By Maggie LaCoste
Days just really don’t get much better than this! Today is the day we bike to Chambord. We skipped it last year, but this year it was on the top of my Loire to-do list. People either love or hate Chambord. I decided it was time for me to make my own decision. After a great breakfast at Auberge du Center and a final farewell to the owner, we are on the way to Chambord.
We pass through Cheverny, with its great castle. The traffic in the small town was heavy and the parking lots full. Cheverny is a crowd favorite: a 17th century French garden chateau with original furnishings, tapestries and artwork. We stop for coffee and decide not to tour Cheverny. Chambord will be enough. We have a date in Bracieux for a tour at the chocolate factory, so we hit the road.
We make our way on Chateaux a Velo itinerary 5, heading toward Bracieux. Next stop, the Max Vauche chocolate factory. A prize-winning chocolatier, Vauche’s factory is a great deviation to vineyards and castles, and the tasting of his specialties was heaven. After a few small purchases in the gift shop, we are back on the road to Chambord.
Between Bracieux and Chambord, the bike route was nothing less than spectacular. Not long after leaving the chocolate factory, we are on the edge of the Forest of Boulogne. As we bicycle into the forest, we are at once transported into another time in history. The forest seems to totally envelope us, and my mind starts to wander, thinking about the history that has taken place here. To approach Chambord on a bicycle, traveling through the forest is one terrific ride. To cycle along the deep forest paths with history literally all around you is an experience normal visitors to Chambord will never know. Regardless of what I think of Chambord, bicycling this route to the chateau has been a highlight of my trip to the Loire.
Nothing really prepares you for the first sight of Chambord. Its sheer size is something that just can’t be conveyed in pictures, any more than television can show the steepness of hills on the Tour de France. We take some time from a distance to try to absorb the sheer magnitude of the Chateau. Rather more of a palace, but called a hunting lodge, love it or not, it is one spectacular building. A testimony to the politics of the 16th century, seeing Chambord makes me want to learn more about the power struggles between Francois I, Henry VIII and Charles I of Spain.
We are fortunate to be spending the night at the only hotel in Chambord, Le Grand St-Michel, right next to the castle. For under 100 Euros a night, this is one great adventure. We spend the afternoon bicycling around the Chambord estate, further amazed at its size. We have a late picnic lunch near the chateau, wondering who in history might have sat where we were. Another perfect day on the Loire.