Enter Azay-le-Rideau (pronounced “ah-zeh luh ree-doe” [a.zɛ lə ʁi.do]). Rick Steves ranked it first on his list of “Châteaux West of Tours” in his France guidebook, not even mentioning Fontevraud and putting Chinon third, so I decided to trust his recommendation and take the
|The château on the Indre River|
When I got there, I was so glad the turn of events happened the way they did; this was a visually-stunning mansion. Small by comparison with the rest of the region’s lodges, it was constructed on an island in the Indre River over the site of a burned-down castle (burned down by Charles VII of France…the same king to whom Joan of Arc rode to in Chinon during the Hundred Years’ War…see how this trip is all tying together?).
It was built in the same Italian Renaissance style as other famous châteaux on the Loire River were designed in, with plain, stately façades; round, hefty turrets; dark, slate-blue roofing; and gleaming white stones.
The château was still unfinished when the king gifted it to Antoine Raffin, one of his knights, in 1537. He chose not to complete the original plans but instead left the house with a partially-enclosed patio—the unique backward L-shape (or Γ-shape) plan that remains to the present day.
The town of Azay-le-Rideau itself was, in a word, sleepy. It reminded me a lot of the small-town Spanish pueblos near where I live in Úbeda, with few residents and businesses and not much to see or do outside of the castle at the southern edge of town. After spending maybe two hours tops at the whole château grounds, I was stuck in town for another three hours until the train back to Chinon would arrive, so I got pretty bored. I took that as my sign to eat a Nutella crêpe—always a good idea in France!
What is your favorite Loire Valley château? Do you enjoy visiting castles or mansions when you travel? Comment below!
For more pictures, check out my set on Flickr here.