Blois

FRANCE CENTRE Blois

Blois (pop 49,200) is the capital of the Loire-et-cher department, on the Loire riverbanks, surrounded by the Blois and Boulogne forests. The city has always been the site of political drama, as it housed the powerful counts of Blois as well as several members of the royal house. Therefore, it has seen incidents such as the blood libel of its Jewish community in the 12th century and Joan of Arc’s rescue of Orléans, for which the city acted as the base of operations.  Present-day Blois, houses both the contemporary city centre (reconstructed post WWII) as well as the old city square (sprinkled with alleys, cobblestone streets and half-timbered houses). It is also home to the historic Château of Blois, which has seen significant events such as the escape of Marie de Médicis and the assassination of the Duke of Guise.  On a lighter note, the town is well-known for its yummy Pouline chocolates, which are sold in many local bakeries (especially along rue Denis Papin). Unfortunately, the chocolate factory is off-limits.         

Layout
Blois lies on the northern bank of the Loire River. Its château is located just north of the riverbanks, and the commercial district as well as the old city lie east of it. You can arrive via train or bus at the western end of town, along Avenue Jean Laigret.

 

 

 

 

 


CENTRE Chateau de BloisThe city’s main attraction is the melodramatic Château Royal de Blois [6 Place du Château,  +33 254903333, ad/ch €8/4 (combined tickets available, prices vary)], which acts more as a royal architectural example than a defensive military structure. It bears the mark of each of its 7 kings and 10 queens who lived here, decorating the royal apartments and adding to the polychromatic décor. In 1845, the Château Royal de Blois was the first royal residence to be restored, leading way to the subsequent restoration of it neighbours. Today the castle maintains a close resemblance to its prior façade.

The château’s central courtyard gives you a little preview of the mesh mash of styles that await further in; as this area itself, presents 4 different periods of French architecture- the Gothic style of the Salle des Etats Généraux from the original medieval castle, the Renaissance style of the north wing (constructed by François I), the classical style of the west wing (constructed by François Mansart and Gaston d’Orléans) and the Italianate Flamboyant Gothic style of the east wing (constructed by Louis XII).      

A former medieval palace belonging to the Counts of Blois stood here before the construction of the château. The palace and its towers dated back to the mid-9th century and some of its features were incorporated in the 13th century design of the castle. One such area is the Salle des Etats Généraux (Estates General Hall) which sports the medieval era’s iconic double barrel-vaulted roof which has been decorated with restorative paintworks of golden fleur-de-lys.        

CENTRE château de Blois, chambre Henri IIIThe Renaissance style north wing was the brainchild of François I and his wife Claude de France, who grew up here. This wing was based on the pre-existing medieval foundations and walls, which were enlarged and elevated. The area was then decorated with complex moulding and pilaster patterns as well as scallop motifs interspersed with gargoyle sculptures. However, the most striking feature of this wing is its spiral loggia- which allowed the royalties to partake in the festivities below, without leaving the safety of their apartments. The north wing also houses the suites of Catherine de Médicis, who died her in 1589. According to Alexandre Dumas, she hid her stash of poisons away in the secret cupboards behind the wall panels of her study. The second floor of the wing houses the King’s private chambers; where the gruesome assassination of the Duke of Guise occurred. The then king, Henri III ordered his bodyguards to murder his archrival in this very room, while he hid behind a tapestry. Portraits of this bloody event are displayed in the Halles des Guises. The Renaissance kitchens in the wing have been converted to a sculpture gallery that houses the works that were destroyed during the Revolution.       

The eastern wing, also referred to as the Louis Wing, is dominated by red bricks and stone. While there might be the touches of the Renaissance style in this wing, it is predominantly decorated in the French Gothic tradition with influences from the early Italianate style. It features projecting towers, steep rooftops and intricate details. Currently, the ground floor acts as the castle reception and the second level houses the Musée des Beaux-Arts. The museum is housed in the old apartments of Louis XII and Anne de Bretagne, showcasing over 300 works from the 16th to the 19th century.       

The west wing (also known as the Classical Wing) is the result of the combined efforts of Gaston d’Orléans and Mansart. This area is said to be the sober (at times inferior) section, as it seems rather muted as compared to the rest of the castle. It is characterised by its subtle exterior decorations.  However, it does have an exquisitely carved staircase and a small historical exhibition in its quarters that garners attention.      

The multi-coloured face of the castle comes to life every summer during the son et lumiére show [ad/ch €7/4] which lasts for 45 minutes every night, recounting the dramatic tales of the castle, with wall projections and narrations.

Opposite the château is La Maison de la Magie [1 Place du Château,  +33 254903333, ad/ch €8/5] the former residence of Eugène Robert Houdin, a watchmaker, inventor and conjurer, who was the inspiration behind the name of the legendary escapist, Houdini. The house runs daily magic shows and holds a tacky yet fun display of optical illusions and trick mirrors.   

The relatively new Musée de L’Objet [6 Rue Franciade,  +33 254568010, ad/ch €4/2] focuses on 20th century works that have been created using everyday objects, for example- Salvador Dali’s Objet Scatologique (made from a high heeled shoe) and François Poyet’s Le Monde des Créatures (made from slides and films).

Blois’s old city is worth a visit as well, as although it was heavily destroyed during the wars in the 1940s, it has managed to save some of its ancient buildings- check out the 17th century St Louis Cathédrale [Place St-Louis].

 


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BLOIS
:   1. Tourist office  2. Train station  3. Château Royal de Blois  4. Commercial centre  5. Old City  (Hôtel de Ville)  6. La Maison de la Magie  7.  Musée de L’Objet