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Foreign Policy Analysis
France’s Loire: Château Country

France’s Loire: Château Country

Hi, I’m Rick Steves, back with more of
the best of Europe. This time we’re enjoying the delights of
the French countryside — it’s the chateaux of
the Loire River Valley. Thanks for joining us. Awe-inspiring castles
and palaces are scattered all over Europe, but no place is as renowned for
its palaces as here — a region synonymous with
chateaux, the Loire Valley of France. This time we start with
the grandest of all chateaux, enjoy a river that marks
the heart of France, play with Leonardo’s inventions
at this last home, admire the ultimate in
graceful palaces, feed the dogs… and eat well, ourselves, before enjoying the garden
of our dreams. France, has historically been
divided by the Loire River. The chateau-studded
Loire Valley is a two-hour drive south
of Paris. Using the town of Amboise
as our home base, we tour four unique castles: Chambord, Chenonceau,
Cheverny, and Villandry. Because of its
strategic location, the fertility of its land, and its long
and involved history, the Loire Valley is home to a dizzying variety of
castles and palaces. The earliest were designed
purely for defense. But when a valley address
became a must-have for France’s royalty
in the 16th century, the old medieval towers were
replaced by luxurious chateaux. The Loire River’s place
in French history goes back to the very foundation
of the country. As if to proclaim
its storied past, the Loire is the last major
wild river in France. With no dams,
it flows freely to the sea. We’ll start with the biggest. Chambord is the granddaddy of
the Loire Chateaux. Far bigger than your average
Loire castle, it has 440 rooms and a fireplace
for every day of the year. It’s surrounded by Europe’s
largest enclosed forest. It’s a game preserve defined by
a 20-mile-long wall and still home
to wild deer and boar. Exploring the vast domain
by rental bike, you can imagine royal hunting
parties chasing their prey. Chambord began as a simple
hunting lodge for bored nobles and eventually became
a monument to the royal sport
and duty of hunting. Of course,
when it comes to hunting, good horsemanship is
an important life skill. Throughout the region
it’s not uncommon to see horses prancing
and dancing. Starting in 1519, the French
king Francis the First had this royal retreat built, employing 1,800 workmen
for 15 years. Francois I
was an absolute monarch, with the emphasis on
“absolute.” In 32 years of rule, he never once called
the Estates General — that’s the rudimentary
parliament of old regime France —
into session. This immense hunting palace was another way
to show off his power. The architectural plan
of the chateau was modeled after
an Italian church. It feels a like a place designed
to worship royalty. This castle, built while the pope
was erecting a new St. Peter’s Basilica
in Rome, was like a secular rival
to the Vatican. Like a cross crowns
a great church, the tip-top of
the tallest tower here is capped with
the fleur-de-lis, symbol of
the French Monarchy. Each floor of the main structure
is the same — four equal arms of a cross branching off of
a monumental staircase, which leads up to a cupola. Grand apres-hunting parties were held under these fine
barrel-vaulted ceilings. Constructed for Francois I, his emblem — the salamander —
is everywhere. The hunting theme carries on
throughout the palace. This room features paintings
and trophies from Chambord’s
illustrious hunting past. Typical of royal chateaux,
this palace was rarely used. Back then, any king had to be
on the road a lot to effectively
exercise his power. That’s why he’d have
lots of royal palaces and they sat empty
most of the time. Back in the 1600s,
Louis XIV spent a fortune renovating this place, and he
visited only six times. Touring the lavish apartments
of various kings and queens, you notice, everything inside
was designed to be easily dismantled and moved with the royal entourage. Because French kings
moved around a lot, the entire court and its
trappings had to be mobile. A royal chateau
would sit cold and empty 11 months out of the year, and then suddenly spring to life
when the king came to town. Imagine the royal roadies setting up a kingly room
like this — busily hanging tapestries, assembling beds, unfolding chairs, wrestling big trunks
with handles — just before the arrival of
the royal entourage. The French word for furniture,
“mobilier,” literally means
“mobile.” The fancy spiral staircase continues to
the rooftop terrace, decorated by a pincushion of
spires and chimneys. From here, ladies could scan
the estate grounds, enjoying the spectacle of their ego-pumping men
out hunting. On hunt day, a line of beaters
would fan out and work their way inward
from the distant walls, flushing wild game
to the center. That’s where the king and his
buddies waited for the kill. The Loire River
gliding gently east to west, separating northern
from southern France, has come to define this popular
tourist region. The value of this river
and the valley’s prime location, in the center of the country
just south of Paris, have made the Loire a strategic
prize for centuries — hence all these castles. This river has long been
an important boundary in France. Over a thousand years ago, when the Moors invaded Europe
from northern Africa, this is as far north
as they got. In World War II,
when Germany invaded, this marked the border between
Nazi and Vichy France. And even today, when people refer to northern
and southern France, this river marks the border. Traditional flat-bottomed boats romantically moored
along embankments are a reminder of the age before
trains and trucks, when it was river traffic that safely and efficiently
transported heavy loads of stone and timber. With the prevailing winds sweeping upstream from
the Atlantic, barges, loaded with construction
material for the chateaux, raised their sails
and headed inland. Then, on the way back, boats flowed downstream
with the current. This transportation
infrastructure was critical for shipping all
the necessary stone. And the region’s thick forests
provided plenty of timber, firewood,
and hunting terrain. It’s no wonder that castles were
built on the Loire in the Middle Ages. Long before
the pleasure palaces, this strategic valley
was dotted with no-nonsense medieval castles. The royal connection
with the Loire Valley goes back to
the Hundred Years’ War — that’s about
1350 to 1450. Because of a dynastic dispute, the English had a serious claim
to the French throne, and by the early 1400s they controlled much of France,
including Paris. France was at a low ebb, and its kings retreated here
to the Loire to rule what remained of
their realm. When the threat
finally subsided and the kings returned to Paris, man of their their Loire castles
became lavish country escapes. France rebounded and eventually tossed
the English back to England. Still, the French kings continued to live in
the Loire region for the next two centuries, having grown comfortable with the chateau culture
of the region. The climate was mild, hunting was good, dreamy rivers made
nice reflections, wealthy friends lived in similar
luxury nearby, and the location was close
enough to Paris but still far enough away. For France, the 16th century was
a kind of cultural Golden Age. With relative peace
and stability, there was no longer a need
for fortifications deep within the country. The most famous luxury
hunting lodges, masquerading as
fortresses, were built during this period. Extravagant chateaux like these
didn’t come cheap. They were the fancy of
the economic elites — insiders who controlled the
workings of the French economy. Of course, that all changed with
the French Revolution, when the working class rose up, chased the bankers
and financiers of the day off their estates, and ransacked
many of their palaces. Today scores of these castles
and palaces have been restored and are open to visitors. Modern-day aristocratic
chateau owners, struggling with
the cost of upkeep, enjoy financial assistance
from the government if they open their mansions
to the public. Straddling the Loire River,
Amboise is an inviting town with a pleasing old quarter
below its hilltop chateau. A castle has overlooked
the Loire from Amboise since ancient Roman times. As the royal residence of
Francois I in the early 1500s, little Amboise wielded far more
influence than you’d imagine from a lazy walk
through its pleasant, pedestrian-only
commercial zone. The busy, pedestrianized
Rue Nationale survives from
the 16th century. Back then, when the town spread
at the foot of the king’s castle and was the second capital of
France, this was its main drag. The chateau of Amboise
was the favored royal residence of several kings. Today visitors can stroll
through its peaceful grounds and enjoy commanding views. Here in the Loire, you’ll notice the impact of
the Italian Renaissance. When French big-shots
traveled to Italy, they returned inspired by the art and architecture
they saw. Tastes in food, gardens,
artists, and design were all influenced by
Italian culture. And Francois I did what he could to physically bring
the Renaissance to France. It just made sense — the ultimate
French Renaissance king, invited the ultimate renaissance
Italian artist, Leonardo da Vinci,
to join his court. The king set Leonardo up
in Clos Luce, a small mansion
just down the street. In 1516, Leonardo da Vinci
left Rome, accepted the position of
engineer, architect, and painter to France’s Renaissance king,
and moved in. The 64-year-old Leonardo
spent his last three years here in the court of
22-year-old Francois I. Clos Luce
thoughtfully re-creates the everyday atmosphere Leonardo
enjoyed while he lived here — the great hall where he received
VIP guests, his bedroom, and the fine kitchen
which came with a chef provided by the king. Enjoying the patronage of
the French king, Leonardo pursued his passions
to the very end. This romantic painting shows
Francois I comforting his genius pal
on his deathbed. Clos Luce displays models of
Leonardo’s remarkable inventions built according to his notes. Leonardo was fascinated
with water and was brilliant in
harnessing its energy. 500 years ago, when Leonardo
was looking for work, the resume he sent to kings
touted his engineering skills. It read something like, “I can help your army
by designing tanks, flying machines, water pumps,
gear systems, and rapid firing guns.” The chateau’s grounds are a kid-friendly,
interactive park with life-size models of
the clever contraptions Leonardo dreamed up. While parents relax, kids spin the helicopter, raise heavy stones
with innovative gear systems, pump water upward
with an Archimedes screw… ponder tanks and machine guns… [Recorded gunfire playing] and propel boats
with paddle power. The pastoral Loire Valley hides
countless castles, or chateaux. While you’ll likely
visit several, it’s important to
choose wisely. Rather than seeing a string of
similar palaces, we’ve lined up
a variety — several distinctly
different chateaux. While Chambord was grandiose,
our next one is graceful. The Chateau of Chenonceau
is the toast of the Loire. This 16th-century
Renaissance palace arches gracefully over
the Cher River. Its formal garden combined with
the delightful riverside setting makes it one of the great sights
in all of Europe. The palace is
lovingly maintained with bouquets of fresh flowers adding fragrance, and an included audio-guide making sure visitors understand
what they’re looking at. Big fireplaces warmed big beds while portraits of
illustrious owners give the place
a certain pedigree. While the tapestries
kept the rooms cozy, they also functioned to depict
recent history… to the king’s liking,
of course. These 16th-century tapestries
are among the finest in France. Chenonceau was the first
great pleasure palace. With its ravishing grand gallery
spanning the river, it was designed for
high society. Nicknamed “the chateau of
the ladies,” Chenonceau housed many famous
women over the centuries. In 1547, King Henry II gave the original castle
to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. She added an arched bridge
over the river. When the king died,
his wife, the queen, Catherine de Medici,
took over the chateau. She threw out the mistress, turned Diane’s bridge into
a fancy ballroom, and, according to legend,
put her own portrait above the fireplace
in her rival’s bedroom. Big personalities like kings tickled more than one tiara
at a time. Mistresses were
a routine part of the mix. Louis XV decorated this palace with a painting of
the Three Graces, featuring his three
favorite mistresses. Now, that’s the arrogance
of power. A powerful queen or mistress often managed to get
her own palace even when a king’s romantic
interest shifted elsewhere. In many cases,
the king or nobleman would be away on work or at war
for years at a time, leaving home-improvement
decisions up to the lady of the chateau,
who had an unlimited budget. We’re back in Amboise. And a day of chateau-hopping
puts me in the mood for an elegant meal. My friend and co-author of
our France guidebook, Steve Smith, is joining us, as is so often the case,
just in time for dinner. The rustic yet elegant
L’Epicerie serves delicious and well
presented traditional cuisine, and is a hit with locals. Its tiny kitchen
manages just fine. Tell me what you’re having
and why. Steve: I ordered shrimp
from the Loire river — so, it’s freshwater shrimp —
with tapenade. Rick: Tell me about this,
escargot, I love it. Escargot is famous
in Burgundy — that’s where it started. But it became popular. Every region in France
seems to do an escargot. Rick: The rose is refreshing,
isn’t it? It’s summer, August in France,
we drink rose. -Even escargot, red meat?
-It’s perfect. Oh, here we go,
what do we have? That one for there. And I will take this one. Oh! Thank you. -These are classic dishes.
-Steve: You have lamb. I have duck. Yeah, duck seems to be pretty
common in France. It is, it’s on every menu. It’s normal. It’s like the chicken
of France, really. But when you look at the price,
it’s not that cheap. You’re right, in a sense,
but it includes tax and tip. That adds up to about 25%. People should remember that
when they’re ordering. It’s included. Aurora, the restaurant’s owner, enthusiastically introduces us
to her cheese course. Alors, you have a local
goat cheese, all right? You have
the Sainte-Maure de Touraine, Selles-sur-Cher,
Valençay, and Pouligny-Saint-Pierre. After, you have some cow cheese. I have just one local cow. It’s creamy and soft and it’s from
the Loir-et-Cher Department. The name —. You have stronger than
but creamy too with the Langres from Champagne. If you like from Savoie,
you have the Reblochon. From the north,
you have Maroilles. Pont-l’Evêque, Normandy. Saint-Nectaire, Murol, and Fourme d’Ambert bleu cheese
from Auvergne. So, you have goat cheese
and cow cheese, and it goes from mild to strong, and it’s like a map of France. Aurora: Mm-hmm, yes, exactly,
you visit different regions. Le fromage, vin rouge, et pain —
it’s beautiful. C’est formidable. Every place we’re visiting is within an hour’s drive of
our home base in Amboise. And the drives are so scenic, you almost wish
they were longer. The stately hunting palace
of Cheverny is immaculately preserved. Because it was built
and decorated in just 30 years
in the early 1600s, it offers a pleasing
architectural harmony and unity of style. The chateau has been in the same
family for five centuries and the intimate details, like the wedding dress
in the bedroom, are a reminder that the marquise
lives here to this day. Formal rooms like this, with a fine 17th century
painted ceiling and centuries-old
suits of armor, feel like museums. But upstairs, the family
quarters feel more lived in. The library shows a love of
music and culture. The children’s room features
toys from the 19th century. And this clock does it all, showing the stage of the moon,
day, and date. Its second hand has been ticking
away for 250 years. When the Revolution hit in 1789, many palaces were trashed; some were even
burned to the ground. But many survived. Some were lucky. Some had fast-talking owners
with friends in high places. And others, like Cheverny, had a reputation for being
good to their workers. [Barking, howling] And back then, a big part of
chateau life included hunting — and still does. The Marquise hunts
twice a week in season. Feeding time for his hounds
is 5:00 daily. The hounds —
half English foxhound and half French Poitou — get worked up knowing
red meat is on the way. The master moves them out
and spreads out the feast. The excitement is palpable. The trainer, who knows each of
the 70 dogs by name, opens the gate
and maintains discipline as the dogs gather
at the concrete table. It’s an exercise in
canine control. Finally, he gives the signal
and its chow time. The Loire, nicknamed
the garden of France, is blanketed with
fertile farmland and dotted
with historic farms. A short drive takes us to
our final chateau. Chateaux all have
impressive grounds, but one is a destination specifically for
its landscaping. For my favorite gardens
in the Loire, it’s gotta be, Villandry. Finished in 1536, Villandry was the last great
Renaissance chateau built on the Loire. And all attention here is on
its grounds — arranged in elaborate
geometric patterns and immaculately maintained. It’s a hit with gardeners. Like so many
chateau around here, this was a pet project of
a fabulously wealthy banker, Jean le Breton,
who worked for the French king, François I,
in the early 1500s. Well-traveled Jean was inspired
by Italian Renaissance gardens. So, when he built his chateau,
he created this. The 100,000 plants, half of which come from
the family greenhouse, are replanted twice a year
by 10 full-time gardeners. Posted charts and maps identify
everything in English. The place is
lovingly manicured. Stroll under
the grapevine trellis, through a good-looking
salad zone, and among Anjou pears. The earliest Loire gardens
were practical, grown in the Middle Ages by abbey monks who needed
vegetables and medicinal herbs. And those monks liked
geometrical patterns. Later, Italian influence
brought decorative ponds, arbors, and fountains. And harmonizing all the elements
was an innovation of 16th-century Loire chateaux. Today’s beautiful gardens
at Villandry, a careful reconstruction of what
the 1530s original might have been, are the result of generations
of passionate dedication. The chateaux of the Loire Valley have been shaped by the ups
and downs of French history — from defensive forts
to luxury hunting lodges, to the target of
angry revolutionaries. Thankfully, many survived
the tumult of the age, and have become appreciated
as icons of French heritage. The Loire Valley
with its historic chateaux has found a place in
our collective hearts and is treasured by those who
visit to this day. Thanks for joining us.
I’m Rick Steves. Until next time,
keep on travelin’. – So, when it comes to the menu?
– Eat dangerously. [Rick laughing]
That’s good. I can help your army by
designing flying machines, tanks, gear systems, water
pumps, and rapid firing guns. [Laughing] So, perhaps your great-great-
great-great-grandfather used this as a den chair. No, because —
it’s a secret, it’s a new one.

100 comments on “France’s Loire: Château Country

  1. Hi I come from Loire valley, maybe you can have a look to my channel : "manuchaco chambord" I have a bunch of videos about castle (chambord, amboise the city of leonardo da vinci

  2. In queste cose I francesi sono 'maestri'….Atmosfere che non esistono più ma che ritrovi solo a casa 'loro' …..

  3. Ummm no Henry gave Catherine Chenonceau after she helped him get rid of the archduke's sister's dead body – whom he threw out a window – , clearly mister Rick Steves never watched Reign before ……..

  4. its nice and well done….but I really gotta say, it really sticks in my craw each time he says Palace….when taking about a Chateau. Chateau are Castles. Palaces are Palais. Some French are awesomely stubborn in wanting to label Palaces as Chateau and Castles as Palais. so, I can see where he gets confused.

  5. If anyone's interested, the beautiful small château at 9:06 is Azay-le-Rideau. During the war, the ballroom of Chenonceau (16:18) was used to smuggle people and goods across the river, which was effectively the border between the Nazi and Vichy regimes, without attracting the attention of German boat patrols. Comic fans, the château de Cheverny (19:09) was Hergé's inspiration for Moulinsart / Marlinspike in 'The Adventures of Tintin' series. Finally, if you go to Villandry (22:06) in the autumn, chances are you'll be able to pick up some vegetables, fresh from the garden, for a couple of euros.

  6. 😉🤗🍓🍫🍧🛍👝👗👝👜👛😚🍨🍦👒🎷🎺thank you🍾🍰☕🎷🍾🍾🍾🍾🍾🍾🍾🍾🍾🍾🎺

  7. Great video, Steve ! My family owns two chateaux in the Loire that have been in our family since the 15th century , actually both are from roughly the same century and going to visit the Loire, going back is always so relaxing; it's countryside, but it has a wonderful, peaceful feeling, almost country "county regal". To be very aware of the area's long history only makes it that much more enjoyable as a beautiful area, actually, in my opinion, , the most beautiful area that really represents the history of France. There is no other country whether in Europe or around the globe and has such a special and distinctive feel and charm , along with hundreds of kilometres of chateaux that are simply breathtaking ! I very much enjoy your travels around the world and being a small part of them , on the internet – thank you !

  8. alwasy loved Rick steves since I was young…..He actually does research on his trips ….and for the most part is very accurate.

  9. It's Diane DE no di, it's CHeverny, not GEverny… lol
    Plus duck isn't the "chicken of France", chicken is the chicken of France, and duck while mildly common, isn't on every menu. God the cultural inaccuracies…

  10. Did anyone notice that the camera lens was dirty in many of the shots. If you pay attention to the top right area, of the screen you'll notice it. I thought it was my screen at first…

  11. My family lives here and our lineage has been traced back to the 1600s all in Pays de la Loire. I have not met them because my great great grandfather moved to Texas and we've lived here since. I have many relatives in France that I would love to meet and I want to see where we come from and learn more about my heritage. Thank you for posting videos like this where we can see some of the same things that our ancestors did when they were still alive.

  12. If I visit france I know where to go now. Rather than taking the 233748923748923740928409238740924239874092th photo of the eiffel tower and returning back like everyone does. LOL

  13. Oh gosh I would love to explore this area of France someday it looks truly looks like a fairytale. I went to Paris a few months ago but didn't have enough time to see more of what France has to offer. Great vid Steve!

  14. i love that kind of place because it's give us satisfaction and, also meditated us. thanks a lot Mr. Rick Steve's.

  15. I'm not into French cheese, especially after a delicious French meal. The smell of them makes me feel like throwing up. Still, I'm only here because I may take my wife and kids to the Loire Valley this summer August 2018.

  16. I wonder what will happen to all these castles as the economy collapses. Soon this way of living won't be sustainable, and the very few families that still own a few of them will have to give them away. The ones who are old money are already having to open them to the public to be able to be able to maintain them. And even the 1% that doesn't struggle to keep one or a few, in any way, will soon be asked by the people to give it all up, as the situation all around the world deteriorates. And It will start soon I believe, and with the British royals. I don't think young prince George will be able to maintain hold of it all by the time he has to succeed. The people won't stand for it, and being a person of his generation he will know what to do. The times have simply changed, the world is overpopulated, and most of it is living under the poverty line, it is simply not sustainable for a family to take this much space and resources anymore. These places will continue to be preserved yes, but I believe that soon they will have to be made into accommodation for many, and not just for one family unit; and nor will they be able to be just museums. In the future, the truly evolved humans will ask themselves how is it that houses this big could be have been built for and inhabited by only one family for so many centuries, and why is it that the rest of the rest of the world accepted that. Of course that due to global warming we will all end up in Siberia eventually, but until then our social paradigm will have to go through many changes, and getting our sense of priority straight will be the reason.

  17. My wife and I with our ~4 yr old daughter and 14 month old son, took our two week trip of a lifetime in mid-May 1999. We spent 10 days in Paris and the rest in the Loire River Valley. We toured all the Chateau in this video except Cheverny. We also stayed in private Chateau's and castles (one with a real water filled and live ducks floating moat).
    I don't know how my wife managed it, but we stayed in several "royal" sized furnished bedrooms. In the morning we were having fine regional breakfasts over looking the river.
    We patronized several of the local winerys located in cool caves dug into the banks along the river. We were treated with an abundance of samples.
    Glorious weather the entire time.
    Rick Steves brings back so many wonderful memories.
    We researched our itinerary using Rick's travel videos and guides.
    So glad now that we went then rather than waited until the children were older!!!

  18. I wish I could go back in time to watch these getting built. I know they're building the one with medievil tech, but still. I'm amazed at how they built these huge masterpieces.

  19. The chateau at the very beginning of the video clip before the program starts looks like Captain Haddock’s Marlinspike Hall. Moulinsart. The last Chateau Villandry featured here is probably the inspiration for Marlinspike Hall…

  20. Man I love your videos. Rick is a sweet man and your video graphy is superb. I will like visiting all these places and really really thankful for taking me there. Keep on doing the great job Rick. You are great at it. Appreciate it sir!

  21. Oh know look 👀 at you you’re so good in History I really enjoyed learning and listening to your lovely sweet voice ,you moved my heart ❤️ ,I’m planning just now I want to spend my elderly what gorgeous and lovely 😊 ,garden foods ,and wine 🍷 I loved wine and afternoon ☕️ tea ,sir Rick Steves I loved all your gorgeous video ALLELUIA MERCY ,god bless and peace

  22. All country's in Europe are beautiful.
    Culture Art history Architecture.
    That goes back for thousands of years.
    Also I include Russia Stunning country.

  23. imagine if all the beautiful houses, monuments, buildings and that throughout the world had been respected and preserved. chances are we would all live in beautiful houses!

  24. Great Work by Rick Steves. Europe is full of Majestic Scenery and wonderful History. I love Europe. Especially France.

  25. We as a people, have really gone backwards; the architecture back in that day is glorious, no one ever continued building like this , I seriously doubt there's a man alive today that could match it- and without modern machines! Aloha

  26. These castles are all beautiful and majestic,but its indeed rather unfortunate that some of the vile traditions of old,like big game hunting etc are still being continued to this very day.Old habits die hard i suppose,particularly when they are really bad ones.

  27. Wondering why it is "Rick Steves'…" when Rick continually says "Chateauxs". One Chateau, several Chateaux. No difference in pronunciation. To say "Chateauxs" is to say "Rick Steves's". I just can't watch beyond the first minute. How many years have you been doing this, Steve, without being culturally aware??

  28. Rick Steves, your videos are getting better and better, the French got a great spark with "Food" and "Art" and you bring it to life," Live for Life"

  29. while the emphasis is on chateaux and history, the Loire Valley is also rich in local destinations of town markets, small villages with very distinctive character, fortified churches and so on. It would be a shame for any visitor to miss the latter at the expense of focus on chateaux

  30. 'murican hatred oozing out of the "welcoming" first few sentences …
    Every single line spoken in this full of threats and wink-wink-nudge-nudgeries.

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