Cheverny, France —It is a classical vision of France that emerges as the visitor faces the great Loire Valley castle of Cheverny. It is a château that is alive and well and bursting with life and intelligent innovations. This landed estate has belonged to the Hurault de Vibraye family for over 600 years and remains in the family to this day. But Cheverny has another place in history, 100 years ago on September 17th 1922, it became one of the very first stately homes to be open to the public, a place for history and culture to be shared with as many as possible. Today Constance and Charles-Antoine de Vibraye, the Marquise and Marquis live with their children at Cheverny and bring to life this exceptional place welcoming some 450,000 visitors a year. The castle is open 365 days a year and visitors can explore the richly furnished castle, the six beautiful gardens, the canal and even the forest. One special visit is to the kennels for Cheverny is also a leading venue for hunting with hounds, known as Vénerie in French.
It all began when Jean Hurault, whose family served several kings of France in finance and the military, acquired the lands in the middle of the 14th century. The family had been ennobled in the early 14th century by Philippe VI of Valois. Building on today’s castle, which was the life’s work of Earl Henri Hurault and his wife Marguerite Gaillard de la Morinière, began in 1624 and it would be their daughter Elisabeth Marquise de Montglas who would see to its completion. A beautiful castle was born, described as an enchanted palace by the Duchess of Montpensier, daughter of Gaston d’Orléans and the granddaughter of the great King Henry IV who slept in the bed that you can see in King’s bedchamber.
And that enchantment remains to this day from the sumptuous interiors, to the various gardens both ornamental and market growing heirloom vegetables, and the forest and canal which can be explored in electric cars and boats from April until November. The tulip garden currently has over 250,000 bulbs and is slated to grow even larger. The Love Garden brings together contemporary sculptures in a bucolic setting that includes a pond with rare black swans. There is a labyrinthe and a delightful tea salon serving beverages and light meals in the Orangerie outer building and various activities throughout the year for young and old alike. To take back home pick up a box of delicious vanilla wafers flavored with vanilla from Madagascar from the French house of Meert who has been making them since 1849. A special edition box has been launched for the 100th anniversary of the castle’s opening to the public. The castle even has a vineyard producing a lovely Loire Valley wine, Cheverny, which obtained its Designated Label of Origin in 1993. The castle is in the process of producing a delicate white organic Cheverny AOC.
The sumptuous interior decors were created by Jean Monier, a native of nearby Blois, who was sent to perfect his craft to Italy under the patronage of Queen Marie de Medici. Generally speaking the Italian influence was important in the Loire Valley. Cheverny also served as the model for the famous Château Moulinsart in the Tintin comic book series created by Hergé. A permanent exhibition, produced by the Hergé Foundation, devoted to the books and their beloved characters is located in an outer building of the castle.
The journey through the castle is a wonder world of art and craft starting with the 34 wooden panels in the dining room painted by Jean Monier and depicting the 17th century novel by Cervantes, Don Quixote. There is an 18th century harp from the house of Erard which is in perfect working condition replete with its 8 pedals. The largest room in the house is the Arms Room displaying a remarkable collection of weapons and armor from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries as well as a precious 17th century tapestry made at the Gobelins manufacture depicting the Abduction of Helen by Paris which kicked off the Trojan War in Greek mythology.
Christmas is a very special time of year at Cheverny in the castle and gardens and it begins on December 1st. Huge light-filled decorations illuminate the gardens while every room in the castle is beautifully decorated for the holiday, with a candy-filled forest in the Trophy room and an enchanted carriage. In the gardens some 100 decorated Christmas trees emerge including the giant Christmas tree which is 65 feet tall. Santa Claus and Mrs Claus will be on hand for the celebrations as well as Santa’s Christmas Train and you can dine in the beautifully decorated Orangerie during the festivities when Cheverny truly becomes an enchanted palace. The Christmas season lasts through January 14th.
One of the outstanding features at Cheverny are the kennels. There are some 120 hunting hounds in the Cheverny kennels which were created in 1850 by the then Marquis de Vibraye making it one of the oldest in France. The friendly white, black and tan colored hounds are a cross between the English fox hound and the French Poitevin. Some 100 puppies are born there each year and baptized in May. You can even suggest a name on the castle’s website. During the hunting season from October to March the right flank of the hounds have a V for de Vibraye shorn into their right flank. A visit to Cheverny offers a glimpse into both the past and the present. You don’t need to reserve for a visit to the castle however, you can reserve a stay at one of the beautifully-appointed Cheverny suites overlooking the castle, and close to plenty of sites to explore, on the Chateau de Cheverny website.
©Trish Valicenti for The Gourmet Gazette
Additional reporting: Sylvain Loire
The castle is open daily, times change depending on the time of year
Château de Cheverny, Avenue du Château
41700 Cheverny, France
+33 (0)2 54 79 96 29