We begin our day at our new hotel with breakfast. No crap, really? But this is actually reporting because the breakfast was pretty good. Yes, that’s a low bar, but breakfast buffets in hotels are the definition of “low bar”. Here, there was a wide choice of freshly cut up fruit for a salad (strawberry, kiwi, multiple melons, pineapple, cantaloupe), almost as many dried fruit options, cheese and meat options that were identical to what you would get on a charcuterie board later in the day… artisanal yogurts, house-made vanilla and chocolate cremes (which I don’t know what those are doing at breakfast, but yay!), along with a lot of the expected things. Also, you might be surprised how average the pastry can be at a French hotel’s buffet, but these folks actually get the good stuff, and man oh man “the good stuff” coming out of a French patisserie is *chef’s kiss*. What a lovely way to start the day. Bellies sated, we hit the road.
Our target for today is le Château de Chambord, which is the preeminent château in the Loire. It is basically the transitional fossil between the “château” which is often castle-like, and the out-and-out “castle”. On the fancy-large-house continuum the only thing more to the right than Chambord would be Versailles, followed by the Louvre. It big. It very big. As the story goes, Francis I was hunting in this marshy portion of the Loire valley and decided it would be an ideal location for the ultimate expression of royal puissance. Yes, in a marsh. If scenes from Monty Python are occurring to you, you are not the first I promise you. As far as we could tell from the various stories and instructional films, if the place was left alone for more than a fortnight it would begin to crumble.
Chambord is what happens if France-Land from Epcot Center was to secede and form its own theme park. First you enter the domain of Chambord, whence you will see signposts warning you that Pumbaa and Bambi have free run of the place. (Seriously, the signs say that deer and boar roam freely, and you have to avoid hitting them.) Then you are directed to one of several pay parking lots. As you begin your trek towards the ticket office, you can’t really see what’s going on inside yet, but you can get a peek of the majestic towers of the actual castle. Paying for your tickets in
the a gift shop (natch) you are finally able to enter… the food court. I mean really, these people are on their game. This being France-Land of course, the food court is a bistro and a brasserie and a cafe gastronomique, so you have options, all of which are real food. This is also where you can rent a golf cart for you and your companions, since there is quite a lot of territory to cover. Feeling the pinch a little? Well, there’s a budget option for bicycles (but also a deluxe, e-bike package) that will get you around almost as well.
Now, the transport options might be giving you pause. Yes, the Chambord grounds are huge. The enclosing wall is 34 kilometers long. (As per usual, when a king wants to hunt somewhere that territory immediately becomes verboten to the local populace.) There’s a water feature – which we did not photograph because in the middle of this drought it’s more of a water disappointment – multiple gardens, and a field they’ve set aside for the jousting and bird of prey show. Yes, that’s right; this is apparently where Ren Faire people go in the off-season. The main attraction is, naturally, the castle itself. Like so many of these places it was built in many sections over time. This happens for a variety of reasons, but my favorite version of this story is that the original castle was conceived with no special apartment for the king – he and all of his other visiting nobles would be equal spaces. This is because, at the time of the design – stories of the Knights of the Round Table and their egalitarian nature (I mean, egalitarian as long as you were one of the knights, let’s not go crazy) held tremendous sway in the minds of the nobility. No sooner was the place built, however, then the king took one look at the equal apartments and said “bugger that” and had a whole new wing built for his personal chambers. In fact, the place wasn’t even finished, and the lovely symmetry that was a key feature of the place was knocked out of whack to account for a passage to the new wing. But hey, kings gonna king.
Within the castle itself, the most famous feature is the spiral staircase in the middle of it. More to the point, the double spiral staircase in the middle. There are two entrances to the stairs on every level, and the width and depth of the stairways is such that while it looks from the outside like it’s a single staircase, there are in fact two intertwined paths spiraling around a central core. There are multiple stories about why this was built. The first is that it allowed for a dignified path that allowed for various of the ennobled to encounter one another without actually getting in each other’s way. Another is that it allowed for the discreet movement of illicit lovers throughout the castle. (A lot of people love this story, but really now – you’re flipping a coin that you’ve chosen the path that will bypass whoever it is you’re hiding from. That’s not good odds on such a treacherous endeavor. But what do I know, being all non-ennobled and all…?) The theory I like goes to the architect of the central building. None is listed. Like, anywhere. There’s no official record of who designed the place. However, as you may recall from our post on Clos Luce, Leonard de Vinci (that’s the French version of his name, in case it’s causing you to tweak) had been invited into the service of Francis I. The completely symmetrical design of the place echoes many of the principles that Leonard’s work had displayed in his final days, and such a staircase would probably tickle him as well. Lacking firm evidence, we can only speculate. (Actually, everyone speculates.) It is a neat staircase, anyway.
Aside from the architectural curiosities, what the castle is, is a museum mostly of clothing, furniture and household goods. To their best ability they have tried to furnish the place in period pieces and have rolled back some of the more questionable remodeling decisions that have been visited upon the place over the years. As I said earlier, if the place was out of sight for more than a week or two it started to fall apart, and there were much longer periods where it was out of fashion. (Reason 1: constant mosquitos in summer. Reason 2: hard to heat in winter. Reason 3: Versailles) As a result, it went through numerous restorations. Hell, it’s going through one right now, that’s why the spires are all shrouded in scaffolding in our pictures. I give them credit for taking the time to get it right, but we both start to cringe at the sight of scaffolding. Alas, a reason to visit again when it’s finished.
We had a meal at… one of the places on site, I honestly forget what it was called. It was the one on the left? Good meal though, Lisa feels pretty sure that they are actual independent concerns that are simply renting space in the park, as opposed to wholly-owned feed troughs, which would explain why they still seemed to care about what they fed us. (I have thoughts.) Following a meal we made our way back to the hotel for a quiet evening of light fare from the hotel and an early night to bed. The next day would be the closest thing we’d have to a big day on this trip, with several hours on the road and multiple stops. You know what just happened.