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I was sure I could take a peek at the famous Chateau through its ornate iron gates, ahead of a visit planned for the next day. To my surprise, though it was 10 pm, the gates were open, and visitors were welcomed in for free to wander the fragrant gardens. It is impossible not to ooh and ah at the sight of the fairy-tale castle lit up against a twilight sky. Its reflection shimmers in the moat, perfectly still except for ripples caused by a dipping dragonfly, a lazy fish or an amorous frog looking for company.

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A full moon hovered over the castle, a glowing homage to its beauty as the silhouettes of small bats flitted about in the moonlight. The scent of lavender was heady. It was like a dream chateau come to life…. The de combined the latest technical innovations from Italy and the art of French architecture. Bythe year Francois I came to the throne, most of the structural work was complete. Philippe proved to be an excellent project manager, ordering slate from Anjou, ensuring masons, carpenters and workmen were on site at the right time. Most deliveries were transported by river, castles were almost always built next to a river for that reason.

Gilles paid homage to King Francois and his wife Queen Claude by having their initials carved on the walls. Flattery did no good, the proud owners never had time to enjoy their home. A general investigation ordered by Francis I revealed embezzlement. In places you can see carvings begun and doomed to never to be finished, it adds to the romance. The Chateau today is under state ownership and it is one of the absolute jewels of the Loire Valley. Incredibly pretty inside and out, the river that surrounds it reflects its beauty in a thousand ripples.

The tradition was spotted by an eagle-eyed historian in a 16 th century tapestry of a man getting dressed. It was also believed that the smell of the reeds expelled bad moods and cleansed the air!

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Centuries of pigeons roosting on the roof had left the famously white castle a rather dull grey — not any more. Artisans and craftsmen have repaired and restored the chateau to glory using authentic methods, creating a new path which goes all around the castle and giving it a whole new lease of life. The turrets, moat and cobbled sentry walk are token gestures towards the look of a fortress because this is in reality a dream home of the 16 th century. The staircase was incredibly innovative for its day, inside a novelty thenrunning centrally through the chateau and giving fabulous views at every level.

Like a water mirror, the reflections of the chateau in the River Indre are famous. Inside the rooms are exquisitely furnished and decorated with tapestries and paintings and the most extraordinary artworks. You sort of expect Harry Potter to pop out at any moment as things start moving around and twirling — it really is utterly enchanting. A truly spectacular chance for visitors to discover this 16th century architectural masterpiece, sitting on an island formed by the Indre river and surrounded by a romantic park.

What to see and do in Azay-le-Rideau. The residence offers self-catering holiday cottages with furnished terrace and a small garden. Perfectly located just meters from the centre of Azay-le-Rideau guests have access to heated indoor swimming pool, sauna, steam room and tennis courts. Hotel service available plus daily reception. Hotel Grand Monarque a former 18th century post house in the centre of Azay-le-Rideau is charming — lovely restaurant too. Take a tour with: Val de Loire Travel Tourist office info : www. The Good Life France. Enchanting and exquisite Inside the rooms are exquisitely furnished and decorated with tapestries and paintings and the most extraordinary artworks.

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