Loire Château: Azay le Rideau (16th century).

Visit the 16th century Loire Château of Azay le Rideau.

Garden of the Château de la Chatonnière.

The beautiful gardens of the Château de la Chatonnière.

A Home Sweet Château

Honoré de Balzac called the château of Azay-le-Rideau a "facetted diamond set in the Indre." Built on an island in the Indre River between 1515 and 1527, its foundations rise straight out of the water.

Azay-le-Rideau is a small castle (if you can call a castle such a thing.) Charming and romantic, it's located in the Loire Valley, an area with an abundance of beautiful château. Literally meaning Azay-the-Curtain, it's one of the most successful examples of Italianate architecture in the region.

Gilles Berthelot, the Treasurer-General of France under King Frances I and mayor of Tours, began reconstructing Azay-le-Rideau's earlier medieval castle that was part of his wife's inheritance. Just as Chenonceau and Cheverny were, Azay-le-Rideau was the work of a woman. Madame Berthelot directed the course of the work in the "home," The most remarkable feature is its central staircase. Based on an Italian design, it was one of the first straight-flight staircases in France, and consists of rich, carved decoration, columns, pilasters and medallions.

The couple set out with the ambition to build a modern castle that would reflect their social standing. The foundations and the old turret were preserved to attest to the historic importance of the grounds. The castle also had to upgrade its defense mechanisms, so the plans called for heavy artillery caissons in the basement. At the same time, the premises had to be fit to receive royalty, complete with large banquet hall, a ceremonial apartment for distinguished guests and a stately bedroom for the landlord.

When Berthelot was suspected of collusion in embezzlement he was forced to flee from incomplete Azay-le-Rideau in 1528; he never saw the château again. Instead, the king confiscated the property and gave it as a reward to one of his high-ranking soldiers.

Over the centuries, Azay has changed hands several times until the early part of the twentieth century, when it was purchased by the French government and restored. The interior was completely refurbished with a collection of Renaissance pieces. Today, you can still admire this charming and romantic Renaissance estate that many consider to be the most beautiful human-scale castle of the Loire Valley.

The city of Tours is approximately 30 minutes away by train, and is the perfect home base for exploring the other châteaux in the area. Amboise was home to Frances I and Leonardo DaVinci, who as a guest of the king, came to live here in December 1515. In about a half hour, be in the majesty of Chenonceau, home to magnificent gardens and a rich art collection. Poitiers is known as the city of 100 churches, and has some spectacular pieces of Roman ruins. See all this and more with a Eurail France Pass.

This is the Loire Valley, where nobility became kings of their castles, the wives did the decorating and the neighbors talked and gawked.

To learn more about preparing your trip to France, visit Atout France by clicking here if you’re a US resident or here if you’re a Canadian resident

Contributed by: Melanie, Marketing Project Manager, French American with Swedish and Italian origins, who comes from the Entertainment business and truly believes that traveling by train is the best entertainment experience ever!

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