Azay-le-Rideau’s light and graceful architecture is captivating and has been described by French writer Balzac as a « multi-faceted diamond arising from a stone base beautifully set in the Indre River and covered with flowers».
A Renaissance jewel set in natural surroundings, it nevertheless remains a human-sized castle with a welcoming atmosphere.
It was built from 1518 onwards, on the ruins of a former fortress destroyed by fire and known as Azay-le-brulé, meaning burned down in French. The man who achieved this masterpiece was Gilles Berthelot, mayor of the city of Tours, treasurer of King Francis 1, in short one of the most powerful man in France back in those days.
The construction work was tremendous for the time. The river was totally drained, wooden stilts were planted to stabilise the base, tons of tuffeau stones were brought on site by boat. More that 120 workers strove daily, most of them prisonners of the fortress going back to their cells to sleep at night!
It took almost 10 years to complete the castle. Gilles Berthelot was away most of the time and many decisions were actually taken by his wife Philippa, a woman of strong character and highly-educated. This explains the graceful and refined appearance of the monument.
Unfortunately, the couple will never really take advantage of their investment. On his return, Berthelot was accused of fraud by the King and the couple had to flee out of the country to escape death, leaving behind them their unfinished castle.
In 1528, King Francis 1 seized the castle and gave it away to one of his captain, Mr Antoine Raffin. In 1791, the Biencourt family became the owner of the monument. For 4 generations, they restored and enhanced this Renaissance masterpiece until unfortunately the last heir became banckrupt in 1899 and had to sell the castle. In 1905, the Château of Azay-le-Rideau came under French state ownership. It now belongs to the Centre des Monuments Nationaux, the government bureau in charge of all French state monuments.
Nowadays, Chateau of Azay-le-Rideau is one of the most visited castle in the Loire Valley. Among many other points of interest, the main staircase with straight flights (one of the first of that type in France), lavishly-furnished appartements including a Flemish and French tapestry collection, a faithfull reproduction of Philippa’s bedroom, and the attic space from where the impressive roof frame with large oak timberwork can be admired.
In 2014, an exceptional work also enabled to fully restore the past beauty of the charming English gardens surrounding the Chateau.