Our first stop on the day was at Chenonceau, widely known as the Loire Valley's most beautiful as it straddles not the Loire but the Cher river. This château is one of the rare ones that's actually furnished as it would've been in the XVI century, and tells the story of the rivaly between Catherine de Médicis and Diane de Poitiers. It's also known for its beautiful floral bouquets that add a nice touch to the faded tapestries and such. We ended the visit with a picnic lunch on the castle grounds, then pushed onto the castle the Diane ended with, Chaumont.
Just 20kms north of Chenonceau is Chaumont which was a new addition to the regulary French Exchange itinerary. The castle ground are very striking and are approached first by walking to the stables and such. The interior of the castle is remarkably less interesting and at the time contained a modern art installation which was not very popular among our group. The students were eager to move on to the final castle visit of the trip, the Clos Lucé in Amboise.
The Clos Lucé is generally known as Leonardo da Vinci's castle. The architecture isn't very spectacular; in fact, it's dwarfed by the imposing Amboise castle which is really a fortress overlooking the Loire. Instead, da Vinci lived the last four years of his life in a hôtel particulier (mansion) that now contains sketches, mock-ups, and (new since I was last there) video and 3D recreations of his most fantastic innovations. It was quite amazing to see how this man imagined the world 500 years ago. In the end, though, some students were more eager for coffee and ice cream in the town center, while others stayed back to stroll through the da Vinci sculpture garden.