Christmas at Château de Cheverny
Château de Cheverny is short distance away from the royal Château de Chambord in the Loire Valley. What's unique about this castle amont the many in the region? Well, first of all, it's one of the only castles that opens its doors year-round without interruption, even on Christmas day (with a special visit from Santa Claus, no less). Second, if you're a Tintin fan, you're in luck. Does the castle's facade look familiar somehow? It's used as the inspiration of Marlinspike Hall (château de Moulinsart), Captain Haddock's country house, seen in The Secret of the Unicorn!
This domain has been owned by the Hurault family since the 14th century and has been passed down through generations. The castle and the surrounding estate is still privately owned by the same family, and it has endured the wars and revolutions of centuries past fantastically well. Since 1914, Château de Cheverny has been opened to the public. If you want to admire some lovely Christmas decorations and take a peek inside the life of the French aristocrats, this is a wonderful place to visit during the winter holiday season.
Although the famed gardens are out for the season, the castle itself welcomes you with warm holiday decorations.
The Dining Room with its painted ceiling, handsome chandelier, and sumptuous floral centerpiece looks ready for a banquet. The chandelier is an 18th century Dutch masterpiece in silver-plated bronze, and weighs more than 200 lbs (100 kg).
Head upstairs by taking the stone staircases under the vaulted ceiling.
We entered the largest room in the castle, the Room of Arms. A collection of armors and weapons from the 15 to 17th century are on display in this room. Looking at the heavy shining armors, swords, and spears, I couldn't help but picture medieval damsels sending off their husbands and sons to war... Fortunately, we are much more civilized now. Aren't we?
Many renaissance castles had a Chambre du Roi, or King's Room, for if the ruling monarch ever decided to pop in for a visit. The Chambre du Roi at Cheverny is richly-decorated, complete with grandiose gilded chimney, mural paintings, and lavish wall-to-wall tapisseries from the famed Gobelins Manufactury. The King's bed is covered by fine 16th century Persian embroidery. Interestingly, no king ever visited Cheverny.
Perhaps life without politics is sweeter for the aristocrats at Cheverny. Several rooms at the castle showcase settings of important moments in the lives of the country nobility. The Honey Moon Room (gilded bathtub, anyone?), the Nursery (with a really gorgeous crib), and the Children's Room. Away from the weapons and carriages, these sweet passages display original furniture and decoration from the 19th century.
The rooms let us take a peek at the intimate sides of castle life.
There are also rooms where public functions took place. The Family Dining Room has a table set for a Christmas lunch, with lovely crystal glasses and a crystal antler centerpiece. In the porcelain dishes you'll see les bûches de Noël, the traditional French Christmas dessert that's often made of sponge cake roulade, fashioned to resemble a yule log.
We also get a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes, with cupboards filled with fine porcelain and copper cookware. We also see the housekeeping staffs' quarters with laundering supplies and antique sewing machines. The well-curated rooms give a great sense of the times past, for the brief moment of visit, everyone can enjoy the experience of life as a châtelain.
After the meals, let's join our hosts at the salon and the drawing room. A game of chess perhaps? Tea with finger cakes? Or let us improvise a sonata?
Perhaps we could simply sit around and chat about the upcoming political change and its implications?
"Let them eat cake?"
Oh how time has changed.