Once upon a time my husband and I spent a year in France’s Loire Valley getting to know, among other features of French life, the region’s famous chateaux.
There are many, and we visited each of them repeatedly at the request of the steady stream of friends who came to stay with us during our sojourn.
Popular among our guests were the grandeur and drama of Chambord, once the hunting lodge of King Francis I and the quirky beauty of Chenonceau, whose foundations cross the river Cher.
But one of our favorites was and remains the Chateau de Blois, a lovely chateau whose architecture spans the Middle Ages to the Renaissance but that somehow hasn’t made it onto the radar of mainstream international travelers.
In recent years, however, the local tourism office has mounted a proactive campaign to lure visitors with an entire menu of entertaining events and features.
Probably the biggest draw is the 45-minute sound-and-light show, on view at sunset from April to September. The facades of the castle courtyard are illuminated with historical images, accompanied by dramatic orchestral music.
The Chateau de Blois light show takes place at sunset from April to September. Photo Credit: D Lepissier
In addition, half-hour shows, comprising concerts, fencing re-enactments and theatrical performances, take place throughout the day during the summer.
The interior of the castle also has undergone changes designed to enhance the visitor experience.
The Salle des Etats Generaux, for example, has added six interactive multimedia screens, complete with 3-D animation, that depict the dramatic and sometimes tragic history of the chateau through the ages.
Other features of a recent refurbishment include the restoration of about 26,000 square feet of painted decorations on the castle walls and displays of previously hidden art works.
Children are not forgotten in the newly revamped visitor experience, thanks to tactile exhibits and fun signage designed to appeal to younger visitors.
Three new rooms are opening to visitors this July, starting with the former royal kitchens, which will feature facilities for travelers with disabilities, including wheelchair access and descriptions in braille, as well as a film, models of the chateau and a touch-table with hands-on exhibits.
Of course, some of the castle’s most notable features have been there all along, including its dramatic staircase, the royal apartments and the on-site museum of fine arts.
In all, some seven kings and 10 queens lived in the Chateau de Blois, and after all these centuries, it’s encouraging to see the castle coming back to life.