It was during the period of creative energy of the early years of the reign of François I that the Château of Azay was built. Located in Touraine, it is one of the string of prestigious châteaux of the Loire where, for a century, the Kings of France liked to stay.
Built by Gilles Berthelot, a rich financier and member of the Touraine bourgeoisie, he displayed the characteristic enthusiasm of the cultured upper classes for the Italian Renaissance. This edifice inaugurated the era of leisure residences that combined the charm of a French-style château with the majesty of an Italian palace. The water surrounding the château, the corner turrets and the circular walk along the external walls were architectural features taken from the medieval tradition. But the symmetrical distribution of the large openings gives the façades a regular appearance and reveals the influence of Italian architecture. The impressive staircase is a fine example of the sumptuous sculpted décor that is the most prestigious feature of this piece of architecture. This light-filled, transparent space, which opens on to the courtyard of honour via loggias and onto the attractive grounds on the other side via large bay windows, connects the château to its location.
In the 19th Century, the Marquis of Biencourt carried out some major work on the interior and exterior of the château. The two towers that now stand at the corners of the courtyard façade give the château a unity of style that it did not previously enjoy. At the same time, the library and the large sitting room were redecorated in a neo-renaissance style. The site was itself redesigned into large landscaped grounds. To the South and West, two mirror-like lakes were created, in which the façades are reflected.
Today, the interior offers an insight into life inside the building since the Renaissance, at various times in its history.
Several options for visiting the château and grounds are available: you may visit independently, or with a tour guide, participate in a conference tour or we can offer audio-guide handsets in various languages. The château’s educational department can be used to help young visitors understand and appreciate the building and its grounds via educational visits, discovery tours and heritage workshops lead by art and dance teachers, storytellers and musicians. During annual events such as Monument Jeu d’Enfant or Monum Vert, various educational and artistic opportunities are available for children and families. During the year, concerts, exhibitions and other forms of artistic expression contribute to the cultural life of the monument.
It was in the creative environment of the first years of the reign of Francis I that the château of Azay-le-Rideau was built. In 1515, Gilles Berthelot, one of the new courtiers and governor-general of the kingdom’s finances, replaced the small fortified castle his father had bought by two large wings protected by branches of the Indre river. At the angles, elegant little towers suspended over the water recall the woman who had inspired the house: Philippe Lesbahy, Gilles Berthelot’s courageous wife who was unable to complete the reconstruction after the disgrace and then the death of her husband.
The house has all the refinements of Renaissance architecture and epitomises the qualities of a traditional French château with its high roofs, tall watch-turrets, long rows of windows and dormer-windows and majestic Italian structure which gives the building a wonderfully symmetrical facade. In the courtyard, there is a splendid grand staircase built by an unknown master architect. From the loggias which are underlined by rich decorative sculptures, there is a wonderful view of the park. It was created at the Romantic period, when the new masters, the Marquis of Biencourt, restored the château.
Today, the facade is gently reflected in the calm river, and the interior is richly furnished and decorated with works of art. Tapestries hang in the great hall where balls and banquets were held. Portraits and historical paintings decorate the apartment which accommodated Louis XIII as well as the salons, library and dining room, which were redecorated by the Marquis of Biencourt.
- The library
Equipped with a fireplace, the library’s décor is composed of wood panelling and painted cloth. Here you can see the engravings, plans and drawings illustrating the restoration carried out by Biencourt during the 19th Century.
- The sitting room
Located opposite the library, the sitting room draws the visitor into its comfortable and welcoming atmosphere. The windows, adorned with 16th and 17th Century stained glass, open onto the river and the grounds landscaped by Biencourt. The large paintings and royal portraits are reminders of the Valois era, at a time when the château was close to completion.
- The antechamber
Cross the hallway and the landing that serves the ground floor and climb the great staircase to enter the antechamber of the King’s apartments. Several portraits remind us of Kings François I, Henri III and Louis XIII who stayed at Azay and who were particularly fond of it. The red and gold wall coverings also evoke the grandness this château enjoyed.
- The great bedchamber
Amongst the furniture in the great bedchamber is a cabinet in blackened pear wood decorated with scenes engraved in ivory representing the Thirty Years War. You can also see a set of tapestries dating from the reign of Louis XIII.
- The loggia
Retrace your steps to the landing, and take the great staircase up to the upper loggia. As you climb the stairs, note the watchful eyes of the figures sculpted into the medallions of the ceiling vault.
- The great hall
Return to the first floor to visit the great hall, where balls and banquets were held. The salamander, François I’s insignia, painted onto the immense fireplace, and the foliage frieze under the moldings give an idea of what the hall must have looked like when finished. In the great hall are displayed some of the château’s most beautiful tapestries, dating from 16th and 17th Centuries.
- The blue bedchamber
Presented today as it might have looked at the end of 17th Century, the blue bedchamber contains a bed of embroidered satin and some remarkably well preserved tapestries evoking hunting scenes of a striking realism.
- The bedchamber of the head of the household
Walk through a narrow office and into a bedchamber whose windows open onto a courtyard and the garden. The tapestries and furniture, particularly the cabinet with sculpted doors, evoke the influence the Italian Renaissance exerted over courtiers of the 16th Century.
See the listing of the Hotels at Azay-le-Rideau
See the listing of the Hotels at Tours
Main entrance to the Château d’Azay-le-Rideau
rue de Pineau
From Tours: exit n° 11 and secondary road D 751 towards Chinon
itiers: main road N 10 to Sainte-Maure, then secondary roads D 760 and D 57 to Azay-le-Rideau
West of the Paris/Bordeaux road
27 km southeast of Tours