Le Chateau de Chambord

Le Château de Chambord is probably the most famous of castles of the Loire. Images of its fairy tale towers and turrets, silhouetted against a flawless blue sky and reflected in a mirror-smooth pond, represent the region in countless publicity posters.

Le Chateau de Chambord
Le Chateau de Chambord

The extravagant, French Renaissance Château de Chambord was commissioned by François Premier as a hunting lodge. It has been suggested that it was designed by Leonardo Da Vinci who was a guest of the King at Le Château D’Amboise at the time.

Construction on le Chateau de Chambord began in 1529 and continued for 20 years but the château was never completely finished. It is easy to see why. The building is huge and of mind-boggling complexity. The famous spiral staircase of the François Premier Wing at Blois is repeated again and again at Chambord. No space is spared a turret, a tower, a balcony or an arch and no surface is free from a decorative flourish.

The architectural extravagance of Chambord is highlighted by the parklands in which it is set. On one side acres of lawns intersected by neat gravel paths give way to dense stands of trees. On the other, a still, untroubled lake reflects the ridges, the recesses, the folds, the twists and the turns of the busy, if not hectic château.

In many ways le Château de Chambord was a folly and like many follies it was rarely used. François I spent only a few short hunting trips there – seven weeks in total – and after his death in 1547, it was abandoned.

Almost century later King Louis XIII gifted the château to his brother Louis XIV, the Sun King. Louis refurbished the Royal apartments and added a 1200 horse stable. Le Château de Chambord became, once again, a Royal hunting lodge. But even so it was used only for a few weeks every year and by 1685 Louis XIV too had grown bored with Chambord. The château fell from favour and was abandoned once again.

During the French Revolution, Le Château de Chambord was stripped and left to rot.

In 1939, with the Nazi invasion imminent, the French Government cleared art treasures from the Louvre and hid them at Chambord.

Restoration of le Château de Chambord began after World War II. Furnished in a strong, dark, plain masculine style with cabinets of weapons and walls sporting stuffed animal trophies and old paintings of the chase, the refurbished rooms of Chambord reflect its original, practical (and somewhat unpleasant) purpose as a hunting lodge. But the bare chambers that run from one into another at the top of those dizzying spiral staircases, the narrow walkways and the tiny balconies that look out across the turreted rooftops, the round tower rooms are pure fantasia- the stuff of fairy tales.

I was fortunate enough to explore le Château de Chambord with a group of teenage princesses and to see it through their eyes – magical!

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