I saw several suggestions that Chambord was big, empty and not that great to visit.  In fact, I saw so much of this that I wondered if it was worth the hour long drive out to it since the other chateaus were relatively close together?  In the end, it had a different history, very different exterior and I wanted to stick with unique chateaus, so I went.

Chateau de ChambordFirst off, you enter the property and then you drive . . . and drive . . .and drive.  It’s truly a HUGE property (5440 hectares – roughly the size of inner Paris) with animals living in many of the woods still.  I love how the pamphlet says you may be “lucky” enough to see an actual wild boar . . . uh, no thanks!  When you finally reach the chateau, it rises up out of the woods so spectacularly that I immediately thought, “it was worth the drive for just that view.”

I wasn’t exactly thrilled about the paid parking, but the entry fee is the cheapest of the Loire Valley chateaus I saw, so I guess that puts it more toward the middle of the pack altogether.  As I took the hike from the parking lot to the chateau (I’m cheap and parked in the further lot), I came across this magical little bridge:

 Normally I hate people in my photos, but the couple walking toward the bridge are perfect!

And then it was time for a full view of the chateau – even if it was built as a hunting lodge, with an eye to impress other countries, it is by far the largest chateau.  You begin to understand why the French Revolution happened when your 25-year-old King is taxing you to build this . . . and then spends only 72 days in it during his 32 years on the throne!

Once you manage to reach the other side of the chateau and procure a ticket (HINT: you don’t have to buy them at the outside stand; there are ticket booths inside as well), you enter the inner courtyard and then the keep (aka donjon).  While there is a 15 minute video (with translation into English, Italian and I believe German?), I didn’t find the video as “indispensable” to my visit as the tiny paper guide suggested.  In fact, I walked out partway through and started exploring.  One of the first things I noticed was that the ground floor rooms were rather sparsely furnished and I started to wonder if the reviews were right – was paying for parking to view the exterior the best part of the chateau?  Then, I eyed the famed double spiral staircase, which has two intertwining staircases that you can enter from each side, but never meet!  You can see others on the opposite staircase though.  This was built by order of François I and it is believed that da Vinci may have influenced the design.  The exteriors had gorgeous spiral staircases as well.

Apparently, my dream home is going to look like a French chateau because when I saw this in one of the rooms on the first floor, I decided I need something like it!  Speaking of the “first floor,” this is yet another way we are different than the French – here, the bottom level of a building is the ground floor or floor 0 and the first floor is actually a level up.
The first floor was also where I realized that either the reviews were outdated or people are super critical.  One of the things I actually like best about Chambord is that there is no set tour route and you can pretty much go inside EVERY room.  For people complaining that Chambord is empty, there were 11 fully furnished rooms, 5 rooms filled with a museum about the Comte de Chambord (last of the Bourbons), 10 minimally furnished rooms and the second floor rooms had an art display of photographs shot on the expansive grounds of the chateau, some of which were back-lit in dark rooms for a museum-quality presentation.  In short, there were far more furnished rooms than virtually all of the other chateaus I saw (except perhaps Chenonceau) . . . the biggest difference being that you were allowed to wander around, even into areas that had little furnishing.  

Here is a small sampling of items from later eras.  First, from the 1680 State Apartments of Louis XIV, the style shows changes in etiquette.  Three rooms were connected, like at Versailles, and there is now a rail in front of the bed because people were presented to the King IN THE BEDROOM.  The furnishings replicate what was in place in the 1700s when the Marchel de Saxe was given the estate by Louis XV.  The fireplaces are also much smaller and more ornate.  The walls are no longer covered in tapestries, but rather papered and painted, with tapestries as decorative pieces.
The 18th century apartments were also furnished.  You could see where they had installed a new false ceiling to lower the height, converted larger fireplaces to smaller ones and partitioned large rooms into several smaller rooms so they could be kept warm more easily!  The furnishings also have a much more modern look and feel, like something your grandmother may have owned.
I wandered into the chapel, but other than being much larger than other chapels and the largest room in this particular chateau, there was nothing particularly remarkable about it.
While I can’t imagine a need for one of these in my dream home, I found this porcelain oven intriguing.  First, I just like the way it looks, but interestingly, these were used for heating purposes since the porcelain would hold the heat and radiate it over a long period of time.  This is actually one of the originals that they were able to get back.  I wish I could remember more about it, but unfortunately, the booklet is not that great here.  They do have very good signs posted in the rooms that explain things though!
There’s really just history everywhere.  Here is the salamander and “F” for François I:
Finally, I headed up to the top for simply stunning views of the river and forest around the chateau; however, my favorite picture from the terraces was of the lovely tower above the spiral staircase – certainly, the attention to every ornate detail is on display here.
Given the reviews about the interiors, I’d expected to breeze through here in 2 hours easily, but found myself going over that amount of time and running a bit short on time for Chaumont.  I will also say that my itinerary to this point was perfect – when I arrived at Chambord, there were very few people there and, by the time I was leaving, I had to fight my way past the mobs coming in.

PROS: You can wander nearly anywhere in this entire giant chateau like you own it, there are numerous furnished rooms & from later periods than some of the other chateaus, the double spiral staircase, the museum has interesting history about the attempt to restore the last Bourbon “King” to the throne after the Revolution, the photography exhibit of the grounds was really well done

CONS: You have to pay to park . . . and it’s in the middle of nowhere, so no avoiding it!, the visit guide lacks detail and has just a brief summary of each set of rooms (the details are in the rooms, but you can’t take that with you)

In short, Chambord could possibly be skipped, but I’m glad I didn’t!  It showcased a different era of French history and it simply dwarves the other chateaus in size.  It’s no Versailles, but it’s certainly worth seeing in the Loire Valley!

The French Diet, Part 2
So, one other interesting thing about the French diet is that they eat a WIDE variety of meats (just not for breakfast, mind you).  I hadn’t been terribly adventurous at first, but decided to branch out when our Friday restaurant, which only offers one plat special had just “lapin” or rabbit.  It was a hind quarter and was actually quite good!  I’d definitely try rabbit again.  The following Monday, the special at O City’Ven was duck in red wine sauce (or the reoccurring beef steak), so I went with the duck.  I wasn’t such a fan of that one, although after cutting off the thicker-and-fattier (than chicken) skin, I was able to actually eat it without gagging . . . probably taking a pass on future duck though.  I mean, “I could eat it without gagging” is hardly a glowing endorsement!

Last, French people have turkey in the store all the time – it is not just a holiday food!  Nor is it a giant fully frozen bird!  Frankly, I am not a turkey fan, but I decided to take a chance on the inexpensively priced turkey escalopes (which appear to be thin-sliced breast meat) since eating like French people tends to mean much more affordable meals.  Turns out, fresh turkey is quite good and I really enjoyed my home-cooked dinner this week!