261km (162 miles) SW of Paris; 21km (13 miles) SW of Tours
With its idyllic location and fairy-tale turrets, the Renaissance Château d’Azay-le-Rideau was deemed by neighboring writer Honoré de Balzac to be “a facetted diamond set in the Indre.”
Its machicolated towers and blue-slate roof pierced with dormers shimmer in the moat, creating a reflection like a Monet painting. The defensive medieval look is all for show: the Renaissance Château d'Azay-le-Rideau, 19 rue Balzac, Azay-le-Rideau 37190 (tel. 02-47-45-42-04; www.monum.fr), was created as a residence at an idyllic spot on the Indre River. Gilles Berthelot, François I's finance minister, commissioned the castle, and his spendthrift wife, Philippa, supervised its construction. So elegant was the creation that the Chevalier King grew jealous. Berthelot was accused of misappropriation of funds and forced to flee, and the château reverted to the king. He didn't live here, but granted it to "friends of the Crown." It became the property of the state in 1905.
Before you enter, circle the château and note the perfect proportions of the crowning achievement of the Renaissance in the Touraine. Check out its most fancifully ornate feature, the bay enclosing a grand stairway with a straight flight of steps. The Renaissance interior is a virtual museum.
From the second-floor Royal Chamber, look out at the gardens. This bedroom, also known as the Green Room, is believed to have housed Louis XIII. The adjoining Red Chamber contains a portrait gallery that includes Lady in Red and Diane de Poitiers (Henri II's favorite) in her bath.
[tel] 02-47-45-42-04. www.azay-le-rideau.monuments-nationaux.fr/. Admission 8.50€ adults, 5.50€ youth 18–25, free 17 and under. Open daily July–Aug 9:30am–7pm; April–June and Sept 9:30am–6pm; Oct–Mar 10am–12:30pm and 2–5:30pm. Admission to the evening sound-and-light show 9€ adults, 4€ children 5–12, free 4 and under; show is nightly mid-July to late Aug 8:30pm–midnight.