July 21, 2014

A visit to Chambord (How the Royals did "Glamping")

Our first night in our Loire Valley Gite was heaven. There were no screeching seagulls, snails, pigeons or other noisy creatures to be seen or heard (or felt). We did have a resident bat (we named him George), but he was pretty quiet and did not try and scare the beejesus out of us.

Did I mention "quiet"? It was lovely. Being in the middle of nowhere kind of has its advantages. We had silence, but hardly any internet connection. I guess you can't have everything.

Our plan for the day was to visit both Chambord and Chenonceau chateaux. The first visit at Chambord would be to just enjoy the grounds and outside view of the chateau and save the price of the ticket for Chenonceau where the interiors are more worthy of the price of admission (at least this is what we presumed after our research). They also had picnic areas at the chateau so we decided to pack a picnic lunch to enjoy. The weather was still cloudy with a threat of rain, so we didn't forget our umbrellas this time.

We were only about an hours drive to Chambord, so I made quick work of the 427 roundabouts I needed to enter/exit on our way there. I may never get our GPS (with a British accent) voice out of my head . . . in 500 meters, enter the roundabout and take the third exit. In 400 meters, enter the roundabout and take the third exit. In 300 meters, enter the roundabout and take the third exit. In 200 meters, enter the roundabout and take the third exit. In 100 meters, enter the roundabout and take the third exit. One time, she said to take the "fourth exit" but there were only 3. Luckily, I can read the posted signs . . . those silly British gals.

We all arrived and parked in the lot. The first order of business was a visit to "les toilettes" which charged a .50 Euro entrance fee. This kind of irks me. They have really nice highway rest stops like every 10 KM (they are free), but if you want to pee at this "tourist attraction" it will cost you .50 Euro.

After expressing our morning coffee, it was time to lunch. It was quite busy and crowded in the picnic area and it was interesting to observe what other parties had brought to nosh on. One very large family had a ginormous Tupperware container filled with some kind of white rice dish. Some of those eating this unknown rice dish were liberally squirting ketchup on it. Seems like a strange picnic item.

The royal Château de Chambord is one of the most recognizable châteaux in the world because of its very distinctive French Renaissance architecture which blends traditional French medieval forms with classical Renaissance structures. The building, which was never completed, was constructed by King François I.

Chambord is the largest château in the Loire Valley; it was built to serve as a hunting lodge for François I, who maintained his royal residences at the châteaux of Blois and Amboise.

Chambord was altered considerably during the twenty-eight years of its construction (1519–1547), during which it was overseen on-site by Pierre Nepveu. With the château nearing completion, François showed off his enormous symbol of wealth and power by hosting his old archrival, Emperor Charles V, at Chambord.

In 1792, in the wake of the French Revolution, some of the furnishings were sold and timber removed. For a time the building was left abandoned, though in the 19th century some attempts were made at restoration. During the Second World War, art works from the collections of the Louvre (including the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo) and the Château de Compiègne were moved to the Château de Chambord.

The château features 440 rooms, 282 fireplaces, and 84 staircases. Four rectangular vaulted hallways on each floor form a cross-shape. The château was never intended to provide any form of defense from enemies; consequently the walls, towers and partial moat are purely decorative.

Work began on the chateau in 1526, at which point 1,800 workers were employed building the château. At the time of the death of King François I in 1547, the work had cost 444,070 lives.
The château was built to act as a hunting lodge for King François I; however, the king spent barely seven weeks there in total, that time consisting of short hunting visits. As the château had been constructed with the purpose of short stays, it was not practical to live in on a longer-term basis. The massive rooms, open windows and high ceilings meant heating was impractical. Similarly, as the château was not surrounded by a village or estate, there was no immediate source of food other than game. This meant that all food had to be brought with the group, typically numbering up to 2,000 people at a time.

As a result of all the above, the château was completely unfurnished during this period. All furniture, wall coverings, eating implements and so forth were brought specifically for each hunting trip, a major logistical exercise. It is for this reason that much furniture from the era was built to be disassembled to facilitate transportation. After François died of a heart attack in 1547, the château was not used for almost a century. It's astounding to see this massive structure and think that this was just a hunting lodge. Mon dieu!

A couple of other interesting tidbits about Chambord; On June 22, 1944, during World War II, an American heavy bomber, a B-24 “Liberator” from the U.S. Army 8th Air Force based in England, crashed here after bombing an airport southwest of Paris and being crippled by antiaircraft fire and German fighter planes. The aircraft’s pilot, Lt. William Kalan, had directed his crew to parachute earlier although he and co-pilot Lt. Kenneth Klemstine remained abord until shortly before the crash. At the time, priceless masterpieces from the Louvre Museum were hidden in the Château Chambord.

The two pilots were hidden separately by residents of the nearby villages of Huisseau-sur-Cosson and Montlivault for several months – during which time Lt. Kalan took part in Allied arms drops and other Resistance engagements – before both pilots crossed the Loire to join approaching U.S. troops.

Additionally, Chambord was the inspiration for the castle in Disney's "Beauty and the Beast."

After our rather pleasant picnic, we headed towards the chateau with the idea that we would rent the 4-wheel bicycles to cruise around the gardens in. Recognizing that Dad and Lea wouldn't be able to pedal very far on their own, we acquired a bicycle "trailer" to pull them behind us using our "pedal power" (that would be Sean and I). Let me just say that this looked a LOT easier in theory than in practice. We also didn't realize until we had paid for the bicycles just how far the path was "around" the gardens to the front of the chateau.

After 20 minutes pedaling and turning our legs into mush, I was the first one to cry uncle. This was NOT fun. I was starting to sweat like a pig in the muggy, humid weather and let me tell you, it was HARD to tote around our folks in the trailer (no offense to my trailer peeps).

So we decided to turn around and give them those stupid bicycles back. Terrey was kind enough to work together with Sean to pedal the trailer folks back while Laura, April and I took turns pedaling their ride; we may have even just walked and pushed that dumb, stupid, heavy, bicycle back to the rental spot. WHOSE idea was this?

But we did get some gorgeous views of the backside of the chateau (which I think was much more picturesque than the front).

By the time we had messed around with the bikes and walked around for some views of the front, it was 3:00 PM. I could tell that my trailer peeps weren't really that excited about visiting another chateau that day, so I offered to forego the other visit and just head back to the gite. We still needed to shop for some groceries for dinner, so we headed back to the car while the rest of the party (April, Laura and Terrey) visited Chenonceau. I was slightly disappointed that I would not be joining them, but perhaps we could visit tomorrow.

We really only had two days in the Loire Valley and it's not really that much time to see very much considering that you have to drive at least 30 minutes (mostly averaging 60 minutes) to get to most landmarks. I just have to add the Loire Valley to my list of places that I will have to go back and spend a greater amount of time to really explore that region. As always, "that's another trip."

À bientôt.

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