Most people know that France has castles, however as we were planning to move, I was a little bit more concerned about what shoes to wear than the landscape. Mais, il y a beacoup des chateaus ici! You get the point right? It sometimes feels like everywhere we turn there is yet another castle that I’ve never heard of. In fact, the first week we were here with the boys, we made a plan to visit one of the best local chateaus – Vaux-le-Vicomte, but realized after arriving that they had not yet opened for the season. The kids were really disappointed and weren’t satisfied with the plan to just going home, so we started driving in the direction of a town that we knew had another castle (about 1 hour away), but about 10 minutes down the road we bumped into 2 more castles. It’s almost like they’re breeding in the countryside.
Anyway, a few weeks ago we took a short trip down to the Loire Valley to see more of the many castles dotting the landscape. We ended up seeing some of the big ones that are most famous in France – the two main ones were Chambord and Chenonceau.
We started with Chambord which was enormous in every way. It is an epically huge castle and it was the first castle we’ve seen where the ground are not kept at all. They mow the grass – that’s about it. No gardens and sculpted trees, just grass right up to the building on all sides. The most startling thing about Chambord was the the height of the ceilings in every room. I’m not great with estimation, but I would say that the ceilings are over 30 feet tall. My first comment when I entered the castle was, “How could they possibly heat this thing?” Guess what friends? They couldn’t. Apparently, the castle was so cold and drafty that most of the nobles moved out in the winter. There’s no amount of fire that could keep that place toasty.
The other famous castle we visited was Chenonceau and it was like a study in contrasts. This castle, while huge, felt very intimate and cozy. The entire castle was stocked with all sort of period furnishings, many of them original to the castle. There were enormous arrangements of fresh flowers in each room and apparently there is a whole separate division of the Chenonceau organization whose sole mission is to arrange and deliver fresh flowers on a daily basis. Absolutely amazing. If you have even a remote interest in gardens, this is one chateau to see. And most amazingly, it is built across a river, so on the day that we were there, there were kayakers paddling lazily underneath the castle along the river.
But to me, the most interesting thing about Chenonceau is that it is the only chateau in France designed by women. You know what? I could tell. I’m not trying (too overtly) to bust on the guys out there, but when I was at Chambord, I couldn’t help but think that there was more thought put into the moat than the livability of the chateau. I mean, what good are 30 foot ceilings if you can’t live in the place.