It is a living museum showcasing the decadence of the Renaissance. Incredible chateaux replete with artworks by the Masters, intricate tapestries and ornate furniture, gold, silver and lace; these preserved monuments to hedonism are astonishing and have to be seen to be believed.
And with these lavish castles, spectacularly excessive gardens were often part of the picture.
The Loire Valley has an embarrassment of riches to explore. If you’ve never been, you must add it to your bucket list.
For green thumbs, if there’s one botanical display you have to see, it’s the gardens of Chateau Villandry; the last of the great castles built in the Loire.
Overlooking the River Cher, the stunning symmetrical patterns of this ever-changing masterpiece of horticulture are like nothing else. Three terraces of plantings showcase very different styles with the kitchen garden, of all things, among the most beautiful.
Spread across one hectare with nine separate sections, the beds are planted in a chequerboard arrangement interweaving vegetables and fruits with flowers – you’ve never seen edible displays like this.
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In a region where superlatives abound, the story of Château de Chenonceau more than holds its own.
The “ladies castle” – as it has become known over the centuries – evokes equal measures of beauty, intrigue, misery and awe. Second only to Versailles, it is the most popular of the thousands of former aristocratic residences open to the public in France. This one is also privately owned.
Straddling the river Cher near the small village of Chenonceaux in the Indre-et-Loire district, the former home of Catherine de Medici and Diane de Poitiers, among many other notable women of French history, the chateau was once the centre of power during the Renaissance.
Built on a site first occupied in the 11th century, it has seen triumph and tragedy over the millennia that have been wonderfully chronicled for visitors to immerse themselves in.
As you stroll the vast halls and stately rooms with an interpretative guided tour if you so desire, you navigate a virtual museum brimming with Flemish treasures, breathtaking artworks and lavish décor.
The castle first became a royal property in 1535 when King Francis I called in unpaid debts and took ownership for the crown. Later, King Henry II gave the property to his mistress De Poitiers who added the stunning archways over the river that today house a grand collection of works by the great masters.
When the King died, De Poitiers herself was ‘relieved’ of her magnificent property by a jilted Catherine de Medici; the widow of King Henry II decided she would forcibly “re-home” Diane to take ownership.
Catherine added significant improvements and personal touches of her own to the property that also served as a World War 1 hospital for wounded soldiers. In World War II, its place on the river made it a demarcation line between the free and German occupied territories of France.
Le Belle France Tour
Step into a land of renowned artists and royal crusaders, hilltop monasteries and valley castles with Back-Roads Touring. This tour takes you from France’s dramatic northern shores to the châteaux-sprinkled countryside, breaking off to see WWII sites, explore centuries-old villages and sample home-grown delicacies.
- 8 nights in boutique accommodation
- Experienced Back-Roads Tour Leader/Driver
- Premium mini-coach transportation
- Daily European-style breakfasts (B), 3 evening meals (D)
- Cider and calvados sampling
- A garden tour of Château de la Bourdaisière
- Entrance included to Monet’s House and Garden at Giverny, Château d’Angers, Bayeux Tapestry, Mont St Michel, Château de Villandry, Château de Chartres and Château de Chenonceau.
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