ONCE UPON A TIME
Exploring Château de Chambord’s conference venues
Adrive of about two and a half hours from Charles de Gaulle Airport, past a scenic countryside with windmills and birds that raced alongside our vehicle, brought us to one of the most distinctive châteaux (castles) in the world. We were in the humble commune of Chambord. As we closed in upon Château de Chambord, the sights and sounds slowly seemed to rewind into another era. Horse carriages rode on pathways lined with manicured greenery and minuscule lakes, strutting towards a magnificent estate. The French renaissance-style palace we had eyed from afar, finally appeared closer. Its architecture overwhelmed us, as we took in the magnitude of what stood in front of us.
Before venturing into the fortress, we checked into our vintage rooms situated in the right tower of the structure. We were told that while it wasn’t common practice to give out accommodation at the château, special requests had been made for our stay. If that wasn’t exciting enough, my room had a mesmerising view of the forest around. I dug out a sweater to keep me warm in the plummeting temperatures and joined the group to explore this enchanting royal house.
You can’t enter a French château and not delve into its history. Before entering the fortress, our tour guide threw some light on its antiquity. It was built as a hunting lodge for King Francis I, and designed by Francis Pombriant who was ordered to construct it in 1519. Since it served as a holiday home to the king, for many decades it remained partially unfurnished. After the death of King Francis I, the royal residence was unoccupied for 80 years. In 1639 King Louis XIII handed over the reins of the château to his brother Gaston d’Orléans, who took up the responsibility of its restoration work — thus saving it from absolute dilapidation. A series of residents and transfers of ownership followed for centuries.
Today, this magnificent complex attracts visitors from around the world. Apart from families and frequent independent travellers, Chambord is known to host avant-garde events of varying scales as well — an aspect I explored quite keenly on my visit.
The castle has four vestibules that are laid out in the shape of a Greek cross. Our expedition began at the central building of the château, also known as “the keep”. This square facade with four corner towers, houses a room called Arms Of A Greek Cross (150 sqm). It prides itself on the famous “double-helix” staircase, one of the foremost attractions of the palace. It is said to have been conceptualised by Leonardo da Vinci, although there is no real evidence of this. The unique staircase is constructed in such a way that two persons using the opposite stairs can see each other through window openings, but will never cross paths. Embellished with tapestries depicting stories from yesteryears, this room can accommodate up to 600 people for an event. In winter, fireplaces warm up the space, creating an idyllic atmosphere for casual happenings.
On the ground floor is one of the event halls, Room Of The Renowned (108 sqm), where we headed to next. Adorned with spectacular chandeliers, this white-beamed room displays
portraits of major figures from the château’s regal past. Gold panelling around frames and patterned wallpaper add a rich touch to the space that can accommodate up to 150 people.
The ground floor of the château also houses Room Of The Game Trackers (73 sqm). It brings to life the time when royalty revelled in hunting glories. This salon with its tapestries and animated hunting trophies can fit up to 80 people. Room Of The Bourbon Dynasty (115 sqm) and The Commons Of Orleans (383 sqm) are two more rooms on the ground level, while Under The Coffered Vaults (150 sqm) and The Gallery Of Trophies (91 sqm) are additional salons on the second floor.
Our next stop was the enchanting terrace of the château, where large scale galas can be hosted, fitting up to 700 people. Behind us stood an imposing lantern tower alongside age-old mouldings and chimneys, turret-like structures that teleported us into an alternative French era. A salamander, the king’s emblem, made a frequent appearance in the palace’s architecture that has a fairy tale-like ambience. Enjoying this moment of calm, we stared out into the wilderness of Chambord. The gardens, manicured to perfection, were surrounded by the forest — an endless palette of brown and green.
We made our way down to the ground floor and relaxed for a bit before embarking upon our next adventure. Lying down on the South Lawn of the palace, we soaked in the enchanting surroundings — blossomed flowers on shimmering grass against a backdrop of the descending sun.
Soon, it was time to hop on to our designated ride for the day. I was told my trip to Chambord was about to get even more enthralling — and I wasn’t disappointed. I sat in the back seat of an SUV that drove into the woodlands of Chambord. Due to its extensive array of flora and fauna, these were the preferred hunting grounds of King Francis I. It was thrilling to be amidst the very woods that have been privy to royalty at play.
Driving around the forest, we spotted a pair of stags and a few wild boars. Chambord’s bird population consists of 150 species that made their presence felt with incessant chirping. A charming picnic lunch followed, as we sat in an observatory overlooking a stretch of grassland. A herd of deer arrived to graze and thereafter had a siesta, as we sat in silence observing the ways of nature.
Dinner that night was an exquisite set-up at Room Of The Hunters, where we were joined by the château’s management. Game trophies alongside artwork depicting the hunting revelries of the kings made up the room’s decor. Chandeliers brightened this chamber, which came alive with our chatter recalling the day’s experiences.
Previous page: a stag on the pathway to Château de Chambord
Above: a panorama of Château de Chambord
Top to bottom: the double helix staircase; wilderness of Chambord; Room Of The Hunters