Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Chateau of the Loire Valley

The Loire Valley was close enough to Paris for the wealthy French nobility to build castle palaces or chateau for their holidays and to impress people.  There are hundreds! Only having a day and a half in the Loire, we chose to stay overnight at Amboise a lovely town in a central position of the  Loire, and we decided to visit three quite different Chateau.
Sue and Sophie in the evening sunlight by the Loire River in the beautiful town of Amboise. (Thunderstorm just passed)

We began with Chambord - the largest and outwardly most impressive of the Chateau.
Chambord is a beautifully designed, impressive edifice which King Francis I began building in 1519 to show everyone how powerful he was.  Unfortunately, it seemed to become something of an expensive, impressive white elephant.  No one really wanted it as it was expensive to run, cold in winter and infested with mosquitoes in summer.  The hunting in the surrounding grounds was good, but over the centuries no one was very successful at draining the marsh.  This outwardly impressive building was uncomfortable on the inside and the King only ever visited a few times.

At the centre of the chateau is a spiral staircase - actually two staircases, one on top of the other.  One can climb to the next floor seeing people across from you also on the staircase but never meeting them. It is a classic case of people wanting to be seen, but not known; being concerned about appearances and what people think of them, rather than the substance of who they are.  I might be reading too much into all this, but the main function of the chateau seemed to be to impress people, rather than be a place where people could enjoy living.
The central spiral staircase
Looking down the centre staircase
Sue & Sophie on the other stair
The second Chateau we visited was Cheverny.

Chateau Cheverny snapped on our way for a cup of coffee at their restaurant/cafe in the converted l'orangery 

Wedding gown - Cheverny
This was a smaller, much more homely palace.  Interestingly, the chateau has been lived in continuously (in contrast to Chambord) and has been owned by the same family almost continuously since it was built around 1622. The owners still live in the wing on the left of the picture.  It was still a luxurious palace, but I found it somehow less pretentious than Chambord.  We all commented that except for some of the 17th century bedrooms, we could all live there.  The Belgian comic book creator Herge used Cheverny as a model for his fictional "Chateau de Moulinsart" in the Adventures of Tintin books.

Cheverny seemed to escape the power plays and infighting that seem to be so much a part of the history of other chateau.

Our third chateau visit was Chenonceau.
Sue and Martin at Chenonceau
Chenonceau like Cheverny was a desireable place to live, but unlike Cheverny was caught up in the politics and power plays of France at the highest level.  We saw the room from which Catherine de Medici governed France after the death of her husband King Henry II. We gained a rapid French history lesson. I left with my mind swirling with stories of conspiracies, rivalries, adultery and assassination.  Beautifully preserved, including its gardens, this was the most magnificent chateau visit.  The 16th century chateau was built over the River Cher.  Astounding!

Lasting impressions?  Beautiful buildings, tapestries, paintings, furniture, ... But also questions about the legacy we leave according to the kind of life we live.  Greed and power games don't seem to have led to a happy home!  Most of us don't, or can't, build in Francois I words "a big, beautiful and magnificent edifice" like Chambord to make people think we are powerful, but how much do we worry what people think of us?  Chambord seemed to be all about outward impressions. How much time, money and personal energy do we give to "impression management".  I remember when Samuel was choosing the future king of Israel, the Lord said to him: "Do not consider his appearance or his height... The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." (1 Sam 16:7)  I also reflected that only God can change our inner selves - giving us a "new heart".

Blessings as you tend to your hearts.

No comments: