Chateau de Chenonceau
Château de Chenonceau, which is considered the jewel of Renaissance castles (photo: Gilles Lagnel from Pixabay)

France’s Loire Valley Celebrates the Renaissance

France’s Loire Valley is marking the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo Da Vinci and the birth of influential Queen Catherine de Medici with a celebration of the Renaissance. 

A nighttime sound and light show at the Royal Châteaux de Blois—home to seven kings and 10 queens over four centuries—offers a great crash course in Renaissance intrigue, while visits to the Loire’s many striking châteaux conjure up the lifestyles of the era’s royals. 

Chateau Clos Lucé, da Vinci’s last home, houses recreations of his workshop and study and replicas of his works, including a fleur-de-lys-spewing automaton lion commissioned by King François I. Sketches and working hydraulic models of his inventions (on loan from IBM) fill the basement.

At Château d’Amboise, you can tour the underground passageways and towers of a medieval fortress and visit da Vinci’s final resting place in Saint-Hubert’s Chapel, which is on the grounds. 

Renaissance gardens planted by de Medici at Venetian palace–inspired Chateau de Chenonceau will bloom black and white in honor of the famed monochrome-tiled entertaining gallery she built across the river here. Chenonceau is considered the jewel of Renaissance castles and was originally gifted by de Medici’s husband King Henry II to his mistress of 25 years, Diane de Poitiers; when Henry died following a jousting accident, Catherine forced Diane to relocate to Chaumont-sur-Loire and moved in herself, decorating her rival’s former bedchambers with her own interlocking CC monogram (said to have inspired Coco Chanel’s motif). 

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Château Chaumont-sur-Loire—which more resembles a fairytale castle than a fortress—wasn’t a shabby address then and isn’t today. As part of the Renaissance celebration, a reconstruction of Catherine’s rooms will be maintained here through December. Outside, luxurious, heated stables—where 19th century saddles and bridles were provided by Maison Hermès—house contemporary art exhibitions year-round. An International Festival Garden competition will run until November 3.

This summer, some of the cavernous spaces at architecturally elaborate Château Chambord—completed by Francois I in 1547—will be furnished and decorated in the style of the Renaissance for the first time since the period royal households packed up and left. Before King Louis XIV set up court at Versailles in the 17thcentury, French kings were nomadic and moved their furnishings from castle to castle (which is why the French word for furniture is “mobiler”). Francois spent only a few weeks here during his reign.

Twentieth century Belgian artist Hergé used Château de Cheverny as the setting for many of the stories in The Adventures of Tintin, his popular comic book series. While descendants of the founding noble Hurault family still live in one wing, most of the house is open and you can explore the hallways, armory room, and grounds that inspired Hergé’s tales before walking through constructions of Tintin “sets” in an exhibition hall on the grounds.

Click here for more details on events and exhibitions running through fall.