4 days, £830
Lecturer: Louise Leates
Securely under the control of the French monarchs from the late Middle Ages, the region around the lower reaches of the Loire was exceptional in a country still dominated by over-mighty subjects and riven by factionalism until well into the seventeenth century.
Towards the end of the fifteenth century and during the first half of the sixteenth, a plethora of palaces, hunting lodges and country retreats were erected at the behest of members of the royal family, their mistresses and their loyal followers.
The result is a group of some of the most beautiful residential buildings in Europe. Paradigmatic in popular culture for furnishing the world-wide image of a fairy-tale palace, they are seminal in architectural history by constituting the first significant ultramontane manifestation of the Italian Renaissance.
The distinctive and affecting feature of these buildings was that Italianate motifs were grafted onto what were essentially Flamboyant Gothic forms. Round-headed arches, square-headed windows, classical pilasters and ancient Roman candelabra decoration blend with cylindrical towers and turrets, conical spires, high-pitched roofs and elaborate dormers to produce an effect which is Italianate but unmistakably French.
Several of the châteaux have gardens, among which are some extraordinarily fine recreations of the original Renaissance design.
DAY 1: CHENONÇEAU—leave from Tours Airport following the arrival of the Ryanair flight from London Stansted (currently 13.20 p.m.) (flights are not included – see below)—of surpassing beauty, the Château of Chenonceau (‘des Dames’) is one of France’s most treasured sights—transformation of a castle began in 1515 and continued intermittently for much of the sixteenth century with Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici among the patrons—continue to the hotel in Chargé where all three nights are spent.
DAY 2: AZAY-LE-RIDEAU, LANGEAIS, VILLANDRY —Azay-le-Rideau is a jewel of the French Renaissance replete with angle turrets, elaborate gables, classicising pilasters and evocative interiors—with its formidable defensive towers Langeais, reconstructed from the 1470s, is scarcely affected by Renaissance taste—good collection of mediaeval furniture and tapestries—Villandry is an excellent 1530s château with three arcaded wings but its chief glories are the tiers of formal gardens—return to the hotel c. 7.30 p.m.
DAY 3: BEAUREGARD, BLOIS, CHAMBORD—Beauregard has a unique 17th-cent. hall lined with 327 portraits of historical persons—three wings of the castle at Blois were built in the latest fashion respectively for Louis XII from 1498, François I from 1515 and, the brother of Louis XIII (by Mansart) from 1635—the delightful town of Blois, its gardens, churches and museums—the creation of François I, Chambord startles by its vast size—outstanding are the double helix stairway and the fantastical roofscape.
DAY 4: CHEVERNY—built in the 1630s, Cheverny is as elegant and restrained as Baroque can get, —sumptuously decorated and furnished, the interiors are among the finest of the age—drive to Tours airport for the Ryanair flight to Stansted (currently departing 1.45 p.m.)
Price: £830 (deposit £150)–this includes:–private coach for airport transfers and excursions–hotel accommodation as described below–breakfasts and three dinners with water, wine and coffee–all gratuities for restaurant staff, drivers, etc.–all state taxes–the services of the lecturer–single supplement £110 (double room for sole occupancy).
Louise Leates: freelance lecturer in English and European fine and decorative arts and garden history, with a particular interest in France–lectures for London University’s Centre for Extra-Mural Studies, the City Literary Institute, the V&A, National Portrait Gallery, Sotheby’s and NADFAS–has contributed to The Oxford Companion to Western Art–currently living in Aix-en-Provence researching 18th-century gardens.
Flights are not included in the cost of the tour as the most convenient flights are with Ryanair and we cannot make a booking without knowing the passenger name–we can book on your behalf, quoting the fare at the time of booking, or we can give you the flight details and you can make the booking yourself.
Hotel: 4-star hotel in a 13th-century castle on the river Loire–traditionally-furnished–good restaurant.
How strenuous? Although a short tour there is quite a lot of standing around and walking in gardens–average distance by coach per day: 82 miles.
Small group: the tour will operate with between 12 and 22 participants.