Montrésor, Montpoupon, Chenonceau, Amboise... and Chambord. You can't do a two-day tour of the region around Saint-Aignan without going to Chambord.
I know, people who know the area well will groan... "Chambord again?" Well, there's the blasé attitude. I can't count how many times I've been there over the years. But every time there's a little thrill — especially if the weather is sunny and the crowds are not too thick.
Chambord is the biggest, most elaborate château in the Loire Valley.
The site where French king François Ier had Chambord built, starting in 1519, had been occupied by a fortified château built 200 years earlier. And there had been fortifications there in even earlier times. The nearest city is Blois — an ancient capital — and the last will and testament of on of the counts of Blois, Hugues II, mentions a bridge over the Cosson river at the same spot in 1307.
A "forest" of chimneys and towers, somebody said...
King François started construction at Chambord early in his reign, and when he died in the mid-1540s the work was still not finished. (What house is ever really finished?) François never actually lived at Chambord, and for more than a century after his death Chambord was neglected by the royalty. It was kind of a white elephant, I think, and was too remote even from Blois, 10 miles distant. Louis XIV, the Sun King, spent some time there, and Molière staged plays at Chambord for the king's entertainment.
During the Revolution in the late 1700s, extensive damage done to the château and the grounds. Another century went by. In 1930, the French government acquired the château de Chambord, and still owns it.
Chambord contains 426 rooms, 77 staircases, and 282 fireplaces. It sits pretty much in the middle of a walled-in park that is 50 square kilometers in area, or nearly 20 square miles. The wall around the park is 32 kilometers long — about 20 miles.
The château seen from a hotel/restaurant/café on the grounds
In all likelihood, Leonardo da Vinci had a hand in designing the château de Chambord. The old man came to France from Italy with young king François in 1516, but he died before construction began in 1519. The château's most distinctive architectural feature is, arguably, the grand double-helix staircase at the building center, and some believe Leonardo invented that.