AZAY-LE-RIDEAU — This town is pretty much on the main line as far as tourism is concerned … certainly more than Domme which is a five-hour train ride farther south in the Dordogne. Azay-le-Rideau is situated in the Loire Valley about 30-minutes from Tours, the nearest big city. I was here with my wife a dozen years ago, but we were just passing through. Ever since, I have wanted to come back, put down for several days, and see something of the immediate area.
The main reason for coming here — well, my reason — is the chateau. The Loire Valley is loaded with magnificent castles, of course. There’s a justly famous one in the town of Chinon, just a few minutes’ drive away. (One could even say that chateaux are a dime-a-dozen around here!)
The chateau in Azay-le-Rideau — it’s pronounced Ah-zay-luh-ree-DOE — isn’t very large, as castles go, but it’s justly famous for being almost stunningly beautiful. It is, in fact, situated on what was originally a small island in the middle of the Indre River, just a five minute stroll from my little hotel.
Construction of the chateau was begun in 1518 when the property was acquired by Gilles Berthelot. He was the Mayor of Tours, but, much more to the point, he and his cousin, Jacques de Beaune, were also involved with collecting taxes and looking after the finances of the French king at the time, Francis I.
Ten years later, work had still not been completed when — surprise! surprise! — the king figured out that Berthelot was building something several steps up from what he should have been able to afford. The books were audited, Jacques was summarily strung up, and Giles got the hell out of Dodge barely ahead of the king’s men.
Eventually the chateau was finished and it is a marvel. I don’t mind telling you that I spent a couple of hours there today — it’s just a five-minute stroll from my little hotel here — just sitting and looking at it from several different points of view. Furthermore, I’m going back again tomorrow and spend more time inside. I’m not alone in this either. I ran into a British couple this morning who were here for their seventh visit.