It had been several years since our last visit to the Château de Chambord, and we were keen to see if a multi-million euro face-lift had made a difference.
Only a king with a lot of money, immense power and a poor working class could build a hunting lodge as large as the Château de Chambord. After taking two decades to build with 440 rooms, 335 fireplaces, 12 staircases and stables for 1200 horses, Francois I only spent 72 days at Chambord. Possibly, he got bored quickly.
Our first visit was in the October off-season, on a cold and rainy day. Not much has changed on the weather front; it was still cold and wet.
Ruth and I are not known for arriving at a château before lunch. So, it wasn’t out of character to arrive at Chambord at 2.00 pm, after a morning visit to Blois.
The good thing about “chateaux shuttling” in October is the tourist trade is vastly diminished. The largest crowd-occupying space was the usual queue outside the Ladies’ toilets, a common sight at most French tourist attractions.
Fast forward several years, with millions spent on improvements, the tourists were back with a vengeance. Well, what can you expect at 2.00 pm?
With parking capacity for 1300 vehicles, 25 coaches and 120 minibuses and motorhomes, Chambord is set to break its record of two million visitors a year.
Mortal combat with fellow tourists doesn’t do much for me, particularly when it feels like those two million have all turned up on the same day.
But I did count 30 groups of school kids and about ten tour groups, all trying to get in the front door simultaneously.
Unfortunately, the weather and a dose of sciatica did little to improve my mood.
With pain screaming down my left side, I wasn’t about to mix it with a scrum of screaming school kids who thought they were at a football final.
After all, I had done the 100 rooms and 12 staircases the first time. From recent photographs that I have seen, the only changes to the interior that I could make out were the addition of some mannequins in period costumes.
So I settled for shuffling outside the Château to see the external changes.
The first things I noticed were the expanse of trees and woodchips. The lawns have been reworked, and an English-style garden developed based on the original plans discovered in the national archives.
Walkways leading to the castle, either dusty in summer or muddy in winter, have been resurfaced. Opening up the extensive parklands allows visitors to discover the diversity of landscapes around Chambord.
In addition, the administrators want you to stay on the estate. Well, not in the château exactly, but in two newly built cottages 200 metres from the château. At the edge of the Chambord forest, a third house creates a closeness with nature, only a few metres from wildlife observation towers.
The cottages are modern and sophisticated and designed to accommodate up to eight people. For smaller groups and couples, the Grand Saint-Michel hotel, facing the château’s flower gardens, has been renovated to bring it up to the standards worthy of a UNESCO world heritage site.
The Château exterior constantly receives a makeover, but what would a sixteen-century château be without some scaffolding?
The Domain aims to be a showcase for landscape and tourism. The ambitious budget has gone a long way to achieving this goal.
With improvements come more tourists. After all that expense, I hope they have some euros left to add a few more toilets.
Château de Chambord
Place Saint-Louis Chambord 41250
+33 2 54 50 50 40
9:00 am – 5:00 pm (Oct-Mar); 9:00 am – 6:00 pm (May-Oct); Open every day except Jan 1, Nov 30, Dec 25.
Train: 1h30 from Paris Austerlitz to Mer or Blois train station; Car: D33 from Blois