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Chateau de Chambord France Loire Valley Chateau de Chambord

Chateau de Chambord France

In spite of the fact that the Chateau de Chambord is the largest in the Loire Valley, it was only really designed to be Francois Ier's hunting lodge for when he went hunting in the Sologne, which gives you some idea of his incredible power. He did, after all establish the monarch's absolutism. The chateau has 85 staircases, 440 rooms and a chimney for every day of the year. It was designed by the Italian architect Domenico de Cortona in 1519, although some say that da Vinci had a hand in it too.

As with all great Renaissance designs, Chambord's symmetrical and rational layout perfectly expresses one single idea, that of Francois Ier's supreme power. Its tour de force is the double helix staircase, the Great Staircase, which consists of two separate spirals that entwine but never touch as they lead up to the roof. The roof itself is like a giant chessboard with all the chimneys, and it was here that the royal court gathered to watch tournaments and the return of the hunters. The whole thing took 1800 masons, workers and artisans about 15 years to complete, and drained Francois Ier's pocket of cash.

Chateau de Chambord

However, the chateau is much too large to be a comfortable home and Francois Ier probably couldn't afford the heating bills after he had completed the building work. Hence he only spent a total of 42 nights there during his 32 year reign and the chateau is of little historical significance when you compare it to places like Loches or Chenonceau.

Nowadays it costs €7 to enter the chateau. On the first floor there is a suite of apartments redecorated by Louis XIV and also some 18th century apartments that have been made more homely by lowering the ceilings and putting in smaller fireplaces. The second floor contains a museum of hunting and the most interesting pieces are two tapestries: one of Diana, the huntress, and the other of Meleager's tale from Ovid's Metamorphoses.

Around the chateau is the enormous Parc de Chambord, a huge game reserve that is larger than central Paris and contained within a 32km long wall, built between 1542 and 1645. The parc is reserved for the President of France, although Chirac has not yet tried it out. The average visitor can hire a boat, a bike or a horse to explore the parc, and discover the red deer and wild boar that live there.

In the village of Chambord there is the Hotel du Grand St Michel right opposite the chateau (02 54 20 31 31) with rooms from €40 85, the more expensive ones come with a view of the chateau. In the nearby Bracieux, the Hotel de la Bonnheure, 9bis rue R.Masson (02 54 46 41 57) has rooms from €40 55 and a pretty garden. Chambord is 16km east of Blois and there are buses from Blois.