Sunday 9th August
Today we drove in our trusty Fiat 500 just 17km along the wide and flowing Loire River to our first ever Loire Valley Chateau at Chambord located on a small tributary of the Loire and surrounded by lawns, gardens and forests totalling 5440 hectares, the largest enclosed forest park in Europe and a national game reserve with wild boar and deer roaming free (we didn’t see either!)
The Chateau was initiated in 1519 by Francis 1 King of France following his victories in Milan and inspired by the influence of Renaissance architecture in Italy. It was conceived initially as a hunting lodge but has ended up a combination of moated fortress, fairy tale palace, grand country estate and royal dwelling for the post-Napoleonic aristocratic rulers of France prior to democracy ruling. There are 426 rooms, 282 huge fireplaces and 77 staircases and the furnishings run from C16th to the C18th with some modern installations. Only a relatively small number of rooms are furnished but these still take a bit of wandering around to see how it all works. There is a separate chapel, an impressive English garden, vast lawns all around but no fountains. Thousands of tourists are well catered for and the Chateau is large enough for everyone to enjoy without too much crowding.
The most amazing impression is the incongruous set of towers on the roof line, all jumbled together and competing. I have not seen anything quite like it before. An impressive set of ancient carriages completed the ensemble.
After a few hours of chateauing we took off again in the Fiat for the central French city of Bourges which once again has a UNESCO recognised historic Gothic cathedral. You may have realised by now that the Gothic life of the church is an insatiable thirst of mine.
Bourges is an ancient city of similar size and lineage to Blois with many very old churches and half-timbered homes and some classical domestic C15th and C16th architecture and housing, narrow lanes and beautiful perspectives.
The Cathedral of St Etiennes in Bourges is in one word magnificent. It’s massive bulk is supported by double flying buttresses and towering pillars inside.
There is a deep and pure simplicity in the Gothic structure with some truly beautiful story-telling stained glass windows and a very straight forward treatment of the high altar and pulpit without, I am pleased to say, any Baroque or Rococo treatment at all. It was a journey of over 100kms each way but I am pleased we made the effort to join many others in sensing a deep spirituality and peace in this place on a Sunday afternoon.