Sunday, March 16, 2008

Royal Weekend

I apologize to my regular readers (that's you, mom) for having neglected to post anything this weekend, but I assure you that I have a very good excuse for not doing so: I couldn't pass up the chance to spend two days in the Loire Valley exploring French castles, tasting local wines, and profiting from a bit of fresh air. My computer doesn't travel well, so I left it at home. Visiting the Châteaux of the Loire Valley has been high on my list of must-dos in France for a long time and after all the anticipation I had for such a visit, I'm happy to report that the experience didn't disappoint.

One of the things that struck me the most was the contrast I felt between two of the weekend's visited castles, Chambord and Chenonceau. Visitors to Chambord are immediately impressed by its enormity. There is nothing subtle about this royal creation; its countless spires and expansive interior demand respect. Chenonceau, on the other hand, is much more reserved. As you walk up the tree-lined path, most of the castle is hidden from view. You can see the entryway, but the bulk of the residence stretches behind the façade as it crosses the river. Its flowing arches and smooth exterior are incredibly enchanting. It makes sense, then, that Chambord was built by François I, while much of the construction of Chenonceau was overseen by Catherine de Médicis. The masculinity of one and the femininity of the other are strikingly visible.

Of course, in the end, Chambord and Chenonceau have one unbelievable similarity. While some châteaux were built to defend cities, territories, and kingdoms, these two awe-inspiring castles were created simply for pleasure. François needed a hunting lodge and Catherine a place to throw parties and design her gardens. That's the problem with the 21st century: they just don't make summer homes like they used to.

No comments: