Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Chateaux of the Loire

Can you imagine Sleeping Beauty in one of those rooms?

We drove out from Chinon along the straight flat highway towards Azay le Rideau but turned left to drive into a dark forest road to discover Chateau d’Usse. This narrow road through the forest certainly gave rise to the “Sleeping Beauty” persona of Usse. You could imagine an evil witch living in this dark forest. On arrival, even though we were in the shoulder season, we could see many of the tourist buses parked outside the Chateau boundaries. One could imagine what it would be like in the peak season during the middle of the day.

The views up here were rather fantastic.

OK, maybe a little cheesy but the children I saw, loved it.

The gardens take on a different perspective from up here.

Sitting beside the Indre river with the dark forest behind, Usse as you walk towards it has a magic feel. Not as large as some of the other grand Chateaux of the Loire, it feels comfortable to explore. To realize that to this day it is still privately owned and lived in makes it more real.
Built in the 15th century, its turrets and pointed towers gave inspiration to the novel of Sleeping Beauty by Charles Perrault.
As we walked by the moat to the Chateau, the water was bubbling and swarming with movement. It wasn’t until we looked more closely that we discovered it was full of hundreds of fish expecting a feed from us. As we walked beside the moat, these fish followed us. Quite an amazing sight!

Modern contraptions do the work these days.

Further up the road the Chateau de Villandry was our next stop. Villandry is a little more austere than Usse but it is their ornamental, kitchen and water gardens that draw the tourist trade. Built during the 16th Century, the Chateau was one of the great Chateaux built in the Loire. The gardens are built on three levels and from the Water Garden you can look down upon the grounds and get a great view of the shapes of the ornamental garden. I read somewhere in our box of souvenir literature that the gardens were restored by a Dr Joachim Carvallo sometime in the late 1800s and is cared for by his Grandson. We didn’t enter the Chateau itself and just wandered through the gardens before heading off to Chenonceau.

Maybe Chenonceau is one of the grandest of the Loire Chateaux but the crowds - even in the off-season are many.

Chateau de Chenonceau had several famous women who brought her to the grand Chateau she is today. In 1513 the wife of Thomas Bohier, Catherine Briconnet rebuilt the existing buildings with a Renaissance theme. Catherine Catherine de Medici the wife of Henri II was responsible for the bridge being turned into a grand Italian gallery, then Diane de Poitier added the formal gardens, but she was evicted after Henry's death by Catherine. Yes, evicted to Chateau de Chaumont. Poor old girl, I imagine it was quite cramped after Chenonceau.

The great hall spanning the river.

Just amazing - I think we spent more time down here than in the rest of the Chateau. The produce could be hauled up from the river below directly into the kitchen.

One of the openings above the river to the kitchen.

Sue was enthralled by the kitchen but she does love her modern appliances

How strange is it that I found the smaller buildings in chateau farm more interesting. Far from the crowds, it was quite peaceful and relaxing.

I have to admit that I was pleased that Sue talked me into seeing these three grand Chateaux of the Loire - so much so that we revisited the Loire the following year. We stayed at a lovely little cottage in Thenay, a few kilometres from Pontlevoy. That year we had the chance to see Chambord, Montrestor, Cheverny and Azay le Rideau. But I'm getting ahead of myself. We were leaving Chinon for Le Mans and on to Normandy, not without a little problem on arrival - more on that next Wednesday. 


  1. The chateaux of France are so beautiful and some are quite exceptional. The three you have seen here look like they are in the last category. Beautiful photos. Diane

  2. My absolute favourite is Azay le Rideau, but the ride along the riverbank towards Ussé on a motorcycle is just superb.
    Great photos - thanks for them !!

  3. Diane - Do you have many in the area where you are - any recommendations?

  4. Jean,
    Hi there - hope you are well. Sue and I would have to agree with you as Azay le Rideau being a favorite and much easier to vaccum than Chenonceau.


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