Our trip to the Loire Valley castles started in the city of Blois which is without doubt the gateway to the châteaux in the region. Not surprisingly, the first castle we visited was the famous Château de Blois. Although not as spectacular as Chambord or Chenonceau, the castle’s appeal goes beyond its beauty.
Château de Blois used to be the favorite residence of the kings of France during the Renaissance period. 7 kings and 10 queens of France lived here. As a result, the Royal Château of Blois was a hub of monarchic power and major site in France’s history.
From a Medieval Fortress to a Royal Residence
The initial fortress sitting on this site was erected in 1200s to protect the town of Blois. It was in this stone fortress where Joan of Arc was blessed in 1429, before setting off to defeat the English at Orléans.
The medieval castle became a royal residence only in 1498 when King Louis XII transformed the dark medieval fortress into the beautiful château of red brick and stone that you can see today.
You can see the king’s equestrian statue on the castle’s façade, right above the main entrance.
Over the course of history, Château de Blois suffered many changes. From the 9th century onwards, all the lords of Blois and the kings of France who ever lived here continually modified the chateau according to their tastes. As a result, the castle displays many architectural styles.
Subsequent additions appeared during the next couple of centuries. The most impressive one is the wing built by Francis I in 1524. The wing houses the famous spiral staircase, a highly ornate structure with ‘windows’ that open to the courtyard.
The Downfall of the Château de Blois
The château was the scene of royal intrigue, fights and betrayal. One of the most notable affairs that took place at Chateau de Blois was the assassination of the Duke of Guise, by the order of King Henry III. The château was also the place where King Louis XIII exiled his mother, Marie de’ Medici.
The downfall of the château began in the 17th century, after the death of Gaston d’Orléans, when the castle was abandoned and fell into disrepair. During the French revolution when the insurgents began destroying the buildings of the nobility, the castle suffered even further.
At some point, Château de Blois was even scheduled to be demolished, but was spared and turned into military barracks instead.
Visiting the Château de Blois
Today’s Blois Castle contains only a few remnants of these 13th-century buildings. The vestiges that you can still see include a part of the rampart and three towers that were incorporated in the François I wing.
The current construction is comprised of four wings around a single courtyard, each one corresponding to a distinct period and style.
Throughout the building you will find a number of symbols like the image of a salamander, used by Frances I as his personal motif. Or the fleur-de-lis which has strong connections with the French monarchy.
Inside the Château de Blois
Inside the château there are about 30 furnished rooms to visit. These include the grandiose 13th century ‘salle des etats‘ with its ornately decorated ceiling; the opulent bedroom of Henry IV; and the ‘chamber of secrets’ of Catherine de Medici.
A tour of the royal apartments reveals different aspects of daily life during the Renaissance period. The castle has an incredible collection of art, furniture and period items.
Tips for Visiting the Château de Blois
Château de Blois is located on a very steep hill, so you will need comfortable shoes to walk this road. Surprisingly, the castle is not as packed with tourists like the other castles in the Loire Valley.
From April to September there is very interesting show (‘Son et Lumière‘) that takes place in the castle courtyard every evening. The show is a visual display of special effects that recreate events from the castle’s history.
There is also a museum of fine art on the site. As you enter the chateau, look over to your right and you’ll see it. Admission for the museum is included in the château ticket price.
The Château is located right in the middle of Blois.
The castle is open every day of the year except Christmas Day and New Years Day.
Opening hours are:
|January – March||10 am – 5 pm|
|April – June||9 am – 6:30 pm|
|July & August||9 am – 7 pm|
|September & October||9 am – 6:30 pm|
|November & December||10 am – 5 pm|
Admission fees are:
|Individual prices||Adult||Reduced*||6-17 years|
|Chateau (+ HistoPad or leaflet)||12.00€||9.50€||6.50€|
|Guided tour – Family tour||+ 3.00€||+ 3.00€||Free|
|Behind-the-doors tour||+ 5.00€||+ 5.00€||+ 2.00€|
|Audioguide||+ 3.00€||+ 3.00€||+ 3.00€|
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