News that the President of France would be in the Loire Valley last weekend at the Château de Chambord was cause for celebration. In keeping with french tradition, Emmanuel Macron spent time with family and friends ahead of his 40th birthday and the Christmas holidays. While highlighting national cultural heritage during this festive season, President Macron also gave us the occasion to show our son that he shares something with the charismatic world leader.
Like many children, our son enjoyed chivalrous stories of knights in shining armor. As he grew, so did his obsession with castles. Now, as an adult, he often browses one of several books in the series Merveilles des Chateaux de France Parents and educators of students on the autism spectrum can take advantage of specific interests by turning them into a learning tool. We were able to harness our son’s passion to accommodate a family vacation to the Loire Valley. The splendor of Chambord Castle is especially enchanting in December for the holidays.
Château de Chambord is arguably the most magnificent of the Loire Valley castles as well as the largest. A french national treasure, the Chambord estate is also listed as a World Heritage cultural site by UNESCO for its eminent architecture and landscape “illustrative of a significant period in human history”. It is open to the public and receives nearly 1 million visitors each year.
The “significant period” is the reign of King François I (1494-1547) five centuries ago.
A renowned patron of the arts, he brought many Italian artists and architects to France and initiated the French Renaissance. François I conceived Chambord with a team including Leonardo da Vinci whom he housed in the nearby manor Clos Lucé. The monumental scale of the Château de Chambord may be overwhelming. That is likely the effect Francois I was after as he was also known for his political theatricality.
Our son walks very slowly, so we had time to take in the surroundings as we made our way from the car park to the castle passing the village before arriving at the moat.
The cone-shaped trees lining the path to the formal gardens on our right and the steady stream of visitors at the castle’s entrance to our left hinted at the surprises waiting inside. Crossing the threshold, it appeared as if we were guests at an immense Christmas party. The halls of the entire first floor were decorated for the holidays.
We were immediately drawn in by the double-spiral staircase attributed to da Vinci. Intrigued to test if indeed visitors going up could not see those going down (as the king demanded) we headed for the second level. After all, it was only Christmas Eve and we could feel the anticipation that precedes the feast. There we discovered the work of photographer Bae Bien-U. In sharp contrast to the high-spirited bustle of visitors below, the temporary exhibit “D’une forêt à l’autre” evoked the serene atmosphere of a spiritual journey. The Korean artist spent a year at Chambord taking photos of the natural environment, in particular the forest. On the stone walls of the second floor a display of his famous black and whites depicting the sacred forest of Gyeongju accompanied his most recent work.
Before leaving we listened to a choral concert in the chapel and took in the animated Christmas decorations on the first floor. Each installation told a popular children’s story, from Grimm’s fairy tales or Fontaine’s famous fables, among decorated trees. It was getting dark when we left for our nearby gîte where we had our own family celebration. We promised our son that we would be back again when the days were longer (and the weather better) to enjoy the flora and fauna. The Chambord estate is constantly evolving with restorations, acquisitions, art exhibits and seasonal events. It is worth revisiting and, if it is your first time, plan to stay the entire day.
Chambord is in the department of Loire-et-Cher in central France about 2 hrs south of Paris. The monumental estate is comprised of the château, with 440 rooms, and a 13,000 acre park including the formal gardens and wildlife as well as the village. Prepare your visit by visiting the website in English. Further information by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone: +33 (0)2 54 50 40 00
When to visit: The château is open all year long, except for January 1st and December 25th. During peak season, April through October, opening hours are from 9am to 6 pm. November through March the castle closes at 5pm. The last entry is always half an hour before closing and the gardens close half an hour before the castle.
Accessibility: Admission is free for visitors with a disability and one accompanying person. Guide dogs, by law, are welcome. The ground floor of the castle is wheelchair accessible as are the gardens. Visitors may borrow wheelchairs and portable seats.
A digital guide, Histopad, makes it possible to see the upper floors as they were during the reign of François l.
Food and Beverage : The area between the parking lot and the castle is called Place St. Louis or Chambord Village. There are little shops where you can buy food and tables where you can eat and drink. There is also Café Orleans in the castle’s courtyard.
Restrooms : It is best to use the accessible restrooms before visiting the castle at the Place St. Louis near the parking lot or in the courtyard at the entrance level.
How to get to Château de Chambord
The best way to visit the Loire Valley is to drive or, for the very athletic, bicycle. If you are driving to Chambord from Paris, take the highway Autoroute A10 via Orléans to Tours. the closest highway exit is Blois. The parking lot is about 200 meters from the castle and the fee is 6 Euros per vehicle per day.
Trains leave Paris from the Austerlitz station. It takes about 1 hour and a half to get to the Blois-Chambord station and another 25 minutes via shuttle or taxi to arrive at the castle.