From Versailles to the Loire
Text Carlo Mazzoni
Louis XIV called the aristocrats to Versailles. This was not an invitation, but an obligation: back from the Fronda, somewhat annoyed by any subversive vagueness, the king forced all the nobles to live in many micro-apartments inside a palace that for immense as it became residence for almost 1500 nobles and 3000 servants. Today, to visit it, you can book the priority access at least the day before, otherwise there is a queue of a few hundred metres flowing fast. Versailles must be seen more than once in a lifetime.
The fountains light up during the weekend. The garden is the French one – and here it is worth a digression, or caption – if for French we identify those parks where the aquatic element is predominant – between mirrors, channels, jets – marking planes and differences with a fantasy that the boxwoods and the perfect shapes of the Italian gardens in Florence could not imagine. In Versailles there are Golf Carts to rent – they are worth as much as an appearance in a well done movie.
Marie Antoinette was the first woman to understand what it could mean to enjoy – in the face of all the billionaires of the story before her, succumbing to the heiresses of our days stationed in Miami. There was the Triano, but she wanted her Petit Trianon, a single woman-sized place where the garden turns to English ones, between faintly natural lakes, hills and movement of bushes and flowers without geometry. The queen also built a farm, now restored and recently reopened to the public: the tulips grow on the thatched roofs, the flowers on the balcony, the breeze of the stream.
Leaving Versailles, going south, in the direction of Orleans. The provincial paths seem to be a private park under umbrella trees. The roads cross the air and the wind of a wet countryside. The subject is water – it is the same road as one of the many – so many – tributaries of what is the longest river in France: the Loire. A journey back in history – from the eighteenth century of the Sun King you return to the renaissance of Catherine, even before Francis I, until almost to the late Middle Ages of Charles VII. We leave the concentration of Versailles for the castles of the Valois, in the woods and surrounded by canals, medieval strongholds turned into country villas for dukes and princes.
The sunset of a summer day. The sun goes down behind Chateau d’Artigny, which rises above the forest, on the bend of a rough river, cut by a mill. The view is worth the point – the foliage of ancient trees, and the sound of rapids and roars. The patio of the castle overlooks a small precipice, precise difference in height without vertigo: that tone of French majesty. Start from here, from Chateau d’Artigny.
In the morning, the road to Chenonceau is a mix of fairy tales and melodies: the villages, the houses on the streets, the greengrocer’s cottages, the vegetable garden and a carpenter’s shop, a bakery and the wisteria that rises from every door. The green fields, the lime trees. The villa of the merchant or baronet is Cinderella’s home – his father leaves her there with her stepmother. Bridges, streams, and bell towers – the farms have flowers and roofs in coppers which recall straw – on the edge, the castle with white pinnacle towers. Each of the castles of the Loire valley is the prince’s castle, in search of the second crystal shoe.
Chenonceau is Caterina’s home – she requisitioned it to his husband’s lover, Diane de Poitiers, who was more than twenty years old by Henry II (Henry became infatuated with her when he was six years old, it is said). The castle is built on a bridge, above the river. Among the rooms, a green study – on the ceiling the two intertwined C, symbol of Catherine – they are said to have been the inspiration for the two most powerful C in the current world, those of Chanel.
If you can read the map, you can visit a castle every half hour by car – the garden is that of Villandry, the stream is that of Azay le Rideau – these are places that have impacted our imagination – that it was a page of a history book or a fairy tale to fall asleep, you will have the feeling of having already been there, between a Burgundy wine, foie gras, and strong-flavoured cheeses. The chronicles among the flowers – every rose, every mulberry tree, raspberries and mallards in the streams, even the black ones – from the murdered duke of Guise, to the arsenic for Charles IX, Isabelle Adjani is the face of Margot – before arriving in front of the Chambord Castel, open your eyes as I imagine Walt Disney could do, and understand how there is too much gold at Versailles.
Chateau relais d’Artigny
Part of the 520 Small Luxury Hotels in more than 80 Countries
90 route de Monts
+33 2 47 34 30 30
Chateau de Versailles
78000 Versailles France
+33 1 30 83 78 00
Chateau de Chenonceau
+33 (0) 2 47 23 44 06
Chateau de Villandry
3 Rue Principale