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The History of the Chateau

For more than 1,000 years, French nobility are known to have resided at some of the finest buildings in the world. In fact, the Chateau de Brest in Finistere can trace over 1700 years of history, which takes it back to a time when Romans were in residence in the city. Records show that, at least as long ago as the 9th century, there was a defended settlement on the site where the Chateau d’Amboise now stands and, by early in the 12th century, royal charters were being granted to magnificent palaces such as the stunning Chateau de Fontainebleau.

The Purpose of the Chateau

The famous Chateau Chambord

The famous Chateau Chambord

As indicated above, the primary purpose of a chateau was to offer protection to its residents.  A brief study of any of the older chateaux will show that they enjoy enviable defensive positions, such as cliff-tops, islands or at the mouths of estuaries. As the centuries passed, and the nobility became more affluent, the purpose of the chateau changed. The impressive Chateau de Chambord, one of the most recognisable in the world, was constructed by King Francois I in the first half of the 16th century as a hunting lodge. The desire to own similarly impressive structures flooded through the nobility and the affluent and, in the years that followed, many chateaux were constructed as a symbol of wealth and position in society.

The Architecture of the Chateau

Many chateaux display evidence of the evolution of French architecture over the centuries. The very oldest chateaux still have portions of the Romanesque buildings which were constructed prior to the 12th century. This gave way to the gothic architecture which was popular from the end of the Romanesque period until the start of the Renaissance at the beginning of 1500’s. Both of these styles remain evident today but are most likely to be seen in religious buildings such as abbeys, churches and cathedrals outside the chateau grounds. The most stunning example of gothic architecture still standing is the awe inspiring cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

At the end of the gothic era came the Renaissance. It is the chateaux which were built during this period which are the fine examples you can still visit today. King Francois I introduced the Renaissance to the country. He brought to France the finest sculptors, designers and architects from around the world, including Leonardo da Vinci, who carried with him the Mona Lisa when he came.

The Renaissance style reflected the classical designs of Greek and Roman architecture and placed the emphasis on symmetry, proportion and geometry. Columns and arches are common features of buildings constructed at this time.

The chateaux built during the Renaissance have a more decorative style than those constructed in the 17th century during the Baroque period. Baroque architecture, whilst still drawing on Roman inspiration, tends to be more theatrical and dramatic than Renaissance architecture. However, as with all fashions, those who were knowledgeable of fashions at the time followed the style and adapted their chateau according to the architecture of the day.

The Rococo style which followed was a rebellion against the formal grandeur of both the Renaissance and Baroque. More playful in its design, Rococo architecture was more ornate and arguably more elegant than its predecessors.

As chateaux have been in place for a number of centuries, and because different owners have wanted to place their own particular emphasis on the houses in which they lived, many chateaux have been adapted to the style of the day. This means that a visit to any one of the great number of chateaux in France exposes you to a wealth of history and architecture.

The Grounds

Chateaux were sometimes built as summer houses for the nobility. Some, such as many of those of the Loire valley, were constructed so that members of the court could spend their summers near to the French Monarch. Often the chateaux used as hunting lodges were surrounded by vast amounts of park land in which deer and other animals roamed freely for many months of the year. Formal gardens were constructed and some of the finest formal gardens in all of Europe can be seen surrounding many chateaux.

The French Revolution

The French Revolution, which began in 1789, saw a period of great instability for the French nobility. Many chateaux were destroyed and the fine furniture and paintings which graced their interiors were taken and distributed among the peasants and revolutionaries. Some chateaux were burnt to the ground, while others were damaged to such an extent that parts had to be knocked down as they were unsafe. After the revolution, the Emperor Napoleon was instrumental in assessing the damage and commissioned many to be restored to their former glory.

Visiting Chateaux Today

Experience The Chateau Lifestyle

Experience The Chateau Lifestyle

Today many of the principal chateaux are owned by the French Government and attract hundreds of thousands of tourists each year. Others are still in private hands and open to the public on an ad-hoc basis similar to some of the stately homes in England.

There are a great many chateaux in France. Some operate as five star restaurants, others as hotels and spas, yet others are the principal property of the most prestigious vineyards in the world.

It is perfectly possible to experience life in a chateau by hiring one as your own  private holiday home.

If you are looking at renting a chateau as a family group or with a group of friends, then it can often be more affordable than you might think. Many are set in acres of beautiful grounds and have swimming pools or tennis courts, meaning you never have to leave your haven of relaxation if you don't want to.

Some chateaux also come with your own personal chef or maid service if required.

Many chateaux can also be hired for weddings, family occassions or to celebrate events in style.

Discover for yourself the delights of living the chateau lifestyle by looking through our full range of holiday chateaux now.

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