Last week I escaped city life and spent a relaxing week with my parents in the Loire Valley. I came back with 500 photos, so I’m breaking them up into a five-part series (don’t worry — I’m not posting 100 photos a day!). Hope you enjoy!
We’re back to the châteaux today with two of my favorite stops: Loches and Montrésor.
Loches is probably best known as the favorite home of Agnès Sorel, favorite mistress of King Charles VII and Medieval power woman. She died of mercury poisoning (it’s still unknown if it was a murder or an accidental poison — she was taking mercury for a number of health conditions she had) when she was just 27 years old, but she spent her life encouraging Charles VII to become a more active French leader, attending court, and having three children with the king, all of whom he took care of after her death. Her remains have been abused and moved around a lot in the past 500 years, but they are finally back where she wanted them to be, in the St. Ours church at Loches.
The interior of the chateau is actually not that impressive. When we went, there was an exhibition of opera costumes, but very little in the way of furnishings, art, etc. My favorite part was actually on the front steps, where a series of stone dogs stand watch. All the dogs are in different positions with different facial expressions, as if Charles’s personal dogs had been frozen in time. I particularly like the one pictured above, who seems to be watching the church in the background where Agnès is buried.
Mom and Dad Tuxedo taking advantage of the photo op outside the chateau.
In addition to the château, there’s a ruined 12th century keep that I think is more interesting. Here you can see what used to be a second floor (or first floor, if you’re in Europe) hall with a fireplace at the far end. I love all the plants that they’ve allowed to grow in the ruins.
A view of the countryside from a window in the keep. The castle actually goes down several stories into a dungeon as well. All of the stairwells and many of the cells are covered in old graffiti (you can see a few examples around the window above). In some of the cells, there are really elaborate high-relief sculptures in the stone walls, crafted by the people who were kept in the cells for years.
Wisteria growing in the castle’s garden.
The view from the top of the keep. You can see St. Ours with its distinctive pyramid-topped nave.
Like any good ruined castle, Loches has a cat to welcome visitors, regulate errant rodents, and generally keep things under control. I found him napping in the flowers, but he woke up and came out to say hello.
Loches also has a great outdoor market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. We went early on a Wednesday, wandered around the market, and enjoyed a coffee and a special cheesecake before heading up the hill the the château.
Montrésor might be my favorite château from the trip. It’s not the biggest or the most significant or the most impressively ornate, but it’s perhaps the most immersive experience because the presentation is itself an artifact. Curtains were faded, upholstery sagged, the paper trim around the dining room ceiling, above, was warped and wrinkled, and it felt like there was extra dust in the air. As we walked through the rooms, you were looking not just at pieces from the 18th and 19th centuries, but also the way the furnishings were arranged in the early 20th century. It’s not the sterilized experience of walking through Versailles or Chambord, where rooms are carefully arranged to display the maximum amount of material while maintaining painstakingly accurate accurately furnished rooms that you can view from behind velvet ropes.
Here you move around the house as if its 19th century owner might find you in the billiards room or a 1920s crowd of weekend revelers might roll through the halls. Even Dickens’s Miss Havisham would not seem entirely out of place draped over a sofa or standing ominously close to a fireplace.
The château’s heyday was in the 19th century, when it was owned and occupied by a Polish family. Chopin visited them here, and played on the piano in this large drawing room.
The grounds were in a similar state of enchanting disrepair.
I loved this abandoned house behind the château proper. I’m not sure what it was originally used for, but now the wisteria has completely taken over.
The wisteria has also claimed the remaining wall of the Medieval fortress on the grounds.