By Hank Schrader, USMA ’71, Europe Destination & Europe River Cruise Expert
There are hundreds of castles and palaces in the Loire River Valley region of France. Probably two of the most interesting are the Chateaus of Chenonceau and Chambord. We visited this region of France in late November of this year (2017) on a post river cruise planned by my awesome wife Anne. To say she hit it out of the park would be an understatement, but I’m not surprised as this is one of the unique parts of our travel business—planning special add-ons to river cruises or special tours that we guide folks on to enhance their vacation experience.
So, let’s learn about these 2 great palaces and why you should consider us to plan your pre or post trip for a river cruise.
Chateaux Chenonceau—a Woman’s Palace
Built over the Cher River, this is an awesome chateaux that I instantly knew this was going to be a special visit. From the entrance to this historic site, it is about a 15 minute walk to the chateaux through some wonderful gardens, a cool duck pond and a carriage house with great examples of horse drawn transportation and farming carts of the era. Here are some photos:
Upon reach the first views of the palace, it is just stunning—it is built over the river and looks like a fairy tale castle.
As you approach the palace, the forecourt has the Marques Tower, the old keep of the fortified castle that was demolished as the new chateau was built. The main door is made of wood and wonderfully painted. Here are some photos:
The first room we saw was the Guard Room. Here soldiers we ready to protect the royal family as needed. The huge fireplace was delightful on the cold day we visited and the Flemish tapestries highlighted some of the past events of this Chateaux.
The next room was the impressive Chapel. It was decorated for the Christmas season. All here is original to the 1500s except the stained glass windows that were added in 1954. Here is a photo:
We next visited Diane De Poitier’s Bedroom, the Green Study and the Library. Diane De Poitier is an interesting women—she was the mistress of King Henry II and he gave her the palace in 1547. When Henry died as a result of a jousting tournament accident in 1559, Henry’s wife, Catherine de Medici’s, quickly made sure Diane was no longer welcome and she took control of the Chateaux.
My favorite room was the 200 foot long Gallery. It instantly reminded me of the Hall of Mirrors in Versailles except with 18 windows instead of mirrors. The Gallery is actually the bridge over the river Cher. The dazzling chandeliers and tufa and slate floor of black and white tiles is stunning. It would be easy to imagine a wonderful evening ball here—there would be plenty of room to dance and socialize and this was exactly how this area was used by the royals for lavish parties.
There are several bedrooms on the second floor. They include the 5 Queen’s Bedroom, Catherine de Medici’s Bedroom, Cesar of Vendome’s Bedroom, and Gabrielle D’Estrees” Bedroom.
On the third floor is the black bedroom. It is the mourning retreat of Louise who lived here after the assassination of her husband King Henri III.
My research of Chenonceau reveals that this is the third most popular chateau in all of France behind Versailles and Fontainebleau. It is well worth a visit.
Chambord—a Man’s Palace
One of the largest Chateaus in all France, Chambord has 440 rooms and 365 fireplaces. It was created as a hunting lodge and to impress visitors. On first sight, it does just that—this place is massive. 80 of the rooms are on display. This is a great example of French Renaissance architecture. There are 4 main areas of interest of this palace.
We entered and went up the double-helix staircase, the first of the must see in the chateau. It was designed so users could pass without seeing each other since there are two flights of stairs. It is rumored to be inspired by Leonardo De La Vince and some say it was designed so the King’s mistress and the queen could pass without having to meet.
The second area of great interest is the furnished apartments of the first floor. These are lavishly decorated, and have furniture fitting for a king (although they are recreations—most of the original furnishings were looted during the French Revolution).
The third area is the keeps—the vaulted rooms of the second floor. The symbol of the king was the salamander and there are many carved into the walls and ceilings.
The forth area is the terraces. The sweeping views, the turrets, the walkways are really special. In the center of the terraces is the lantern tower crowned with the fleur-de-lis.
The gardens are beautiful. The surrounding wooded area were ideal for hunting and still are used today for that purpose—it is Europe’s largest enclosed forest park.
This massive palace does impress—Francois I, the absolute monarch, invited the most powerful king of his day, Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, to visit and he accomplished his mission to prove his power and wealth. A visit here will help you understand what power and wealth can build.
Our Special Pre/Post River Cruise Tours
While I think we have many assets that should make you want to use us to help plan your vacation, perhaps one of our best services is planning special pre/post tours.
On this post cruise trip, we based in Amboise. Here are 2 photos of the town:
This is a cool little town—great castle, good food, and the palace where the genius, Leonardo De La Vince spent his last 3 years. In 1516 Leonardo traveled to France and among the items he brought was his painting the Mona Lisa and accepted a position working for the King of France as an engineer, painter and architect. Chateau du Clos-Luce is an interesting look at Leonardo’s creativity—each room seems to emphasize his talents for painting, building and inventing. The models of some of his inventions and ideas are really well done. Here are some photos:
My Final Thoughts
We are travel and river cruise experts. We know our products and the vendors who sell them to you. We have designed special tours for dozens of clients, led several and will continue to find just the right vacation that will exceed your expectations.
When you are spending around $10,000 or more for a vacation, you want an advisor who can match you with the right trip. It is especially true for a Europe river cruise post or pre vacation.
Whatever your Dream Destinations are, we are here to help you get the best possible vacation based on what is important to you! We will provide you high quality, expertly planned travel. Please give me a call 713-397-0188 (Hank) or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We want to help you: Savor life…make memories…Visit Dream Destinations! Your journey begins here!
HANK is a certified Western European Destination Specialist (DS) who has been traveling to Europe for 45 years. He is also an Accredited Cruise Counselor (ACC), conferred by the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA). This recognized expert in cruise and leisure travel is a retired Army Officer, and taught World Geography for 8 years. He is a `71 graduate of West Point and has earned 2 master’s degrees. His other Certifications:
- AmaWaterways River Cruise Specialist
- Viking River Cruise Specialist
- Scenic River Cruise Specialist
- Emerald Waterways Specialist
- Avalon Waterways Specialist
- Brit Agent