Have you ever wanted to visit a romantic, centuries-old castle in France? There’s something very ethereal about taking a walk back in time when life was both simpler and yet more difficult than today. In an age of technology where instant communication can be commanded at the tip of one’s fingertip, it’s a curious notion to suddenly find yourself transported to a period where the most advanced invention is crudely archaic by today’s standards.
Yet, so many things from those times stand to this day. There is a true appreciation and a dedication to the preservation of historical structures in Europe in particular and the Loire Valley specifically. A visit to central France provides numerous opportunities to experience the Gothic and Renaissance architectural monuments and historical significance of chateaus or castles.
Imagine. You are walking down the path to history where royal knights once traversed along these ancient cobblestones to reunite with their beloved as they announced victory over their enemies. Parading down the through way across the moat, you can see the resplendent palace of Kings and Queens of times past dominating the landscape.
As you stroll past the prominent coat of arms in the entrance way as you enter their lavish manor, you can almost feel their presence lingering. You are drawn into the cavernous quarters sheltered by kaleidoscopic frescoes framed by a massive stone fireplace between two mammoth floor-to-ceiling panoramic windows that reveal a breath-taking view of the rolling, emerald green countryside.
A BRIEF HISTORY
A standard since the 10th Century, chateaus in the Loire Valley began as a haven for French kings who were quickly followed by nobility who didn’t want to be too far away from the seat of power. There was a shift when King Louis XIV built the Palace of Versailles near Paris in the 17th century, however, those who remained in the King’s good graces were allowed to stay in Loire to renovate existing chateaus or build new ones as their summer residences.
After the French revolution, many chateaus were destroyed and demolished. The surviving ones are now either privately owned homes or operated as bed and breakfasts, gites (holiday homes) or hotels. Some are owned by local government authorities and their upkeep is subsidized by opening the chateaus and their gardens to hundreds of thousands of tourists each year. Today, the Loire Valley in central France is a UNESCO World Heritage site and an excellent side trip from Paris that will take less than a day to complete.
The Loire Valley is located two hours south of Paris by car and is a favorite pick as a day trip for tourists who want to maximize their time in the city of light. The trip from Paris takes a little over an hour on the TGV (France’s high speed rail line) leaving from the Gare Montparnasse station or about two hours on the slower train leaving from the Gare d’Austerlitz station. You will need to get off at the St-Pierre-des-Corps stop in the city of Tours. You must buy your rail passes at http://www.raileurope.com/us/rail/tgv/ . Be sure to book your tickets before leaving your home country because most passes can only be ordered that way.
Some of the most popular Chateaus of the Loire Valley region that are open to tourists are Chambord, Azay Le Rideau, Cheverny and Villandry. You will be able to independently plan a visit to each of these lovely residences by contacting the tourist office in the city of Tours at Rue Bernard Palissy (located right in front of the St. Pierre-des-Corps station) at www.ligeris.com. The tourism authority for La Touraine (the Loire Valley) is at 9 Rue Buffon in Tours at www.tourism-touraine.com. The tourist office for Chenonceaux is located at 1 Rue Bretonneau at http://www.chenonceaux-blere-tourisme.com/loire-valley/welcome-tourism-office.html .
There are also wonderful tour operators who offer day-long guided tours to multiple chateaus. One of the most popular is conducted by the Western France Tourist Board whose day long guided tour includes:
· A round-trip rail pass from Paris to the city of Tours
· Pick up from the Tourist office in luxurious climate controlled shuttle bus
· Scheduled visit to:
Chateau D’Azay-Le-Rideau (http://azay-le-rideau.monuments-nationaux.fr/en/) which was built in 1518 on an island in the Indre River where its foundation rises straight out of the river. The chateau is a mixture of Italian and French design where each side is framed by medieval towers capped with turrets that are framed by a high sloped slate roof.
- Jardins de Villandry (http://www.chateauvillandry.com/) is the next stop. It is one of the last castles built in the Loire Valley during the Renaissance in 1536. Its grounds boast the most extravagant geometric knot gardens that are worked by eight full time gardeners who plant 60,000 vegetables and 45,000 plants per year.
· Return to Tours and lunch near the Tourist office
· Depart in shuttle bus for second half of trip to:
o Chateau De Chenonceau (http://www.chenonceau.com), a French renaissance masterspiece that was built in the 16th century on a bridge across the River Cher. King Henry II gave it to his favorite mistress, Diane de Poitiers and after his death, his widow Catherine de Medicis, banished Diane from Chenonceau.
- Chateau D’Amboise (http://www.chateau-amboise.com/anglais/) was built over a span of the 15th and 16th centuries by Charles VIII, Louis XII and Francois I. It shelters an exceptionally well preserved collection of furniture and boasts the most famous panoramas in the Loire Valley.
- A visit to Chateau du Clos Luce (http://www.vinci-closluce.com/) in Amboise caps off the end of the tour. This was the only home of Leonardo da Vinci where he lived from 1516 until his death in 1519. The chateau features his 40 marvelous mechanical inventions and a chapel with restored 16th century frescoes, all of Italian craftsmanship: The Annunciation, the Assumption, and the Virgin of the Light.
- Board shuttle bus to the tourist office for transport back to the Pierre-de-Corps train station for return trip to Paris.
To book this tour, please call toll-free in the US and Canada 1-866-996-9727 or book online at www.linkparis.com prices range from $185.00 for no rail service,$291.00 for standard service and $322.00 for first class service. Bon Voyage!