Chateaus & Castles Cont.

* Chateau d'Usse

Like many of the other Valley chateaux, Usse was built on the foundations of a small fortress but has had a very tranquil history. Perhaps its location at the edge of the forest of Chinon has something to do with this.The castle of Usse was built for the Buiel family in the second half of the 15th century. The family had distinguished itself in the 'Hundred Years War' and was seeking a home befitting there new rank in society. The family did not stay long however for Antoine De Buiel, the husband of Louis VI daughter, sold the castle in 1485 to Charles who set about making many improvements and is known for having the famous chapel built on the grounds. They served as chamberlains to many of the royalty and kings of their time. This castle has changed hands many times over the years. 1885 the Count de Blacas bought the chateau and his descendants still live and make a home there today. The Marquis de Blacas who is the grandson of the man who began the Egyptian Department at the Louvre, currently resides there.

* Chateau du Rivau

Château du Rivau may not be the first to come to mind when thinking of the great chateaux of the Loire Valley but it really is worth adding to your itinerary. Its history is intimately linked to the Beauvau family who were related to the Counts of Anjou and fought under their banner. In the 13th century the family went on to serve the kings of France and in 1454 were allied directly to the royal family through the marriage of Jean II de Bourbon to Isabeau de Beauvau. Many members of the Beauvau family have, over the centuries, given their lives for France.

In 1429, before the siege of Orleans, Joan of Arc and her followers came to fetch horses at Rivau, a place renowned for the quality of its ‘war’ horse breeding and training. The chateau was fortified in the mid 15th century but was modified to be the chateau you see today during the Renaissance. There is a room dedicated to 'Joan' within the castle.

Rivau was saved in the 17th century by Richelieu as his sister Françoise was married to Jean de Beauvau, lord of Rivau, it had remained in his family for nearly 250 years before being acquired by marquis Michel-Ange de Castellane, lord of Villandry, he stayed here with his family until 1796.

Like a lot of Loire chateaux however, it went into decline until it received a ten year restoration programme, starting in 1992, to return some of its historical splendour.

The monumental stables in the outbuildings, that supplied royal stallions were constructed in 1510 by Francois de Beauvau, a captain of Francois I.

* Chateau de Langeais

While the outside of the building is strong and fortress-like, the internal facade is more influenced by the Renaissance giving it more of an appearance of the traditional chateau. A great deal is made of the fact that the fortress was built in double quick time – between 1465 and 1469 – (hire these builders!) which, when you are face to face with it, is a remarkable achievement. In 1491 Chateau de Langeais was chosen as the venue for the marriage of Charles VIII and the 14 year old Duchess Anne de Bretagne, which brought Brittany into the Kingdom of France.

The majority of restoration work to the chateau was undertaken by Jacques Siegfried who has added many fine examples of 15th century furniture and tapestries to help return the interior to something like its earlier splendour. He bequeathed it to the Institute of France in 1904 and they remain its current guardian. A keep dating back to 1000AD, built by Faulk (Foulques) Nerra, a former count of Anjou – which is unusual as although most of the chateaux of the region were built on former fortress sites, few have any remains of the original buildings.

* Chateau de Loches

The medieval castle of Loches is unique in that whereas most Loire Valley Chateaux are built on the sites of former fortresses with little remaining of the original fortress, here you have a citadel town that has both the remains of the fortress, built again by our old friend Foulques Nerra Count of Anjou (busy man!) in the 11th century and its 14th and 16th century Royal Lodgings both well enough preserved to give a good idea as to how the site was used through the centuries.

The chateau or 'Royal lodgings' sit really well into the landscape of this medieval town - it was after all where it all began. There has been a fortification on this site since the Romans built the first one in the third century. Situated to the north of the citadel, the least exposed to attacks, it was used as the residence of the King and his court when they were passing through the town or staying clear of their enemies in and around Paris. It and the rest of the fortified complex can be accessed via the 'Porte Royale' gate on the western ramparts. Two buildings dating from different periods sit side by side, the south-east part was built in the 16th century onto the existing 14th century building. Its built-in turrets and its machicolations are reminiscent of military architecture. Two buildings dating from different periods sit side by side, the south-east part was built in the 16th century onto the existing 14th century building. Its built-in turrets and its machicolations are reminiscent of military architecture.

* Chateau de Montresor

At the start of the 11th century, Foulques Nerra who was responsible for many of the medieval fortresses of the Loire Valley, had one built on top of a rocky promontory overlooking the Indrois Valley as a defence against potential invaders. A double enclosure wall surrounding the keep is still apparent. The massive corner towers and the 12th century gate towers remain impressive because of their powerful feudal architecture designed for defensive purposes. The chateau passed into the hands of the Bastarnay family in 1493. They had a fine residence built within the fortress walls and also founded the collegiate church.It became a charming peacetime residence surrounded by the original feudal defence system. Over time it past into the ownership of the Beauvilliers family where it remained for over a century until 1831.

In 1849, Xavier Branicki,a Polish count who had developed a friendship with Napoléon III, acquired the château. Army officer, politician and financier, he was one of the founders of the Crédit Foncier de France bank in 1852. A noteworthy art collector and patron, the count decorated the château with many valuable pieces of furniture, paintings and art objects. He was also the one who donated paintings to the collegiate church that had originally been part of the collection of Cardinal Fesch, the uncle of Napoléon. The castle still belongs to the descendants of Count Branicki today.

* Chateau de Breze

The current structure is Renaissance in style yet retains medieval elements. Today, it is the residence of descendants of the ancient lords. The château has been a listed ancient monument since 1960. Once you start to cross into the chateau itself it is only then you catch a glimpse of what lies ahead. The chateau you first catch site of is in fact built over a complex 'second chateau' carved out of the rock foundations. All the excavations and underground work was apparently to provide a safe haven from marauding invaders but ironically during it's long history the chateau was never attacked!

* Chateau de Valencay

The Chateau at Valencay, built in 1540 by Jacuqes d’Estampes to show of his new found wealth (he married money!), is worth a visit. Although geographically it is in the department of Indre, its style bears heavy comparisons with the best of the Loire Valley Renaissance chateaux and as such it is normally included in many of the Chateaux tour packages. Inside the chateau is furnished with elaborately embroidered chairs, ornate tables, delicate chandeliers, fussy clocks, Chinese vases, with a touch of Egyptian style thrown in for good measure. It is as it would have been for its most illustrious owner the Prince de Tallyrand, Napoleon’s foreign minister, to do his lavish entertaining of his many guests and mistresses.

It has had a number of owners throughout the centuries, including a Scottish banker, John Law but none so memorable as de Tallyrand, to whom there is a museum dedicated within the grounds. George Sand said of the gardens of the chateau that “No king has a more picturesque park”.

* Chateau de Gue-Pean

Gue-Pean is built on a the former site of a Roman camp later to become a Middle-age stronghold before its rise as the building you see today -- this like many others had to rebuilt after the 'Hundred Years War'. Rumour has it that this is where King Francois I and Mary Queen of Scots would have their clandestine meetings.

Chateaux Page 3.


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