Chambord Castle

France's Loire Valley is châteaux country, a beautiful region with an extraordinary cluster of regal mansions, palaces, and famous French castles. Chambord Castle (Château de Chambord) is the largest and most extraordinary of these, rivaled only by nearby Chenonceau Castle.

King François I built Chambord Castle in France as a hunting lodge and spent less than eight weeks here his entire reign, but he spared no expense in its construction. Building began in 1519 and employed 1,800 workers. The original design is attributed to Italian architect Domenico da Cortona, but Leornardo da Vinci, who visited Chambord Castle during its 50-year construction, is also thought to have inspired much of the architecture. Unlike many medieval castles (Sterling Castle in Scotland, for example), Chambord Castle in France was never intended as a defensive structure; design focused on beauty.

The end result was the most extravagant buildings in all of Europe, a masterpiece of Renaissance architecture, surpassing all other famous French castles until the construction of Versailles a century later. The roof was inspired by the skyline of Constantinople and hundreds of columns, towers, chimneys rise above the 440-foot long façade. (Today, the roof in illuminated at night: a sight well-worth seeing). Chambord Castle's central staircase is a winding double-helix, thought to be designed by da Vinci.

Despite its lavish construction and extensive forest grounds, Chamord Castle in France was rarely used as anything more than a weekend retreat by French monarchs—some neglected it entirely, preferring to stay in Paris or Versailles. Louis XIV, the Sun King, was one king who did enjoy the beauty of Chambord; he regularly used it as a retreat from the court at Versailles and once had the French playright Moliere perform in the chateau.

Chambord Castle left the possession of the French crown in 1745, when Louis XV gave it to the Maurice de Saxe to reward his victory over the English during the War of Austrian Succession. Chambord sat empty until the French Revolution and the furnishings and even the wall panelings were auctioned by the Revolutionary government in 1792. Attempts were made at restoration by the self-styled Comte de Chambord in the 19th century, but Chambord Castle was used as a military hospital in the Franco-Prussian War (1870–1871) and was again abandoned in 1883.

Like many other famous French castles, Chambord Castle in France is now owned by the government, which began restoration work after the end of World War II. The over 400 rooms are now filled with old regime furnishings, a hunting museum, and other exhibits, some of which are not concerned with the château. Visitors can explore through 3,000 acres of the 13,000 acre forest: look out for a chance spotting of wild boar, European deer, or other game. Chambord Castle in France is open daily year-round, from 9 am until 6:15 pm (5:15 pm in winter). Admission is about $15 each. The surrounding area is home to many quality camping sites and hotels, including the Château de Colliers, a restored château-hotel in nearby Muides-sur-Loire.

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