“A woman with her hair blown in the air by the wind” is how the poet Chateaubriand described Francois
I’s vanity project Chambord, with its profusion of terraces, towers and skylines. Perhaps the most f lamboyant of all the chateaux, with a 20-mile wall surrounding it, 426 rooms, 83 staircases, 800 capitals and 282 fireplaces (one of which blazes merrily in the visitor café), Chambord is actually a mere shadow of its former glory. It’s only a fraction of the size it was in Leonardo’s day when he reputedly designed the incredible double-helix staircase; its intricacies all the more staggering for being devoid of gawping crowds: 20,000 a day here in high summer. The park remains the same size: as vast as inner Paris, and always a treat at any time of year, with trails going off in all directions and newly-restored formal grounds. Christmas comes to Chambord in high style with traditional wooden board games, Renaissance dances, strolling costumed characters and, new for 2018, the illumination of the new gardens and the chateau’s northern facade, and over 150 embellished Christmas trees both inside and along the paths outside.