As you travel the tree-shaded road that leads to Chambord, you’ll first spot the castle’s incredible towers rising above the vast forest that surrounds it. When the entire château breaks into view, the sight is absolutely stunning. Château de Chambord is really gigantic, imposing, beautiful. It is undoubtedly one of the most grandiose buildings in France. Although it has the layout of a fortress –with a central keep and four towers– the château was always intended as a hunting lodge.
François I began the construction of Chambord in 1518 on the site of a former hunting lodge built by the Counts of Anjou. The genius behind this exceptional architectural creation still remains a mystery. Some art historians attribute it to an Italian while others maintain that it is a purely French project. It is certain that many of the plans were drawn by Leonardo da Vinci. However, given his death in 1519, Da Vinci could not have directed the construction.
The construction of the Château de Chambord lasted for years and costed a fortune, as François I didn’t spare any expense to build his dream castle. In his original plan, he even considered diverting the Loire River to form a moat around the castle, but the project proved too challenging and expensive and had to be abandoned. The King used the château only for short stays. As it was customary at the time, the château was only furnished during the King’s visits, so 12,000 horses were required to transport his luggage, servants and entourage when he came.
Built in a Renaissance style, this extravagant, white stone hunting lodge has over 440 rooms, 365 chimneys, 84 staircases, and a wall that extends 32 km (20 miles) to enclose a 13,000-acre forest. The interior of the château is not particularly impressive. Although many of the rooms are furnished, the architecture of the château itself remains the main attraction.
The roof line of the castle is quite unique because it lacks symmetry. From a distance, that makes it look more like the skyline of a small fortified town rather than a castle. Walking around the rooftop terraces and seeing the panoramic views over the surrounding land is quite spectacular.
The center piece of the château is the remarkable double helix staircase, one of the architectural masterpieces designed by Da Vinci. The steps on each staircase are 8 feet wide and are designed so that both the King and Queen could descend or ascend their own staircase and yet be able to see each other through the openings. The two staircases ascend the three floors without ever meeting.
During his 32 year reign, François I spent only 72 days at Chambord. At the time of his death, only the keep and the royal wing had been completed. His son, Henry II, and later Louis XIV continued the construction of the castle. Château de Chambord is now the property of the French Nation and the presidential hunting estate. Presidents Pompidou and Giscard d’Estaing hunted here; other French presidents didn’t, but opened it to their official guests.