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Like "a faceted diamond set in the Indre bathing in the river like princely creature". Honoré de Balzac On a hot summer’s night, after dinner at the lovely Hotel Le Grand Monarque, in the bijou town of Azay-le-Rideau I decided to stroll through the pretty little streets and take a peek at the famed Chateau through its ornate iron gates, ahead of a day time visit scheduled for the next day. Imagine my surprise to discover that at 10pm the gates were open, and visitors were welcomed in for free to wander the fragrant gardens and ooh and ah at the sight of the fairy-tale castle lit up against a twilight sky, its reflection shimmering in the moat, perfectly still except for ripples caused by a dipping dragonfly, a lazy fish or an amorous frog looking for company. A full moon hovered over the castle, a glowing homage to its beauty as the silhouette of small bats flitted through the beams of the moon. The scent of lavender was heady. It was like a dream chateau come to life… History of Azay-le-Rideau Standing on an island in the middle of the Indre River, the Château of Azay-le-Rideau was built combining the latest technical innovations from Italy and the art of French architecture. In around 1510, Gilles Berthelot, Finance Minister of King Louis XII and Mayor of nearby Tours, became owner of the ruins of a fortress in Azay-le-Rideau. He had plans drawn up for a château, putting his wife Philippe (in those days, a name for both men and women) in charge of the construction. By 1515, the year Francois I came to the throne, the Renaissance influence was in full flow. Philippe proved to be an excellent project manager, ordering slate from Anjou, ensuring masons, carpenters and workmen were on site at the right time.
Photo Terry Webb photo: Terry Webb Gilles paid homage to King Francois and his wife Queen Claude by having their initials carved on the walls. Flattery did no good, the proud owners never had time to enjoy their home. A general investigation ordered by Francis I revealed embezzlement. Berthelot fled, abandoning his wife Philippe and his château, he died in 1529. Francis I seized the unfinished Château and gave it to one of his loyal followers. In places you can see carvings begun and doomed to never to be finished, it adds to the romance. Château d'Azay-le-Rideau today The Chateau today is under state ownership and it is one of the absolute jewels of the Loire Valley. Incredibly pretty inside and out, the river that surrounds it reflects its beauty in a thousand ripples. Recent renovations (completed in 2017) revealed some of the chateau’s secrets, for instance the practice of bulrush matting for the walls. The tradition was spotted by an eagle-eyed historian in a 16th century tapestry of a man getting dressed. You’ll now see this in the bedroom that was Philippe’s. In her day, it wasn’t just a place to sleep but to live, she would receive visitors there, eat and work in the room, so keeping it warm in winter and cool in summer was essential and the wall coverings helped as did raising the bed off the floor on a platform. It was also believed that the smell of the reeds expelled bad moods and cleansed the air! Centuries of pigeons roosting on the roof had left the famously white castle a rather dull grey – not any more. Artisans and craftsmen have repaired and restored the chateau to glory using authentic methods, creating a new path which goes all around the castle and giving it a whole new lease of life.
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