A chateau in the Loire Valley. What? Another one? But wait:
The Loire Valley is famous for its chateaux and some of them, like Villandry, Chenonceau and Chambord, attract thousands of visitors per day. But there are other options: small, family-owned chateaux that are open to visitors (because even if you are landed gentry, you still have bills to pay) and provide a more intimate glimpse of these opulent family mansions.
Not far from one of the Loire's superstars, Chambord. Map.
CHATEAU DE VILLESAVIN was constructed between 1527 and 1537 by Jean le Breton, lord of Villandry. Although the chateau is very French (notice the roof- a distinguishing feature of many French chateaux seems to be that the roof is bigger than the actual building) it was very much inspired by the Italian Renaissance.
Italy, in the early 16th century, was of course the European hotbed of fashion and art (food, not so much back then). Compared to Renaissance Italy, France was still a rustic backwater where castles were built for strength, not beauty.
This changed during the reign of King Francis I, who was a keen italophile. Leonardo da Vinci is rumoured to have been involved in the design of nearby Chateau Chambord, and spent the last years of his life working for Francis I, who was keen to enrol the Italian artistic genius to sex-up French culture and art. (Apart from architectural savoir-faire Leonardo also brought a small painting with him that still graces millions of tea towels and cookie tins around the world, and is better known in English as Mona Lisa.)
Jean le Breton was the Finance Minister of King Francis I and had actually spent some time in Italy as ambassador, so he was familiar with Italian building fashions. He had built Villandry, but wanted something a little more fashionable, designed from the ground up. (Villandry is very much a remodelling job of an old-school castle). As Finance Minister his job turned out to be sufficiently rich in kickbacks that he could afford to build another little mansion that followed the oh-so fashionable Italian style.
|The main entrance of the chateau, with its courtyard. The disproportionate size of the roof is clearly visible.|
The central courtyard is dominated by a massive marble vase. It looks like a bird bath that has been super-sized...
The gabled windows stand out, literally, and are beautifully decorated. They clearly show the renaissance style.
One of the highlights of the chateau is the beautiful chapel, with its ceiling paintings of fat little cherubs (more Baroque than Renaissance in style), and possibly from a later date.
Villesavin is a much smaller and intimate affair than its big brother Villandry or nearby Chambord. It doesn't bring in tourists by the busload- it's a small family affair. Owning a chateau is an expensive business and many family-owned chateaux in France are open to visitors by necessity. Somebody needs to pay for the upkeep.
|This could be your wedding venue...|
Of course you can drive here, but an altogether better way to approach Villesavin is by bicycle. Bikes are for rent throughout the Loire Valley, but the nearby village of Bracieux makes a great base. Get your cycling wheels (and a free map!) at the friendly Hotel de la Bonnheure, or the local bike shop.
Chateau de Villesavin website