While waiting to find the way back to our language stays and our cultural outings, let’s travel by thought and discover together the fine arts of France in texts and images…
Vacance Actives invites you to follow in the footsteps of the Kings of France who left Paris to come and recharge their batteries and go hunting for a few weeks on vacation in their homes in the Loire Valley. Leave the urban effervescence, and join the Châteaux of the Loire Valley: here is the beautiful program of this royal day, led by our guide-driver, and for all audiences: students, adults, French as a Foreign Language (FFL) learners (we promise that in our cultural stays, there are no hunting parties on the program!). Our escape in the Loire Valley makes you discover two mythical castles: One is the filming location of the 1970 film Peau d’Ane; the other houses an astrological observatory designed by Catherine de Medicis and the magus Ruggieri…
Did you guess?
Head for the Château de Chambord and the Royal Château of Blois!
The stages of our day of visits to the Châteaux of the Loire Valley
Heading to the Châteaux in the Loire Valley
The Loire Valley, a rejuvenating getaway
Departure for a day of change of scenery along the longest river in France, marked by so many witnesses to French history. Between the fields of sunflowers in summer, the towns and villages developed in medieval times, their lively markets and the vineyards that line valleys and hills, everything comes together to appreciate this region with its exceptional cultural heritage.
The castles of the Loire Valley, a wonder at every step
Traditionally, the Loire Valley has been the chosen retirement destination of the French aristocracy for hundreds of years. These great owners have embellished an always luxuriant, green and soothing countryside from which sprang castles, each more fabulous than the next, both symbols of fairy tales and witnesses to an eventful political history.
For a day, the driver-guide will share anecdotes and historical knowledge throughout the trip, to discover the Loire Valley and appreciate its most remarkable heritage elements. On your way, you will see the castle of Châteaudun considered as one of the first castles of the Loire, Cheverny whose architecture, more sober than that of its neighbours, inspired Hergé for the creation of the castle of Moulinsart of Tintin; the château of Chenonceau known as the “castle of the ladies” in memory of its famous inhabitants Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Médicis; Villandry and Chaumont-sur-Loire, which have splendid gardens among the most beautiful gardens in France.
Why are there so many castles on the banks of the Loire?
The majority of the castles built on the banks of the Loire saw the light of day in the 15th and 16th centuries, following the Hundred Years War between kings of France and kings of England, allied with the Dukes of Bourgogne. Many fortresses were built on this vast combat territory in the Loire region, the demarcation line of the two camps. These buildings served as a refuge for the kings of France who fled from Paris. At the end of the war for the Renaissance takes place: regents and nobles re-invest, modernize, enrich and transform these vast properties thoroughly.
This architectural renaissance is embodied by François 1er who plays a major role in the development of the great estates along the Loire. The Loire Valley then constitutes a unique concentration of architectural gems, all competing in splendour and majesty by their architecture or their landscaping. The figures are impressive: there are 11 royal castles out of nearly 3,000 castles listed in this region of unparalleled wealth.
Organizing a day of visits to the Châteaux of the Loire Valley thus creates a cruel dilemma: which one to choose?
Vacances Actives has opted for the Château of Chambord and the Château of Blois.
Stage 1: visit of the Château of Chambord
François 1er, Leonardo da Vinci … the mystery of the architects of Chambord
After having crossed the beautiful country of the Loire Valley, our guide sets his sights on the Château of Chambord and its French gardens. Located in the Loir-et-Cher, it is undoubtedly the most emblematic one of the Renaissance, represented in France by the orders of François 1er from 1519. The latter decides to build a huge hunting estate on the marshy lands of the Loire Valley full of game, near the Cosson river.
The name of the architects of the Château of Chambord however remains a mystery: fascinated by the talent of Italian artists, François the 1st undoubtedly brought in one of the greatest, the engineer Leonardo da Vinci. He would be the designer of the central plan and the majestic double staircase. The King, however, will not see the final realization of this highly strategic project which aimed to demonstrate his power to his rivals. After so many campaigns of works and modifications, the Château of Chambord as we see it today is largely in its original state, a Renaissance jewel rich of French and Italian influences.
Unique architectural achievements in Chambord
Visiting the Château of Chambord takes time! It is one of the largest castles in France, (perhaps too big!) with its 440 rooms, some of which are completely empty! And the property does not stop at the castle: the hunting reserve which surrounds it constitutes the largest enclosed forest area in Europe, the same area as inner Paris.
During the visit, we discover its impressive architecture first of all by its facade, surmounted by hundreds of chimneys and richly sculpted towers. Then its double revolution staircase, one of a kind, is THE curiosity of the place. In the centre of the building, it rises in a spiral, in two segments turning in the same direction but which never intersect: magic! (an ideal during a pandemic, right?).
The place of fairy tales par excellence, Chambord was used as the setting for the filming of the film Peau d ‘Âne by Jacques Demy in 1970. Several scenes of the film were shot at the castle, such as that of the fitting of the ring by all the women of the kingdom in front of the prince, with the mythical double-spiral staircase in the background. But we won’t tell you everything, so many surprises still remain to be discovered when you visit the interiors of the Château of Chambord…
Visit the French-style gardens of Chambord
It’s time for a walk! And what an honour to stroll through the reconstructed 18th century garden: it is the result of 16 years of research and several months of work, in the spirit of those of the Grand Siècle. Four squares, each arranged differently. Lawns cut with delicate embroidery; alleys of lime trees, rows of flowers, bowers and flowering cherry trees. A rectilinear decor perfectly measured in harmony with the ordered facade of the Château of Chambord. By accessing the floors of the castle, we can easily appreciate the meticulous cut-out of each space.
The restitution of the gardens of Chambord is a plunge into the historical landscapes of the heyday of royalty.
Stage 2: visit of the Château of Blois
Blois: 1 monument, several centuries of art and history
The Château of Blois has remained the favourite residence of 7 kings and 10 queens of France, who have each left their imprint … The result is also a number of plots, anecdotes and power games that our guide will not fail to share with you during the visit! Proudly posted on a promontory, the castle offers a perspective embracing the Loire Valley and the streets of Blois.
Arriving in the courtyard of the castle, the visitor can see a synthesis of the history of the architecture of France. The eyes fall in turn on a medieval facade then a Gothic one, then a Renaissance one and finally a Classical one. Four wings, four eras, four architectures:
- the royal fortress of the 13th century, with several towers of the François I building, part of the rampart, the tower of Foix and the Hall of the States General.
- the Gothic wing of Louis XII, with his equestrian statue above the entrance.
- the Renaissance wing commissioned by François I, adorned with the famous staircase.
- the classical wing of Gaston d’Orléans (brother of King Louis XIII).
The Château of Blois: a museum of decorative arts
The Castle of Blois is the first site launched by François Ier upon his accession to the throne in 1515. Italian influences are already evident there. As in the Château of Chambord, he placed an unusual massive spiral staircase in the centre of a facade inspired by the Vatican boxes built by Bramante. The Classic-style main building is only part of a vast and ambitious project of complete reconstruction ordered by Gaston d’Orléans. He wanted an entirely new castle: he would have “only” one unfinished house but built by Mansart, in a style announcing the grandeur of Versailles. Inside, the vault adorned with trophies and masks, surmounted by a dome, makes it a dazzling setting.
The visit continues in the royal apartments, where the era is changing again: we like to dream of the life of a castle in these 19th century furniture and decorative objects sumptuously restored by the architect Félix Duban, particularly designed for the time!
Proof of the richness and density of the heritage of the Château de Blois: it is labeled Musée de France and houses the town’s Decorative Arts museum. Over 35,000 works to discover, including masterpieces by masters such as Ingres, Rubens, Boucher… for the pleasure of the eyes and of culture!
The new gardens of the Château of Blois
This green setting evokes the royal gardens that have long since disappeared. Century-old trees; refinement, tiered terraces of old shrubs and flowers…. The walk is an invitation to relaxation and contemplation in a place rich in essences and species, recalling in particular Anne de Bretagne, emblematic figure of Blois, and her passion for botany.
Vacances Actives organizes language stays in France and offers tours and excursions for the general public to discover French culture and heritage.