What Your History Teacher Never Taught You About Life In the Loire Valley Royal Chateaux
The image of the chateaux of this region may be all tapestries, towers and topiary and faded furniture but for 200 years, these great palaces were host to world-class debauchery and many murders. Loire Valley chateaux are bursting with amazing stories. At Chateau Chenonceau you can hear ‘The future king was 12 and he took a mistress aged thirty-two.’
Chateau Chenonceau has one of the most lively pasts. Here not only did Henri II take a mistress 20 years his senior when he was 12, but Henri III also used the formal gardens for transvestite parties with his good buddies, ‘the Sweeties’.
In Chateau Blois, Henri III invited a rival to his ornate bed chamber then hid behind a curtain as twenty hired men jumped the wretch.
The chateau guide can show you the exact location in Chateau Blois where 23 knife stabs were planted in the unfortunate Duke de Guise the head of the Catholic League, by eight men armed with daggers and 12 with swords. You can even watch a black and white 12 minute silent movie re-enacting the murder at Chateau Blois.
Today tourists at Chateau Blois can see the 237 secret cabinets, which opened by stepping on a hidden lever, where Catherine de Medici kept her personal papers, jewels and a collection of poisons. Catherine and her son Henri III instigated the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, which began in Paris and spread throughout France, resulting in the death of some 70,000 Protestants.
In Chinon, aristocratic ladies bunged unplanned babies down an 80 ft shaft, also the castle toilet. And it was from his balcony at Chateau Amboise that Louis XII hung Protestant dissidents.
Today because of cheap airfares to many exotic locations and perhaps because the curators of these celebrated chateaux typically ignore the colourful elements in their history these chateaux are chasing the tourist dollar. Now chateaux across the Loire Valley region are hosting additional attractions: an international annual garden festival at Chaumont, horse show at Chambord, a Tintin exhibition at Cheverny, actors in period costume and son et lumiere shows at many.
Most key chateaux are in the 100-mile stretch from Saumur to Orleans. The region around Blois is a perfect base for visiting Blois, Cheverny, Chambord, Clos Luce, Amboise, Azay-le-Rideau, Villandry, Chaumont, and our favourite Chateau Chenonceau which attracts over 1 million visitors each year, the most out of all of the Loire Valley chateaux.
It is easy to overdose on chateaux, so do not try and make any records by doing them all in one or two days. Two in a day is enough and allows you plenty of time for relaxing and enjoying wine-tasting at a handful of vineyards sprinkled along the banks of the Loire River.