I leave the châteaux for two weeks and I’m completely lost! They all run together into one grand building of tall rafters, woven tapestries, tiny glass window panes, stone spiral staircases, and extensive grounds.
is Azay-le-Rideau. Pronounced Ah-Zay-le-Ree-Doe.
Azay-le-Rideau was built at the beginning of the XII century as a medieval fortress by the Lord Ridel d’Azay. (Rideau comes from Ridel). He built it to protect the road from Tours to Chinon at the pivotal point where it crossed the river Indre. During the 100 Year War, (which was as much between the Burgundian and Armagnac factions of France as it was between France and England), Charles VII was fleeing the Burgundy seat in Paris to go to the Armagnac stronghold in Bourges when he was mocked by the Burgundian soldiers staked out in Azay-le-Rideau. As a result, he burned the château and put the 350 soldiers to the sword, and the town was called Azay-le-Brulé (Azay the Burned) until the 18th century.
In 1518, Gilles Berthlot, who was the Mayor of Tours and the Treasurer of the King, bought the château remains to restore and reflect his distinguished position. He kept the medieval foundation, but added on in the 16th century Italian Renaissance style so that it combines the beauty of both.
In order to lay the foundation, he had to have stilts put into the soil made wet by the river. And then he wanted to bring the strong, solid stones to build it from the quarry in St-Aignan. But that was 62 miles away and they had to be brought in by boat. In all, the construction was very slow.
Over ten years later, the château was still incomplete when Berthelot’s cousin (the chief minister in charge of royal finances) was executed and it forced him to go into exile, perhaps fearing his own exposure for misappropriation of funds. And when Francis I gave it to one of his knights in arms, Antoine Raffin, in 1537, he only made minor changes and the château retains its “distinctive, but accidental” L-shape to this day.
Raffin’s granddaughter began modernising the decor, and her son’s wife was the future governess to Louis XIV. As a result, the château received its first royal visit in 1619 by Louis XIII, and then again later in the century, by his son, King Louis XIV.
The Raffins owned the château until 1791 when it was sold to Charles de Biencourt. It stayed in the de Biencourt family until they were forced to sell in the late 19th century due to financial difficulties. It was then bought by the State in 1905 to be classified as an historical monument.
You enter into the château grounds through the gift shop in the outlying hamlet.
And once inside, you go up the central stone staircase
with the carved railings.
Here are some of the interesting features of the château. The window panes,
the wooden shutters that are sectioned off into squares,
and the view on the river.
the classic example of French roof-building at the time
tapestries (of course).
Laaaarge chimneys (that’s me standing there)
and trick paintings. See it?
And see it here?
It’s really a mirror that fits the three paintings behind it perfectly, depending on where you are standing.
And there are the bedrooms
the royal insignias that were uncovered after the French Revolution.
And . . . the hidden kitchen.
The last family covered up the old kitchen, which was a sunken room, and turned it into a dining room. When the State later did renovations, they partially uncovered it again to show the kitchen as it originally was.
This is the billiard room where the men drank brandy (I imagine).
This is the informal dining room
and the parlour (I think) – what was once the former dining room.
The back of the château has a gate that leads straight to the town!
But wanna know what Azay-le-Rideau is really known for? This.
A perfectly reflected mirror of the château on the river.
Small wonder Balzac called it ‘a facetted diamond, set in the Indre.’
Next up: The Château of Ussé