Thursday, 3 October 2013

Cycling Holidays France – French Cycling Tours France – Visiting Royal Chateaux

The Loire valley has been home to many French kings and queens over the centuries and exploring a magnificent château or two is a highlight of many of our cycling holidays in France. However, on our Royal Châteaux of the Loire Tour you can immerse yourself in French Royal history and make these wonderful buildings the focus of your holiday – and discover some intriguing links to British history along the way.

With its northern borders just over 100km from Paris, the Loire Valley was an irresistible and convenient location for France's monarchy to reside or to take refuge at certain times, while still being "on hand" should their presence be required in the capital. And all the elements that make the Loire Valley so attractive for cycling holidays in France today were very much present in past centuries too: attractive, lush scenery kept watered by the River Loire itself, good food and excellent wine.

Cycling Holidays France – Click here for more details about our Royal Châteaux of the Loire Tour.

To whet your appetite, here are some fascinating details about some of the châteaux that feature on our Royal Châteaux of the Loire Tour.

Château de Blois
The tour starts in the town of Blois, home to the Château d Blois and just a few minutes’ walk away from your accommodation. This château was founded in the 13th century and has 564 rooms and 75 staircases. It originally belonged to the Dukes of Orléans, one of whom, Charles of Orléans was captured by the English at the battle of Agincourt in 1415 and held captive for 25 years. During this time he wrote extensively in both French and English, including many poems now considered some of the finest in medieval English. He also featured as a major character in Shakespeare's Henry V. Upon his return, still just 46 years old, he rebuilt and extended the château. His son Louis became, in due course, Louis XII of France, and the château was used by many of his successors including François I, Henri III and Henri IV.

Château de Chaumont
This is one of the oldest castles on the tour, being founded in the 10th century and successively extended and developed until at least the 15th century.  You will see this stunning château on the route between Blois and Amboise on Day 2 of the tour. This castle's links with royalty are somewhat less than edifying, having been dismantled on the orders of one king, Louis XI, in 1465 and later effectively sold to another, Louis XV. The most notable royal resident was in fact not French at all: Catherine de Medici, wife of Henri II, and considered one of the most powerful women of the 16th century, resided here from 1560 after she became regent of France, reportedly entertaining Nostradamus at the château, before moving to Château de Chenonceau.

Château d'Amboise
You will reach Amboise at the end of Day 2 of the tour, giving you plenty of opportunity to visit the Château d'Amboise. Dating back to at least the 9th century, this château was seized by Charles VII in 1434 and was a firm favourite with the royals thereafter, especially his successor Charles VIII who carried out extensive development much influenced by the Italian style of masonry and architecture. However, the château took its own form of revenge on Charles VIII who died after hitting his head on a door lintel here in 1498 – so you might want to mind your head as you look around. It was also at this château that Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, was raised as a child. Within the grounds of the château is the Chapel of Saint Hubert where Leonardo da Vinci is reputed to be buried.

Château de Chenonceau
On Day 3 of the tour you will cycle from Amboise to the village of Chenonceaux, where you will see the stunning and exceptionally scenic Château de Chenonceau built on the banks of the River Cher. The château came into royal hands in 1535 and it was given to Henri II's mistress Diane de Poitiers. It was she who commissioned the arched bridge which is part of the château's distinctive appearance today. Diane did such a good job of extending and beautifying the château and gardens that Catherine de Medici claimed it for herself after Henri's death.

Château de Chambord
On Day 5 you will have a chance to visit the royal Château de Chambord, on your way back to Blois for your final night. Built by François I in 1518-1547 this is a masterpiece of renaissance architecture and has clear Italian stylistic influences. It has a neat, symmetrical appearance with geometrical walls and gardens surrounding it. Despite its grandeur the château is perhaps something of a folly – François himself spent barely 7 weeks there in total and the design of the building made it highly impractical as a place to reside, especially in winter, as there are many open windows. It is nonetheless an impressive and fascinating place to visit.

Cycling Tours France – Find out about more of our cycling holidays in France.

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