Medieval castles on Loire river (11/17/03)

Last updated 11/24/03                                                                                                                                

The word "chateau" is French for "castle" and will be used in that sense throughout this blog. Note: when they say "chateau such-and-such" on bottles of French wine, it doesn't mean that the wine was produced or bottled anywhere near a castle, and the word should instead be understood as "estate", as in the grapes for this wine were all grown on the same property where the wine was made. Confusing as French things get sometimes...


We visited chateaus in several places along Loire river, starting from a lovely town of Blois (pronounced "blwah"). The town is situated on a high riverbank and has many staircase paths, cobblestone streets, some nice gardens and medieval architecture, the gem of which is, of course, the chateau, but even without it you could have a wonderful time strolling the streets where every stone breaths of the great deeds of yore.

                            Views of Blois

The chateau of Blois served as permanent residence of French kings in some periods, and a place of occasional visits in later times when royal court moved to Paris. Celebrities like Catherine de Medici stayed here (even US-educated readers of this blog should be able to recognize the name), and a few turning points of French history took place at the chateau, such as the assassination of Duke Guise (sp?) by the order of king XXX.


The interior of Blois chateau, as well as most other French castles, is much less impressive than the architecture because most furniture and other royal belongings have been lost, stolen, sold, destroyed or moved around over the centuries, hence the rooms are either completely bare, or decorated with imitation items. The chateau of Blois especially suffered from this problem; I'm afraid there isn't a single authentic piece of furniture in there.

                     Some interior views that were worth capturing.

Our day trip to other chateaus in the Blois/Tours area was a partial success. We got to visit an interesting castle at Ambois (pictures one row below), but not without first experiencing a disappointment in Onzain where, after a 1.5-mile walk through a sleepy village, across Loire river, and up a steep wooded hill, we found ourselves at a closed gate with a sign that the chateau would reopen in December. So our only glimpse of the castle was from the other bank of the river, as witnessed by the picture below. In Tours we didn't even glance at the chateau because we didn't know there was one until late into the night; however, the town was quite nice, with a lovely medieval area with remains of a huge cathedral, narrow cobblestone streets, and half-timber facades that I personally adore.

                            Onzain and Tours

The chateau at Ambois was fun to walk around in, especially up and down the spiral staircases inside corner towers. Besides royal past, this chateau is famous for accomodating the great Leonardo da Vinci in the later years of his life which he spent at the French court in Ambois. Leonardo actually lived in a different house, but spent much time at the chateau and was buried there at his request.