Now that I am moving back to the US at the end of June I find myself in constant tourist mode. I am trying to wrap up the travel in ‘Paris to the Past’ but also trying to visit other places in France and Europe that have long been on my list. This is a little challenging as I am still working full time and have a lot of company in town between now and the time I leave. One solution to this is to start bringing my company along which is what I plan on doing when my parents arrive next week! For now though I have set off alone for the medieval city of Blois in the Loire River Valley.

The journey to Blois starts at Gare d’Austerlitz in Paris and is the same train you can take to Orleans and Tours. The journey south to Blois is beautiful as you go past miles and miles of fields covered in yellow flowers. The French countryside is truly some of the most beautiful land you will ever see anywhere and I am grateful that I have had an opportunity to see so much of it both through the travels for this book and otherwise.

The main goal of our visit to Blois is to visit the 16th Century Chateau there. The previous chateaux we have visited (Angers, Vincennes and even the Louvre) were first and foremost defensive structures. They were built with the primary purpose of keeping the people inside the walls safe and keeping those outside the walls from getting inside. Moats, arrow slits and ramparts (all necessary defensive architecture) begins to shift into sweeping gardens, grand windows and structures whose primary function now is luxury and comfort. As the 100 Years War came to an end France found itself in a more peaceful time and therefore rulers started to turn inwards towards their luxury and comforts and the Chateau at Blois is no exception. The function of the nobility at this time began to change as well. Instead of being the money behind armies and wars they were now part of an elite class that took part in social hunting gatherings, banquets, tournaments and games.

The Chateau was built in 1418 and added upon until 1589. It has four very distinct wings surrounding a courtyard. Each wing is unique and reflects the time in which it was built as well as the personality of the ruler at the time. When you walk into the courtyard, on the right you see a marvelous, marble spiral staircase going up the three floors of the wing. It was here on December 23, 1588 that the handsome Henri I, Duke de Guise was murdered. Henri had recently formed the Catholic League to fight the Huguenots (Protestants) and force them out of France. By heading the powerful Catholic League it put King Louis III (and his mother, the real mastermind behind the throne, Catherine de Medici) in a vulnerable place. So as not to be diminished they had the powerful duke murdered on these very stairs. Oh, and for good measure they murdered his brother, too.

Now, for a piece of 16th century gossip – Henri III was the fourth son of Henri II and Catherine de Medici. As the fourth son it was never assumed he would take the throne but as all of his older siblings died he therefore became King of France at the age of 22. It is said that Louis III was a transvestite and a pedophile and kept a close circle of young men around him called the “mignons”. Henri never married or produced an heir and therefore was the last of the Valois dynasty to rule in France when he was assassinated by a fanatical Dominican monk in 1589. And, as if that is not enough gossip, here is more! There is a study off the bed chambers of Catherine de Medici where she frequently went to pray, write, read, etc. The entire study is covered in 237 carved and painted wooden panels. Apparently some of the panels had secret levers that reveal Catherine’s hiding places. It is said that while entertaining guests in her room for meals (a common practice at the time) she might slip into her study to take a secretly hidden poison and murder guests at dinner. Apparently people had a habit of dying mysterious deaths around Catherine. Unfortunately for her she never managed to poison her husband’s mistress (and his great love) Diane de Poitiers.

The town of Blois is as charming as any I have seen in France. It is magnificently situated on a hill high above the Loire River and its winding, hilly streets are filled with charm, fantastic shops and wonderful eateries. Like most French cities it is not unusual to turn a corner and find yourself in a beautiful park. The chateau certainly dominates the city as it sits high above everything else but as it is so beautiful it is worth being able to see from almost every turn. If you have time on a visit to Paris to take a day trip I would highly recommend taking the train to Blois.

We have now visited two cities as we continue through the Renaissance. Next stop – Fontainebleau.

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