Every once in a while I post a #Travel Tuesday post, just for fun. Today is one of those days.
As so many of you have been aware, Covid-19 lockdowns have affected just about everyone in some way, shape or form. One of the big things, here in France, has been the confinement that kept us almost exclusively at home back in the Spring and quite close to home in the Fall. Although we managed to get out and about during the ‘in-between’ times, once the second lockdown hit, we were limited to local trips, for specific reasons and always with government issued paperwork.
That’s why a recent Saturday was a real treat for me.
I needed to go up to Seine-et-Marne (77) for work, back on the 12th, and had all the appropriate paperwork to justify a trip out of my region. Since, on our attestation we have work-related tick-boxes and a tick-box for short periods of outdoor exercise, I took full advantage of both boxes and broke up my 3.5hr drive home with a walk around Chambord Castle.
Join me as I give you the short version of a one-hour stroll around one of the incredible castles of the Loire Valley.
Promenade du Cosson
First of all, let me give you an overview of the walk, so that you’ll be able to situate yourself as we move through the post.
There are a total of roughly 23km (14 miles) of walking paths through the entire park of Chambord castle, but the one I took was a little less ambitious. The Promenade du Cosson or the walk around the Grand Canal is only about 4km (2.5 miles).
Let’s start, shall we?
1. Arriving via Place St. Louis
I got to Chambord around 3:30 p.m. and, as you can see, the sun was already quite low in the sky, casting a warm glow on the western-most end of the château, looking across Place St. Louis.
This little square boasts a lovely tea-room, souvenir shop, and a shop with a host of local specialties (from jams and cookies, to cheese and saussages).
It was a Saturday afternoon and, having been there numerous times, I’ve never seen it so empty.
2. Heading Around Back
From the front of the castle, I began my walk around back by going along the western wall.
A quick glance up over my left shoulder affords me a look at the incredibly detailed roofline of one tower atop the inner keep. The black ‘dots’ you see are actually bits of black slate, trimmed and affixed to the tuffeau stone for contrast and adornment.
The horizontal line where the wall meets the roof line is an open walkway ready to be explored. Dominic & I did it together in December 2019, but I also did it alone in 2017 and have a few pictures of the inside and the rooftop areas in that post.
This time, of course, the castle could not be visited due to Covid19.
I kept going behind the castle, following the perimeter of the rear portion of the formal gardens and made my way to the Grand Canal. The photo below is looking back over my shoulder. There is a narrow waterway separating me from the terraced garden that you see in the foreground.
3. Up the Canal
As I begin to make my way up the Grand Canal, I look back once again. I don’t think you can help it really. If you enjoy visiting castles as much as I do, you can never remain with your back to them for long. With each step and at every turn, there is something slightly different to appreciate: The sun glinting off a window, a bird flying through the camera frame, the way the clouds have changed the light ever so slightly. There are so many subtle differences to be discovered and each one is perfectly delicious.
On one of my ‘turn back for another look’ turns, I noticed how this older couple, who had just passed me, fit nicely into the frame and helped to draw the eye back to the castle.
Then another though occurred to me. How lucky are they!? I’m a tourist from away, this is likely part of their wider ‘backyard’. Perhaps this canal-path is part of their daily routine, their attempt at trying to keep at bay the effects of time on their aging bodies.
Perhaps they walk the paths of Chambord, the same way I used to walk from Pugsley Avenue over to the north end Sobeys, in Saint John: it’s just a banal, everyday thing.
The thought of that, true or not, romanticized or reality… blew my mind just a little bit.
Since we’re coming to the mid-way point, let me put that overview back in here so you can see how fare we’ve come… Next stop is #4.
4. The Mirador / Lookout
This next part of my walk around Chambord is one that would’ve made my paternal grandfather proud. Growing up, no matter where we’d gone, upon arriving home, his question was always the same: “See any deer mate?” (he called everyone ‘mate’).
Had he been alive to ask me the same question, I would’ve been able to respond “Yep!”, for stop #4 was at the mirador or the game lookout.
What would be a highly unacceptable public access point in North America (rounded, wooden ‘rung’ to climb up into the lookout, with no rubber anti-slip guard), was just the spot for getting a bit of a birds’ eye view of the meadow just beyond. Sure enough… there was a deer stag there grazing.
The castle has just recently celebrated it’s 500th year anniversary. François I built it more or less as a hunting lodge (that he’d eventually only use for roughly 70+ days in total). Some 32km (20 miles) of stone wall enclose a park as big as the inner-city of Paris. In 1947 it was declared a national game reserve and there is no small number of deer and wild boar roaming the domain.
The red deer stag (cervus elaphus) is king of the beasts at Chambord, and it’s a good thing that they’re protected here. Due to poaching elsewhere in France during World War 2, the national herd was severely depleted, to the point that deer from Chambord used to repopulate other areas. It’s estimated that 90% of the French deer herd has roots that reach back up to Chambord.
If you’re an Instagrammer, the deer stags can also be seen fairly regularly on the Chateau de Chamord IG feed.
It took me a few minutes of patience, but finally this guy turned side-on, making him a bit easier to see since he was so far off in the distance.
Back down the road, wooden, damp rungs I went (without killing myself) and continued my trek ’round the canal.
5. Back Toward the Castle
I was roughly at the 1/2-way point and began making my way back. How lovely to catch glimpses of the setting sun, between clouds, as a backdrop to this incredible castle.
Again, it was nice to not be the only one making my way ’round the canal. There were just enough others to make the place feel alive, but not so much that social distancing was a problem, and we could get by without being masked.
For this last picture before I ’rounded the bend, you can see the sun reflecting in a sort-of mini canal, between two rock walls. In fact this is the east entrance to the moat that brings water right to the foot of Chambord, around the east side and the front, separating it from the formal garden terrace (see the overview image).
6. The Terraced Formal Garden
The picture below gives you a panoramic view of the man-made terrace that is home to the formal gardens.
Originally, the area is quite swampy, so before the castle could be built, a massive amount of engineering had to be done in order to establish a firm foundation to support the weight of such a mammoth structure. That process included a terraced garden out front. You can see the stone wall that frames the Cosson as it passes in front of François I’s home away from home.
The first time I laid eyes on Chambord, in 1995, the front terrace was nothing but a grassy field for all intents and purposes. As far as gardens went, it was not spectacular by any stretch of the imagination, but the massive flood of June 2016 was perhaps a blessing in disguise: The entire terrace was submerged in water. Out of that disaster though, significant donations came ‘flooding in’ (pardon the pun) and the terrace was restored to it’s full, renaissance-style glory.
7. Chambord ‘by Night’
I left Chambord before night had fallen, but I thought you’d enjoy a picture of what it looks like during more normal times, illuminated for a nightly light show. I took this photo last year, when Dominic & I visited together, again, on our way home from Bible School.
We’ve been confined for so much of 2020 that the ability to combine a short stop like this, with a justifiable outing for work was just what the doctor ordered. There was just one thing missing… it would’ve been way better to do this walk arm in arm with Liz.