France – Azay-le-Rideau

It is but a few miles from Chinon to Azay-le-Rideau, with its ancient church, and beautiful Renaissance chateau, built by Gilles Berthelot in the sixteenth century. This Berthelot was an interesting person, a descendant of one of those bourgeois gentilshonunes whom Louis XI. delighted to honour. Gilles himself was a Treasurer of France under Francis I., and very rich, having an extraordinary genius for inventing new taxes. In spite of this gift, however, he fell into disgrace, and had to flee into exile, just as he was completing his magnificent castle. His possessions being confiscated, the chateau was taken over by Francis, who finished it, placing his ” salamander ” over the entrance, and below, the device ” Nutrisco et extinguo “; and from henceforth it became one of the King’s hunting lodges. They must have had very cosy times when they visited this little castle—Francis and his Flying Squadron of ladies. The kitchen, with its enormous hearth, and walls still hung with fifteenth-century pots, pans, grills, and ladles, looks capable of providing for any number of hungry hunters.

A solemn and impressive individual met us .at the entrance, and showed us round.

” I dare say many a good dance has been held here,” I remarked as we reached La Salle des Fetes, with its Gobelin tapestry and shining floor.

“Doubtless, Madame,” he answered gravely. ” They knew how to dance—ces Rois Valois—if they knew nothing else.” And he spoke truly, for it was the epoch when the art of dancing reached its highest perfection.

Presently we came to the sleeping chamber of the ” Salamander,” and pictured him with his long nose, lying behind the blue curtains of the bed. And the rooms are not uninhabited, for, besides the phantoms who flit about them, the walls are covered with portraits of the royal persons who once dwelt there. In the library, for instance, we find Henry IV. with Queen Margot, and Gabrielle d’Estrees, who, their earthly differences finished, are hobnobbing quite peacefully together. And there is Francis him-self, with his favourite Duchesse d’Etampes, and his daughter-in-law, Catherine de Medicis.

Outside, the grounds are bright with dahlias; the old balustrades mantled with pale wistaria and crimson creepers. I can see Francis at the door, calling, in his impatient voice, for his, horse, while servants run hither and thither. He fed on fire, they say, and certainly his temper was warm enough to justify the supposition.