportunity to relax at any time of the day and muse on the lives and the events connected with the grand castle before you.
Inside there’s a formal restaurant, decorated in grand hunting style with wall mounted deer heads and rich velvet furnishings, serving superb Loire wines - the region offers over twenty red, rosé and white, still and sparkling ‘appellations’ to accompany delicious regional dishes – the Loire Valley is known as ‘the garden of France’. Plus, there’s a pretty lemon and white breakfast room where a generous breakfast is served in relaxed style.
Located 250kms southwest of Paris, the little village of Chambord protected by a 31km stone wall (the longest in France), houses two hundred and twenty inhabitants. With its own mayor and priest, the Chambourdins (locals) either live in the Chateau, in one of fifty or so village houses or the perimeters of the park.
Their lives are interwoven with caring for the grounds and sixteenth century Renaissance castle.
From a design plan said to be influenced by Da Vinci, the extravagant building took nearly thirty years to complete the staggering 440 rooms, 365 chimneys, 800 sculptured columns and 85 staircases including a double spiraled intertwining staircase in the centre of the castle winding round a central axis, but never meeting.
This unique staircase connecting the three main building levels, was ideal for keeping private the secret comings and goings indicative of court life at the time.
There are tall chimneys, crown shaped turrets, domes, miniature spires, complex mosaic roof tile patterns, together with salamanders, Francois’ personal emblem carved on surfaces throughout.
When open, the chateau is able to be explored freely, with audio guides available. The establishment is so vast, this is a good idea.
In summer, guided nature walks and cycle rides in the forest are offered, along with a twice daily dressage display. Chambord is also home to an equestrian centre.
But the highlight, as a guest in the grounds, is the time the crowds depart around 6.30pm, when the magically lit Chateau exterior and grounds are free to be explored and photographed unencumbered, by those enjoying their moment in time of living like royalty.
©2007 Linda Donald
All rights reserved
Appeared in The Frame for Living – Open2view
Word count 518