Attention, masterpiece! Architecturally, Chambord is probably the most beautiful castle in France (I say that in all impartiality, obviously!). A jewel of the Renaissance, wanted by François 1er and designed by Leonardo da Vinci, the most Italian of the French castles.
With this article, my role is not to convince you to come and visit it, if you are here it is because you are already thinking about it. On the other hand, I want to show you that it deserves much more than a visit outside, than an hour or two inside, that you should linger in the park, on the terraces, enjoy a sunset, take the time to walk along the canal. But it also fits in very well with a multi-day itinerary to discover other castles! Anyway, here we go!
The history of Chambord Castle and the influence of Leonardo da Vinci
Like almost all castles and even all constructions, it is a story of ego, of self esteem. King François I, crowned with his victory at Marignan, wanted a castle to match his victory. So why a castle after Marignan? Well, it’s simple. Marignan, we know mostly the date, but not much else (well, the common people eh, there are people much more educated than me fortunately). Now, it is located in Italy, in the vicinity of Milan. With his buddies the Venetians, François I was fighting against Swiss mercenaries who were defending the Duchy of Milan. So why were the Swiss defending the Duchy of Milan? Well, first for a story of money. At the time of the previous conquest to recover the territories, Louis XII had made it a little backwards by avoiding to pay them after the fight. So when Pope Julius II wanted to reconquer the north of Italy, he had no trouble convincing these same Swiss. And it’s not over! We will avoid jokes about the Swiss but they continued to claim their money to the Kingdom of France to return to fight at its side and reclaim Milan. After much hesitation, François 1er, freshly arrived on the throne, accepted. And bang! The Swiss refused, promising to return to the battlefield.
In short, we arrive at Marignan where François 1er wins quietly (or almost!) and is especially impressed by the architecture of the Italian Renaissance. And that is good because Leonardo da Vinci spent not far from 25 years in Milan and thus had the time to make his work. The kings of France had been courting him for some time. So once again, François I invites him to work for him as engineer/painter/architect/superstar-in-chief, and this time the proposal makes sense because the Medicis had put him on the shelf, replaced by Raphael and Michelangelo. Well ok, not that bad too.
The castle of Chambord was built after the death of the Italian genius. There is no formal proof that he was the one who built it, but his influence is present everywhere. The famous staircase, the architecture of the castle, the terraces and even the toilets! The cross-references between the castle, the previous realizations and the sketches of Da Vinci’s notebook are numerous, there is not too much doubt even if the archives disappeared in the 18th century.
So below you will find a very interesting video on the architecture of the castle, where we can see that absolutely everything was deeply thought.
Visit the castle of Chambord
Even before the castle, there is the arrival in the park. The roads leading up to the castle offer beautiful views (especially two!) perfect for sunrise or sunset. The castle reveals itself little by little, it is superb.
Then in the castle, we will find many elements more or less interesting. It is very very big so we will not linger in all the rooms. Some are interesting, others not. But what is really top in this castle, they are all the small details of architecture, the finishes, the engravings. The staircases (and not only the big one) are superb, the windows too, everything is thought, everything is beautiful.
But as it is huge, there are a lot of corridors, and there it is really nice because each one offers great views, very photogenic. You will make the camera warm up! But if I had to give you only two advices (and not one, it would be too complicated), it would be first to take your time inside. Observe the little details in the corridors and especially on the terraces, and take advantage of the viewpoints. Then walk along the canal. By boat, not so much, but by foot it’s really nice and there are not many people. Which is a luxury in Chambord!
And the last advice, if the weather is good the sunset hits the north side of the castle and it offers a great show. Like in the main photo of this article
This is one of the most famous elements of the castle. The staircase of Chambord is said to have a “double spiral”. That is to say that there are in fact two staircases in one, which have two different entrances and allow to see each other without “crossing”. Well, it’s not very clear when you say it like that, I admit it 😀 But in addition to being superb and to make pretty pictures, it allows children and adults to have fun with it.
It is located in the center of the castle, which makes it impossible to miss, and that’s good! By taking the two opposite entrances, you can just see the others through the skylights without ever crossing them to the roofs.
The creation of this magical staircase is attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. As with the entire castle, there is no real proof, but some see strong geometric similarities to the Vitruvian Man.
The different rooms of the castle
Chambord is often criticized for not having an interior on par with its exterior, that it is not worth visiting. It is true that the rooms of the castle are probably less interesting than in Chenonceau for example. It must be said that it had no regular inhabitant, the king did not go there very often, and that it did not have a history as rich as the Château des Dames. However, even if the castle’s interiors may seem cold and dull, you must visit it. First of all, it is due to the fact that the castle is huge, very large rooms, wide corridors, it is very high. It doesn’t help to have a warm atmosphere
The terraces of Chambord
As much as the large interiors of the castle may leave a few of you disappointed (even if I disagree!), the terraces are simply exceptional. The viewpoints are magnificent, it is extremely well made, we are very close to all these small architectural wonders that we admire from below the castle. Always in the sobriety, we have 282 fireplaces and we can walk as close as possible to all these small carved capitals.
Take your time, there are lots of nice views to enjoy, especially on the gardens, you walk along the towers, and if you have children they will really enjoy it, without any risk of vertigo
The French gardens
When the castle was created, François I did not necessarily plan to make gardens. The surroundings of the castle were marshy and the most important thing was to be able to enjoy hunting. Louis XIV saw things a little differently, his “bling bling” side probably, and wanted to give the castle gardens worthy of its architecture.
In 2017, the gardens that partially surround the castle have been superbly redone, in the spirit of what was thought by Louis XIV. And from the heights of the castle, we can say that it looks great. 16 years of studies and research for more than a year of work. 800 shrubs, 600 trees and more than 15,000 flowers were replanted on more than 6 hectares, just that!
The gardens are only accessible via the castle, not from the park. So it’s not possible to go there without a ticket
The great domain of Chambord
The Chambord domain is really something. Imagine, more than 5400 wooded hectares which makes it the largest closed park in Europe. Originally created for hunting and preservation of game, the park is most famous for its deer. There are several hundred of them but we will also find many wild boars, while the osprey, a beautiful bird of prey, made its return in the park.
This article from the Chambord website explains well the measures put in place for the preservation of the park and the regulation of the species.
The park is really an asset for the castle. Take a walk around the castle! Walk along the canals, enjoy the park which is open 24 hours a day. In addition to enjoying the beautiful nature, you may have the opportunity to see some of the animals that inhabit the park. You can discover the park by bike, on foot, on horseback as well
The other Loire castles in the area
Chambord is almost at the end of the Loire Valley, but it is very close to other beautiful castles. So if you want to see another one in a day or venture out for a weekend or more, you’ll be happy! Already, you can take a look at this itinerary for 3 days. But here is what you can find within an hour :
- Cheverny, a very nice castle about 10 km south, with an atypical architecture for the region. It inspired the Moulinsart castle in Tintin.
- Blois, really close by, another very nice renaissance castle by the same architect as Cheverny and which has a magnificent staircase, one of the masterpieces of the castle
- Meung sur Loire, a pretty medieval castle a little north of here, often ignored because it’s not so nice but very interesting and different!
- Chaumont, one I love, on the road to Amboise. Massive, proudly overlooking the Loire. Halfway between the fortress, with its big towers, and the renaissance, I find it really classy. In addition it has magnificent gardens!
- Amboise, a pretty city with a nice castle that also overlooks the Loire. Still worth a day trip as the city must be visited and also the Clos Lucé castle!
- Chenonceau, an hour away, is a truly majestic castle. It proudly spans the Cher river but also has a rather eventful history!
You can buy the tickets for all these castles on this online sales site
CAREFUL : in touristic season, you must buy your tickets in advance! It will assure you to enter, otherwise you may have a bad surprise as it’s often crowded and the daily limit is easily reached.
In not that touristic season, it’s also better to buy it in advance to gain time and not do the queue at the entrance.
Some activities to do around Chambord castle
The deer’s bellow
The Chambord estate is huge and has a nice population of animals, including wild boars and especially deer. In early autumn, you can see the spectacle of the deer’s roar. At this time, the deer needs to flirt and mark its territory, and it shows it noisily. A bit like a guy in a club, but with more class. And there are many deers in the area!
So from mid-September to mid-October, it’s quite short, you can come to the domain at the very beginning or the very end of the day. It is also possible to do it with a forest guide of the domain, to have much more information, in restricted group, and access to areas normally closed to the public.
For the location of the watchtowers, guide reservations and all the information, go to this explanatory page of the castle
Admire the sunrise and sunset
The area around the castle is the perfect place to admire the sunrise and sunset. The colors are beautiful and the sun hits the castle. Plus, with the canals surrounding it, you can get really nice pictures and if there is no wind, then a great reflection. Since the estate is open all the time, it would be a shame not to take advantage of it if the weather is good.
Rent an electric boat
Right in front of the castle, you can rent small electric boats and go around the canals. It looks quite nice, you can take advantage of it to get away a little to have the beautiful view on the castle. The rates are 16€ for 30min and 30€ for 1h
A day trip to the Loire castles from Paris
Now that’s not bad. If you want to let yourself be guided and enjoy the castles of the Loire Valley, you have the possibility to see, in one day from Paris :
- and taste some wine
It’s a pretty sporty 12-hour day, but you have a guide, transportation (useful for napping on the bus)
Practical information about the castle of Chambord
Rates for the visit of the castle of Chambord
We will find different price ranges:
- the basic price is 14,50€.
- under 25 years old from the European Union: free
- disabled people: free (also free for the accompanying person)
- free for job seekers and social minima
Personally, I find this price range and the extended free offer really great.
Important: tickets purchased online are valid until the end of the year
TIP : you can book the Loire Valley Pass and save money! It contains entrances for Chambord, Chenonceau and Blois, 3 of the mains royal castles. YOU CAN CHECK IT HERE !
You can book your tickets in advance below, with this calendar
Visiting hours of the Chambord castle
Unlike other castles, here it’s simple:
- from March 28 to October 25, it’s from 9am to 6pm
- from October 26 to March 27, from 9am to 5pm
But I remind you that the park is open all year round 24/24h.
How long does the visit last
Vast question. For my part, I spend at least half a day each time. The castle itself can take a bit of time, but not so much the interiors I find. Where I spend a lot of time is on the roofs, which are truly sumptuous.
Then I always spend time to walk around the gardens, the canal. That’s why the castle can be visited in 2 hours , but if you spend some time outside, in the park, enjoying the different views, you can easily spend a lot of time there. And I think it would be a shame not to do it 🙂
Parking near the castle
We are going to find 3 parking lots, among which one for the minibuses and other big vehicles at 11€ the day (the P1).
So what will interest us are the two parking lots:
- the P0 just next door, at 6€ a day
- the P2, a little further away, at 4€ a day
Frankly, I recommend the P2 and not for the price. Already, the P0 is almost always full. But I really like the view of the castle from the P2, you can see it little by little, I love it.
One can spend the night on the carpark. It’s not meant for, but it’s tolerated
Coming by train to Chambord
Chambord is quite easily accessible by train, like many Loire castles (see this article). The nearest train station is Blois (which is actually called Blois-Chambord), and for Parisians it’s very convenient because it’s 1h20 from Austerlitz.
From the station there are many shuttles, the “châteaux” shuttles of the Remi network. You can find all the schedules on this site
When to come to Chambord Castle
The castle is open all year round. But… it’s one of the most visited castles in the world, one of the most visited monuments in France, so you’re likely to get crowds all the time. During school vacations, especially in summer, it will be really crowded. During the day, it is better to arrive very early to be there before the buses. Or do the last hours and enjoy the sunset afterwards. But it’s better, if you can, to avoid the peak hours
Find an accommodation near the Chambord Castle
In the domain itself, and more precisely at 3 minutes walk from the castle, we will find the luxurious Relai Chambord a sublime 4* with a view on the castle. It has a certain cost, from 180€ per night, but it is really an exceptional place.
Among the other superb accommodations, we find the very beautiful Prieuré de Boulogne and the Relai des 3 châteaux in Cour-Cheverny, at 135€,
At less than 100€, we also have great things like the Moulin de Crouy and the bed and breakfast Entre Loir et Cher has an excellent reputation, or the magnificent Ferme de Marpalu. In the small budgets, we will also find the Ibis Hotel in Amboise for less than 70€.
For a different experience, an accommodation in yurt with spa in Chisseaux, from 80€ (and it looks great!)
As we have seen, Chambord is a true architectural wonder. Although its interior can leave you hungry when you see the outside, visiting it is essential and a real pleasure. You have to take the time to go on the roofs, to walk around, to enjoy the gardens and especially the park with all that it has to offer. At 2 hours from Paris, you can go there and back for the day or more easily take advantage of it to make a nice weekend. So if you haven’t discovered it yet, what are you waiting for?