Chateau de Chambord is a vast and beautiful palatial estate on the Loire river which is now one of France’s most popular historic homes.
Reported to have been designed, or at least influenced by Leonardo da Vinci, who spent the final three years of his life in France, Chambord is modelled on the classic Italian renaissance palace, and signalled the advent of the Renaissance in France. The site had been occupied for centuries by the Counts of Blois, who owned the land since the 10th Century, before becoming the property of the crown in 1491.
Building work was first begun by Francis I, who was known as the first Renaissance King, in 1519. Chambord was one of several chateaux which he built during his reign. It allowed the French King to explore his passion for architecture, whilst also providing a base to allow him to indulge in his other great passion of hunting.
Francis spent considerable time and effort building Chambord, although he reputedly only lodged there for 42 days out of his 32 year reign. A total of 1800 construction workers were engaged at Chambord for fifteen years, although Francis did not live to see the ultimate completion of the chateau. Francis was a major rival of the Holy Roman Emperor at the time, Charles V, and was in fact captured by him at Pavia in 1525. The French King exchanged his two sons for his freedom, but the expense of Chambord meant that he was unable to afford the ransom for his sons.
Louis XIV was another notable monarch who spent time at Chambord, and Louis was responsible for the extension of the chateau, bringing the number of rooms up to 440 in total. Having inherited the French throne at four years old, Louis reigned for 72 years, the longest reign in European history. His reign is a notable example of absolutist rule.
The Loire valley is a world heritage site, and Chambord is one of its highlights. Situated 16km east of Blois, a popular way of visiting the chateau and its expansive grounds is by bike. The Loire is noted for its numerous historical homes, and cycling is a particularly enjoyable way of exploring this picturesque area of France.
Chambord itself boasts a one thousand hectare estate and its grounds are open to visitors, who can walk or cycle through the gardens and woods, as well as the national wildlife reserve. Visitors should view the spectacular northern facade of the chateau, and marvel at the intricate rooftops, complete with spires, turrets, chimneys and skylights.
The defining feature of Chambord is the dual spiral staircase, which is also attributed to da Vinci. The two staircases spiral around each other for three floors without meeting. There is a museum of hunting and nature inside, and Chambord also contains a notable collection of tapestries.