Blois, much better than a history book for a glimpse of French Royals’ life – Meanderings through France n° 193
By Annick Dournes & Frederic de Poligny
Blois is only a two-hour drive from Paris and an ideal starting point to explore the Loire Valley and its wonders such as Chambord, Cheverny or Chaumont châteaux. Royal residence since the Middle Ages Blois has been closely linked to French history for centuries. By bike, by boat or simply by car, there are many ways to discover this lovely region where French hospitality is not an empty word.
Built on the right bank of the Loire, Blois climbs up a steep hillside overlooking the river. In the Middle Ages this rugged landscape produced small winding streets linked by steep stairs where your feet may quickly beg for mercy! An irony of History is that although Blois was built by and for kings and queens it nevertheless bears the three French republican colours: Blue slate roofs, White façades and Red brick chimneys! I don’t know if Blois could reconcile royalists (yes we do have French royalists!) and republicans, but its castle undoubtedly still is the star of the city.
Through six centuries the chateau has been rebuilt, extended or transformed by its successive royal owners. Thus the inner courtyard is like an open book of French architecture from medieval to Renaissance and classical periods. Royals loved living in Blois castle and never stopped embellish it. Louis XII created the flamboyant gothic wing, a beautiful mix of red bricks and white stones. It was built shortly before King François the First added an authentic Renaissance wing that has a remarkable octagonal staircase. Finally Gaston d’Orleans, Louis XIII brother, had an elegant classical wing built in only three years (from 1635 to 1638). Although these three façades look totally different they belong together and form a harmonious whole.
After decades of neglect following the French Revolution, a French architect, Felix Duban was requested to renovate the royal apartments of the chateau. From 1846 till his death in 1878 he dedicated his life to this tremendous task. The castle has been a museum ever since and thanks to extensive works of renovation in the 2000s, we are able to see it as beautiful as ever. Thus we can still admire the ‘Salle des Etats” (the States’ Room) a masterpiece of gothic architecture adorned with 6,700 fleur-de-lis! Fully furnished and decorated the King’s bedroom, the Queen’s bedroom, Catherine de Medici’s studiolo, the guardroom, the boardroom and many other rooms splendidly restored take us back in time in a very interesting way. New rooms have been recently opened and digital tours invite us on virtual reality journeys through time.
When night comes the chateau welcomes visitors for new experiences. Until late September a new sound and light show tells us the chateau’s story using special effects and monumental 360° projections that bring its façades alive. Night tours are also organised for those who enjoy getting scared in dark rooms, hearing creaking doors, going up the gloomy donjon or believing catching a glimpse ghost of the Duke of Guise who was murdered in 1563 on order of King Henri III.
Practical information and more at www.bloischambord.co.uk/
A dinner fit for kings at L’Orangerie du Chateau
Set in a beautiful orangery of the 15th century, the Orangerie du Chateau is a gastronomic restaurant facing Blois castle. No need to say that in summertime dining on the outside terrace you will enjoy a spectacular view over this magnificent chateau. For over 20 years Karine and Jean-Marc Molveaux have proposed a first-rate cuisine rightfully awarded with a Michelin Star. Jean-Marc Molveaux recently retired and a new young chef, Kevin Gardien, is now in charge and is well on the way to win his own Michelin star. In so doing he can rely on Karine Molveau whose savoir-faire will undoubtedly help him achieve his goal.
Kevin Gardien believes in fresh local products and he creates his menus according to seasonal vegetables, fruits, meat or fish. Thus the menus change very often and if their prices are not cheap the value for money is very good considering the quality of the food and the chef’s skill. After delicious finger food for aperitif you could thus enjoy a thick slice of “foie gras with rhubarb, Kerala pepper and ginger bread” or a “grilled red mullet with eggplant and samphire” for appetizer and next have a wonderfully done “young pigeon braised in beer with small artichokes” or a crispy “lamb with bell pepper sauce”. Desserts also are a total success with an artistically done “chocolates plate” or a fresh and tasty “strawberry Millefeuille”. Ideal setting, sophisticated cuisine, carefully chosen wines… will simply make you feel perfectly happy.
More at www.orangerie-du-chateau.fr/en/
Sleeping in an authentic Loire Valley castle at Chateau de la Rozelle
Surrounded by a vast park planted with numerous larch, Judas trees, giant sequoias, linden and cedar trees and many other tree species, the “Chateau de la Rozelle” is an 18th century castle turned into a 4-star hotel and restaurant in 2011 by Nadine and Patrick Brocault. They will warmly welcome you in their beloved chateau that they passionately and tastefully refurbished and transformed along the past few years. The elegant chateau is ideally located at a short distance from Blois, Chambord Chaumont or Cheverny castles and a perfect starting point to visit the region. It is highly appreciated by those who travel by bike and know that they find here all the comfort and good cuisine they need after their busy cycling days. (Not to forget a fully equipped bicycle shed to take care of the bikes and a comforting Jacuzzi for the tired bodies!)
All of the 21 large bedrooms have a discreet floral decor and all the amenities you may expect in a 4-star hotel, including a tea and coffee set. Most of all, you will enjoy total quietness where silence is only broken by the chorus of the birds. The breakfast buffet is very tempting with homemade or locally made products. Delicious fresh croissants and breads from the nearby baker, yoghurt from the farm, craft jams, organic eggs, cheeses and ham, homemade cakes… you will enjoy a hearty breakfast in the lovely veranda.
Patrick Brocault takes care of the hotel’s cuisine. The restaurant is open for dinner six days a week and everything is home made with seasonal products. The chef proposes two menus (29 and 35 Euros each) and you can enjoy a refreshing ” cold Cantaloupe soup with goat cheese mousse” or a creamy “foie gras marinated with port wine, figs and walnuts”, continue with a “chicken ballotine” or a “sea bream filet with ratatouille” and end with a “three chocolates cake and warm sauce” or a “floating island with caramel and pistachio cream”. If you don’t feel hungry enough for a whole menu Nadine and Patrick propose picnic baskets that you can enjoy in the park or at a table on the outside terrace among all the other dinner guests. Simple and friendly!
Booking and more at www.chateaudelarozelle.com/en/
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes