Champagne and Châteaux: A French Christmas

Tengri - - Destination - Text Susannah Frieze photo Shutterstock

If you visit the Loire Valley in the summer, you will share its magical Sleeping Beauty palaces with crowds of visitors enjoying the sunshine and blocking your view. But in winter, when there are virtually no tourists, there is nothing to spoil your immersion in the French fairy tale. The chateaux sparkle like jewels under the hard glare of a winter sun and the gardens have an arresting allure.

As the gardens settle in to their winter slumber you can fully appreciate the skilful designs seen in the bare bones of the flowerbeds and the formal layout of the stripped-back landscape, while the turrets, ramparts and battlements of the chateaux themselves stand proud, their profiles unobscured by the foliage of their surrounding trees. Inside, tiptoeing through the vast, high-ceilinged salons and stony halls of these most evocative of French

castles feels so much more romantic and contemporaneous in fur-trimmed hats and sheepskin-lined boots than in t-shirt and trainers. In the cafés that are so crowded in summer you can quietly refresh yourself with hot chocolate, steaming galettes and mulled wine beside crackling open fires.

This winter there is something especially magical stirring in these romantic fortresses that line the River Loire. Traditionally regarded as the birthplace of the Renaissance, the Loire Valley symbolically marks the start of this extraordinary period of the flowering of the arts, architecture, literature and innovation as being 1519: the year of the death of Leonardo da Vinci at the Chateau de Clos-lucé, the first foundations of the extraordinary Chateau de Chambord and the birth of Catherine de Medici. Now, 500 years later, the region will unleash more than 500 projects, starting with ‘Christmas in the Land of the Châteaux’. Imagine Christmas trees covered in more than 2,300 decorations, sugar sculptures with multi-coloured sweets scattered through candlelit rooms and dozens of candles and braziers creating an interplay of light and shadow. Each chateau is creating its own winter wonderland and here is our pick of the best four to visit during the winter months.

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