Visit the Chateau Chambord in Loir-et-Cher, Loire Valley
Chambord, in the Loire Valley, is instantly recognisable, because of its very individual architectural design, and its imposing size and presence - even among the many splendid chateau of the region it stands out as more grandiose. Yet the great irony of Chambord is that it was constructed as a 'stopover' - a hunting lodge for King Francois I and his entourage when hunting in the region, not as a full-time royal residence.
Chateau Chambord was built in the first half of the 16th century, in what is known as the 'French renaissance' style. It has a central structure, with large towers on each corner and a mulitude of smaller towers and structures, which itself forms part of a larger structure - a less imposing square that incorporates the main chateau, two further substantial corner towers, and a large enclosed courtyard. This layout suggests that the castle follows a medieval defensive structure - which it does broadly - but Chambord never played, or was intended to play, any kind of defensive role.
Facts and figures can't grasp the scale of Chambord, but there are more than 400 rooms and 80 staircases!
The roofline of the chateau is a bit 'cluttered' for my taste, with many of the parts seemingly stuck on randomly but it is certainly distinctive and the central round tower (the cupola for an imense double helix staircase, the design of which is sometimes attributed to Leonardo da Vinci) is certainly impressive. Apparently Francois I required a roof that reminded him of Constantinople!
Not only did Francois I seldom visit the castle, apart from fleeting hunting visits, but it was then largely abandoned for the century following his death. In the middle of the 17th century Louis XIV carried out a lot of further improvements and development, including the impressive stabling, but it was then again abandoned before the end of that century. The pattern continued into the 18th century, with a short period of occupancy and decades of abandon.
Chambord was further damaged during the revolution, and little was done to improve the situation until after the Second World War.
In recent decades a great deal of work has been carried out on the castle, which is now under the control of the French State, and it is now a major tourist attraction in the region. Apart from the splendours of the building itself you can also admire a fine collection of furnishings, works of art and tapestries, and a small interesting collection of horse-drawn carriages.
The castle is surrounded by a decorative moat and entensive parkland and gardens - itself walled, to make the most extensive walled property in France.
Map showing location of Chateau Chambord