We were up about 7am. Had some “it will do” instant coffee in the room and then got ready to go out for the day.
Ash had taken Paul out for a bit of a walk while I put some stuff in the car. I met up with them on the long drive up to the house from the road and we left from there. We stopped first to get some pastries and “real coffee” and consumed those at a sidewalk table before we got on our way.
There was only one destination for the day: Chateau de Chambord. It’s about an hour’s drive from where we are staying, back in the direction of where we last were yesterday. Depending on who you ask, it’s either the greatest castle in the Loire Valley, or all of France, or all the world. So, expectations were high.
And they were met at least, maybe exceeded. The history of it is interesting by itself: King Francois I – who’d grown up at Amboise, the first castle we saw on Saturday – built this in the early 1500’s as a hunting lodge, along with 13,000 acres of land. All of that is still intact today and the whole thing is a national park. When you first turn onto “Route du Chambord” you’ve got another 5 kilometers – just over 3 miles – to go before you get to the castle.
And he only used it for hunting, which was so much his passion his nickname was “the father of hunting” because of his dedication to the sport, including ushering in the first official code granting hunting rights during his reign. In those times, hunting was a “pastime viewed as being useful in honing military, political and diplomatic skills” yet had been limited to nobility up until that point.
This was our first real glimpse of it from the parking lot as we were walking towards it. We were bummed that so many of the towers are covered in scaffolding because it really detracts from the overall look, but glad they are taking care of it so it remains a place for the public to continue to spend time.
Ash got in line, and I had to walk quite a way up the driveway before I could get far enough away to get the entire wall. You can see how small the people are in the center of the photo. That’s where Ash is.
I took the liberty of lifting some photos from the internet so you could see it without the scaffolding. And the blue sky helps see it better, too. I didn’t realize until this moment as I was putting this together that we didn’t get a photo of the other side of the castle. This is the front entrance.
Here’s an image of the entire layout. You enter through the wall in front.
This is the view from the back. Or is it the front? It’s amazing regardless. Much has been written about that rooftop, intentionally asymmetrical. The idea was for it to look more like the skyline of a village than a unified house. So there’s a lot going on with different chimneys, different ornamentation, etc.
In the center you can see people on a balcony. We will be up there later in the afternoon.
We took Paul with us for our first run through it. Everyone always loves having Paul around.
Beyond the size and the roofline, the most famous thing about this castle is this staircase in the middle. It’s a double-spiral: 2 different entry points going up in unison, but you will never see the occupants of the other staircase. It is largely believed to be designed by Leonardo da Vinci, who was a good friend of Francois. (If you read our entry on Amboise, you may remember that Da Vinci lived there for a time is buried near there.)
There are 60 rooms (of 426!) that are open to the public. We got through about 20 of them probably. Because we’ve been in So Many castles/palaces, on this trip and others, I didn’t take that many photos. Mostly I wanted to capture what was unique. And in this photo, its’ the size. 15-foot ceilings and just enormous rooms. Francois never lived here full-time, in fact only a total of 7 weeks for the remainder of his life, all around hunting. The castle was too big to heat during the winter, so it was empty then. Everything that was needed for hunting trips was brought at the time. With an entourage of up to 2000 people, that’s a lot of furniture, food, etc., to bring and the logistics were ridiculous. Can you imagine having that much money to fund all of that? It’s astounding to think about.
Paul needed a little rest at the other entrance to the staircase.
Here you can see clear to the other side, but you can’t see the start of the other staircase which is just to the right of that wall.
This is what the inside of the staircase looks like, looking up.
For some reason I loved this clock.
As the “father of hunting” there were several rooms dedicated to that theme. Paul was interested in this stuffed game!
Painting of dogs after a boar in a hunting scene.
Looking out from one of the balconies, but not the high one. One of the things about that helix staircase it is really messes with your sense of direction. You get in on one side of the castle but sometimes exit to the other side. I generally have a good sense of direction, but I got pretty turned around.
We went to a “horse and birds of prey” show that lasted about an hour (we wouldn’t know exactly since we left early for our lunch reservations). It started at 11:45am and we left about 12:35pm. If you’ve ever been to a Renaissance Faire, you’ve seen stuff like this. Here’s one of the birds, just taking off to fly from the girl’s arm.
Lots of costumes, horses, and even costumed horses. It was all in French so we really could barely tell what was going on.
But the kids loved it, and there were a lot of them. There was a lot of goofy, physical comedy.
Here’s another bird flying back and forth over the audience between its two handlers.
As I said, we left early for lunch. Ash booked a spot at I believe the nicest restaurant on the property, apparently just in time. We must’ve gotten the last reservation because we saw them turn many people away after we were seated.
We’d taken Paul back to the car for the show, so Ash went to get him. I snapped a selfie since I realized I wasn’t in any of the photos in yesterday’s entry. I’m still here!
Ash came back with Paul just as they brought the first course.
Ash had a “perfect egg” in a roasted cauliflower soup.
I had asparagus with what was like a lemon whipped cream on top and below a lime flavored – cheese? Sorbet? It was cold but the texture was hard to identify, but it didn’t melt. It was unique and tasted great.
That was our view for lunch.
Ash had the salmon….
…I had the veal. This was my 3rd time having veal on this trip and each time it’s been amazing and completely different. Veal is easier to find in Europe because dairy is such a big deal here that breeders use the male baby cows for veal. Their methods of raising cows for veal are more – let’s just say civil – than the kind that get protested.
A tiramisu built to share. We can eat it here because, unlike in the US, it doesn’t have alcohol in it. Yes those are very thin pure chocolate wafers sticking out of it.
And finished off with the standard coffees.
We went back to the castle because I wanted to get to that top balcony. It looks a little nicer against a blue sky.
I love this whole crown thing in the center. Note again how small the people are. Factor in that we are about 6 stories up already. That’s how high this thing is.
An “ussie” as Ash likes to call them.
Notice how different each of these towers are. It goes to the idea of wanting a very diverse skyline.
This might be my favorite photo of the trip. Looking out towards the back of the castle.
We crossed to the other side to get a photo of the front.
Only when you got to the very top of the stairs could you look over and see into the other side of the double spiral. I used the panoramic feature to try to capture that here, so the folks in the middle are a little scrunched.
We left around 3:30pm – that’s 5.5 hours there and we barely scratched the surface. Of course, a 2-hour lunch didn’t help, but it was a lovely relaxing meal. I’d said to Ash early this morning “let’s not do another 2-hour dinner tonight, OK?” Which he agreed to instantly; but then books a long lunch. Oh well. Talk about luxury problems. Still, it might’ve been nice to walk some of those gardens, rent a golf cart to tool around the 13k acres, paddle boats for the ponds, etc. It’s a great outing for a family and there were lots of people out enjoying what was mostly great weather, especially when the sun was out – a high of 71.
Ash is playing bridge again – he’s practicing for some tournaments he has coming up – and I’ve finished the blog up to this point. It’s almost 7pm. For sure we will take Paul out again and, if we eat at all, it will be something pretty simple.
It’s now after 10pm. Ash had a couple of calls to make after bridge and we didn’t get out of here until a little after 8pm. We went to the closest thing we could find which was open – there weren’t a ton of choices.
It looked quaint enough but was pretty “fine dining” inside, although the prices were right. We got out of there with 3 courses each for just 50 Euro, total (including a bottle of sparkling water). That’s happened a lot on this trip, actually. Most restaurants seem to have the deals for several courses, and we’ve been surprised at how reasonably priced they’ve been. This was one of those times.
Ash started with an avocado salad.
My first course was cold cooked white asparagus with a dill sauce. I’ve eaten a ton of asparagus on this trip and at least half of it has been white. Must be the season.
Ash had the fish for his main…
…and I had the beef. That gravy was something else – really strong flavors especially peppercorn. It was wonderful.
Ash’s dessert was supposed to be tiramisu – that in the little glass. Plus, some weird lime tart. We definitely liked mind better.
Mine was profiteroles. I’ve only had this one other time; at a really nice place we ate at in Napa on our first trip together in February 2021. This was not as good as that but it definitely worked: cream puffs filled with vanilla ice cream and warm chocolate sauce over all of that. What could go wrong?
And that was our day. Tomorrow we are making a stop in Orleans on our way back to Paris. We’re staying in a hotel near the airport for our last night, leaving Saturday morning. It’s been quite a trip! Almost done…
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