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Les Châteaux of La Belle Vie Tour

By Hannah Noye

We invite you to discover four incredible castles and much more during our 4 days in the astonishing Loire Valley region.

These places of splendor hold a romantic and historical allure. Did you know why the French kings moved to the Loire Valley in the 16th century? The region was particularly well situated geographically and economically for trade, as the Loire river was the last wild river that flowed freely to the open ocean without the hindrance of dams. Also being a landscape of extreme beauty, it was perfect for the construction of luxurious homes, an escape for the Kings following the 100 year war. We will be visiting four of these beautiful Châteaux on our La Belle Vie tour this year as we make our way through the most beautiful French regions. Let us make their acquaintance, in preparation.

This is the first Château we visit, on day 14 of the trip.

As per its name, it is located in the

town of Amboise in the Indre-et-Loire department in the Centre-Val de Loire region of France. The day starts with a morning trip to the popular Amboise markets along the banks of the river Loire, before we will make the easy walk to where the chateau is perched on a hill overlooking the Loire River and the town of Amboise. This castle has been steeped in the history of noblemen and kings since it was first built as a fortress in the 11th century. The highlights of its history include

  • It was originally built by the Counts of Anjou to protect against Norman invasions.

  • King Charles VII of France transformed It into a royal residence in the 15th century, and it became a favourite residence of subsequent kings and queens including Louis XI, Charles VIII, and Francis I.

  • Leonardo da Vinci spent the last years of his life at the Château of Amboise as a guest of Francis I, eventually dying there and being buried nearby.

  • During the French Revolution, the revolutionary government seized it and used it as a prison, many notable figures, such as the Duke of Orleans and mathematician Jean le Rond d’Alembert spending time there.

  • In the 19th century, the Château was restored by the French government and opened to the public as a museum.

There will also be the opportunity to see many of the Château's beautiful architectural features, including the including impressive defensive towers and the Gothic chapel. There will be a chance to walk the illustrious gardens, and perhaps have a picnic by the Loire with the fresh market bread and cheese we purchased earlier, while enjoying the view across the rooftops of Amboise.

On the same day as Amboise, we will head to the Château of Chenonceau, situated in the town of Chenonceaux. It is also located in the Indre-et-Loire department, and is known for its unique bridge structure, Renaissance style gardens, and its nickname Château des Dames in honor of the women who contributed to its creation and upkeep. Let us look briefly into its long and varied history:

  • The Château was built in the early 16th century by Thomas Bohier, a wealthy financier and royal treasurer to King Francis I of France. Remember King Francis? He frequented the Château of Amboise!

  • In the 16th century, the Château was acquired by King Henry II of France as a gift for his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. Diane oversaw the construction of the Château's famous arched bridge, which spans the Cher River.

  • After the death of King Henry II, his wife Catherine de' Medici took ownership of the chateau and made significant additions and renovations to the property. Catherine also commissioned the creation of the Château's extensive gardens.

  • The Château was used in both World Wars, as a hospital for wounded soldiers in WW1, and as an escape route to smuggle refugees and Resistance fighters across the Cher River in WW2.

  • Today, the Château is one of the most visited and most photographed places in all of France.

This Château is a little smaller than the others, but no less beautiful. It is less known, but presents an opportunity to see Château's of all types and the history that they are tied to. We will visit the Château du Petit Thouars on day 15 where we will tour the Château's cellar and wine cave, known as the ‘Chai.’ We will also enjoy a wonderful picnic lunch in the vines overlooking the idyllic Loire Valley vineyards. Some interesting information about the Château du Petit Thouars:

  • The château dates back to the 14th century and was originally built as a fortress to protect the region against attacks from English armies during the Hundred Years' War.

  • The château has been owned by the same family, the du Petit Thouars, for over 500 years. The current owner is Count Antoine du Petit Thouars.

  • The château played an important role in the French Resistance during World War II. The castle served as a base for the Resistance, and its underground tunnels were used to hide Jewish refugees and Resistance fighters.

  • The castle also produces its own wine, which is available for purchase in the château's wine cellar.

Finally on Day 16, we will visit the Château de Chambord, which is aptly situated in the town of Chambord. More than a castle, it's a work of art, a grandiose sacred place, a trip to the heart of the Valley of the Kings! We’ll have an audio guided tour of the unique monument as defined by its architecture and proportions. Leonardo da Vinci likely took part in its conception. With more than 400 rooms and the double-spiral staircase, Chambord is a highlight of the Loire Valley and to our trip. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight and is one of the most visited tourist attractions in France… let us see once more a brief idea of its history so far:

· The Château was built in the early 16th century as a hunting lodge for King Francis I of France. He seems to be a running figure through these Châteaux! It was designed by the Italian architect Domenico da Cortona, and its construction took nearly 30 years.

· The Château is known for its unique architecture, which combines elements of medieval fortress design with Italian Renaissance style. It has a central keep with four wings radiating out from it, and is surrounded by a moat and a large park.

· The Château was the site of many important historical events, including the signing of the Edict of Chambord in 1552, which granted religious freedom to French Protestants.

· During the French Revolution, the Château was looted and damaged, and many of its furnishings and decorations were sold or destroyed. It was later restored in the 19th century by the French government.

· The Château is home to a collection of Renaissance-era art and furnishings, including tapestries, sculptures, and paintings. It also has a famous double helix staircase, which was allegedly designed by Leonardo da Vinci.

So let's travel to these glorious castles and see all that they can tell us about French history, and the customs and stories of those who lived within them. See the limited spaces left for April, May, July and September 2024 La Belle Vie tour departure dates on on our website now!

Merci beaucoup!


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