It would be hard to find a better place to begin our gal’s trip to the Loire region than visiting France’s Chambord Castle, the best in France. Feeling regal, we checked into the Grand Hotel du Lion d’Or a Relais & Chateaux property where we were treated like queens.
Upon our arrival, the gracious Madame Marie-Christine Clement, co-owner of the hotel greeted us with an infectious smile and enthusiasm to share the region’s rich history with us. While we freshened up from our two hour drive from Paris, her husband and Grand Chef Didier prepared a simple, yet elegant lunch on the terrace in view of the 16th century turret building. (More about the hotel and amazing cuisine later.)
Completely satiated, it was off to explore the wonders of the Chambord. The drive was magnificent through the forest grounds surrounded by 20 miles of centuries old walls that make up the estate. Bike riders and wild animals dotted the landscape as we made our way towards the splendid castle.
Imagine coming through a thicket of trees that lasts for miles where your mind is fully engrossed in nature mode when suddenly the road curves, sunlight hits your eyes and just as you are adjusting to the openness, a field appears with horses drawing your attention to the luscious green grasses and beautiful fences and then wham, there was the Chambord Castle.
Breathtaking is a complete understatement. We stopped dead in our tracks, unable to move forward we were so in awe. I pulled the car over and we struggled to pull off our seatbelts quick enough to get outside the vehicle to snap photos, almost in fear that the vision before us was a mirage.
Onwards to park, get our tickets to the royal splendor. We recommend you add on the English version audio guide to help you understand the nuances of each part of the estate. There are English explanations in each room, however, they are brief and do not include all of the interesting tidbits. The castle is 440 rooms and almost unbelievably, yet true, has 365 fireplaces.
Unlike many tourist attractions, most of the castle is open for exploring at leisure. We marveled at Leonard DiVinci’s double winding staircase that was the center of the building. It begins at the bottom quite wide and builds towards the top into a more narrow section where the circular inner void is finished with a see through opening to the sky – representing the Ascension of Christ with God in Heaven as the ultimate end to his design. The top of the staircase ceilings were designed with symbols representing the monarchy.
The grounds are also open to the public. Bicycles can be rented and there are trails throughout the forest where cyclists can bike for hours without seeing the same thing twice. Equestrian exhibitions happen in the stable area on the grounds as well.
Built as a hunting lodge and place of hospitality, it is still a warm and inviting attraction. It is a place you can spend an entire day enjoying the beautiful vistas from the upper portions of the castle, or down below under the shade of trees and umbrellas at one of the many cafés. There are various boutique shops for local wines, gourmet foods and specialty souvenirs. There is even a wine store performing tastings in the center of the mini village on the promenade.
If you see one castle in your life, this should be THE ONE!
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