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Chateaux Country - A Guide to Loire Valley
About 120 miles southwest of Paris stretches the breathtakingly beautiful region of the Loire Valley. With its mild climate and gentle scenery, the Loire Valley is known as the "Garden of France" and was the favorite residence of the French kings. They built so many castles or palaces that this area is now called "Chateaux Country". Every hilltop has a castle... and vineyards as far as the eye can see. And there are numerous walled towns clustered around medieval churches.

Loire Valley: More than 7 centuries of architecture are unfolded here... over 120 chateaus, 20 abbeys, and 100 churches. In this valley, the purest French is spoken and the food and wines are superb.

Anger: This pleasant city straddles the Maine River and is famous for fruit and wine... as well as the home of the Counts of Anjou. High on the hill is the moated, 17 tower Angers Chateau. One visits this primarily to see the famous tapestries depicting the Apocalypse, from the middle ages. Nearby is the Cathedral of St. Maurice from the 12-13th centuries.

Saumur: This charming town is famous for wine and for its world-renowned cavalry troupe, the Cadre Noir. The chateau on the hill was once splendidly adorned with spires,

Chenonceaux: Catherine Briconnet is largely responsible for the architecture, Diane de Poitiers, mistress of Henri II, ruled in 1547 and remained here until evicted by Catherine di Medici. Louise de Lorraine, widow of Henry III, lived here and became known as "The White Queen" because of her devotion to the memory of her husband. Madame Dupin acquired the chateau in the 18th century. Many consider this chateau this most beautiful in the Loire Valley. It is certainly the most feminine and graceful. The chateau is approached by a long alley of towering trees. Two sphinxes guard the entrance. The interior is richly furnished with tapestries, marble statues, and portraits. Try to find time to walk in the gardens and along the river.

Amboise: This is the Loire town where Leonardo da Vinci died. It is dominated by its chateau, which is the first to show the influence of the Italian Renaissance. Francois I held court here and invited Da Vinci to take up residence. The Chapel of St. Hubert contains what are alleged to be the remains of Da Vinci. Clos Luce, from the 15th century, is where Da Vinci died in 1519 after living here for 3 years. The room in which he died has been restored and is furnished with copies of his works and designs. Da Vinci so admired his own painting of "Mona Lisa" that he kept it with him during his stay here). Francois I is said to have visited the artist through a subterranean tunnel connected to his own castle. (Read into that, if you will). Try to cross the river for a great view of the chateau.

Chartres: Chartres Cathedral is one of the most beautiful in the world. Built in the 13th century, this Romanesque-Gothic church with spires, flying buttresses and sculpture has stained-glass windows, which are unrivaled.

Villandry: A meld of the Middle Ages into the Renaissance. This chateau is visited for its gardens... 11 miles of boxwood sculptures.

Versailles: This is an unbelievable vast and elaborate palace built by the Kings of France. It's divided into sections - one including the famous Hall of Mirrors, where the Treaty of Versailles was signed. Another section is the Museum, and finally the Grand Apartments. During the revolution this palace was sacked by the rebels. Gradually the French Government has been able to recover many of the original furnishings. The park surrounding the palace is the ultimate in landscaping.

Langeais: An impressive medieval fortress built in the reign of Louis XI. Its greatest moment, in 1491, was the marriage of Anne to Charles VIII and took place in the Wedding Chamber.

Azay-le-Rideau: This is a private residence... towers and moat, white swans, and park-like grounds. Built by Berthelot, the financial manager of Francois, who actually took possession himself. The interior is richly decorated.

Tours: Tours is not a chateau, but is the center for exploring east of the Loire Valley. It stands at the junction of the Cher and Loire Rivers. During the middle ages it was an important pilgrimage center... for its 13th century Cathedral St. Gatien.

Blois: The residence of kings, Blois is steeped in four centuries of history. The castle provides a review of French architecture - a composite of the styles of several periods. The highlights are Louis XII's original brick and stone edifice, the Francois I wing, with its ornate, winding exterior staircase, and the majestic western wing.

Chambord: This is the largest chateau in the Loire Valley, and represents the zenith of the French Renaissance. It was a favorite residence of Francois I, and witnessed a parade of others, from Catherine de Medici to Henri III. Francois I built it originally as a "pleasure palace". The palace is enclosed by the longest wall in France. This extravagant 440-room building has a forest of spires, pinnacles, gables, turrets, towers, and 365 chimneys.

Cheverny: This castle is now occupied by a descendant of the original owner, It is less flamboyant, and has changed little over the centuries. The original furniture is still intact, and the splendor of the interior makes this a miniature Versailles.

Chaumont: This chateau is like a fortress... four wide towers, sentry walls, and a stern drawbridge. Catherine di Medici built an observatory here and attempted to predict the future.

Loches: This chateau was once notorious as a prison for the enemies of the king. It's a fortified building combining several buildings that are totally dissimilar in style.

Valencay: Peacocks strut through the gardens of this chateau, which remains in the family of Talleyrand. It's luxuriously furnished in Louis XVI. In the surrounding park, deer, flamingoes and llamas roam at liberty.
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Author of this article is Gene Gill. For more information visit his website: Gene Gill Miniatures.
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