Chateau de Chambord tourism & sightseeing

Photo of Chateau de Chambord in Loir-et-Cher

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Chateau de Chambord is the largest of the Loire Chateau, despite being built originally as a 'hunting lodge' for King Francois I - his 'main' royal palaces can be seen at the Château d'Amboise and the Château de Blois!

Chambord is a magnificent sight both when viewed from outside (especially from the north, to best appreciate the grandeur and symmetry of the castle) and when enjoying a tour of the opulent interiors.

It was designed and built to excel, and it does that grandly. Even the Loire River is said to have been diverted to make a bit more space for its construction, and doubtless for the 'game reserve that now sits in the grounds of the chateau, which cover more than 50 square kilometres

Chateau Chambord history

The castle was built as a hunting lodge, and that is how it was originally used. Apparently after spending more than two decades having the castle built, Francois I himself only actually spent seven weeks in the castle, when he was hunting in the region!

(It is said that a King's hunting party consisted of around 2000 people, so it was perhaps difficult to organise a time when they could all get away together...) Since the castle was more or less unused, it also remained unfurnished (and of course unheated) at this time.

Ceiling of Chambord staircaseTo make matters worse, after the death of Francois I in 1547 the castle then remained in a state of abandon for almost 100 years, at which point Gaston d'Orleans was given the castle by King Louis XIII (his brother). He started major renovation works, which were subsequently carried on by King Louis XIV who also had the immense stables built, sufficient to house the several hundred horses that were needed for a royal hunting trip.

Despite all this work and expense, Louis XIV (the Sun King) also abandoned the castle after a few years, from 1685.

Chambord castle had a couple more periods of occupation over the following century, both relatively brief, and by 1750 it was once again in a state of abandon. While the revolution spared the structure it did result in the furnishings that had been added during the renovation works to be sold, and the castle remained empty until the early 19th century.

History was to repeat itself at Chambord. A French miltary leader was given the property by Napoleon - he died soon after and his widow sold the castle to the Duke of Bordeaux, who soon after got exiled from France. Another forty years on and Chambord was pressed into service as a hospital during the 1871 Franco-Prussian war. Yet again the decades that followed led to the castle changing hands on occasion, and being occupied for some periods.

Roof detail at ChambordThis uncertain history was only to come to an end in the middle of the 20th century, when the castle passed into government ownership and was subsequently renovated. All this history is a rather sobering thought when you vist and see the extraordinary size and grandeur of the structure, and appreciate that is has stood empty for the large majority of the last 550 years.

Chateau Chambord architecture

The castles distinct French Renaissance architecture combines traditional medieval defensive structures with classical Italian aspects. It dates from the time when chateaux in the Loire no longer needed to have medieval defenses, but elements such as towers and moats were retained for their aesthetic beauty.

The design itself can be attributed to various architects and influences during the 25 years it took to build in the first half of the 16th century, including the input of Leonardo da Vinci, when he was a guest of the King staying nearby (at Clos Lucé).

The main body of the castle is roughly square in shape, with a large tower in each corner. there are also two (symmetrical) wings to the castle, each also ending with a substantial tower. Superlatives abound in the immense building and it is said there are more than 400 rooms, and almost as many fireplaces, along with 84 staircases.

Among all this grandeur, the central staircase still impresses and is perhaps the architectural highlight of a visit. The stone staircase rises the height of Chambord castle, and is of a 'double helix' form - this means that two 'independent' staircases are wound around each other, such that people going up the stairs will not meet those coming down (hardly a major concern you might think, given that each of the staircases is several metres across).

The other architectural highlight must surely be the ornate roof, and the feature that makes Chateau de Chambord so instantly recognisable. At a glance the roof is symmetrical but look closer and you will see that is not the case - among the numerous towers, light wells and decorative features there are many variations from left to right.

The result of combining medieval French architecture with highlights from the Italian renaissance might be expected to create an alarming imbalance, but in reality the two combine to create a unified whole that is one of the most notable castles in France.

Front of Chateau Chambord

Visit Chateau Chambord

The renovated castle has also been furnished, and during your visit you can explore almost 100 of the castle rooms. You will perhaps be pleased to know you can visit as you wish - no need to listen to a guide explaining each of the rooms! However be sure to pick up the explanatory leaflet so that you have some feel for the history of the more important rooms and architectural highlights at Chambord.

Apart from the building itself you can also enjoy exploring the very extensive parkland, visiting the game reserve in the grounds of Chateau Chambord, seeing the stables and even admiring a collection of traditional horse-drawn carriages. The visit to the castle and grounds is extensive so allow the best part of a day.

Of course Chambord is just one of the highlights of your tour of the Loire Valley castles. (See more pictures and detail of Chateau Chambord in our French Castles section.)

You can find more local travel ideas in the Loir-et-Cher guide and the Loire Valley guide.

See also:

Map of Chateau de Chambord and places to visit

Visit near Chateau de Chambord with France This Way reviews

... or see ALL recommended places to visit in Loir-et-Cher

Address: Chambord, Bracieux, Blois, Loir-et-Cher, Loire Valley, 41250, France || GPS: latitude 47.616342, longitude 1.516962

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  • Beaugency: recommended detour (20km)
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  • Les prés-Culand: remarkable garden (27km)
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  • Olivet: ville fleurie 4* (40km)