A truly monumental chateau standing in very expansive grounds, Chambord is a sprawling testament to the extraordinary power and wealth of the French monarchy during the Renaissance. The lengthy drive through the heavily-forested walled grounds is impressive enough, but your first sight of this 440-room building will stop you in your tracks. Built in the sixteenth century to serve as a hunting lodge for Francis I, Chambord is reputed to be the largest of the many chateaux in the Loire valley. Surrounded by a moat, the chateau's central cluster of ornate towers and 365 chimneys rise from a vast partially fortified building, which sits on a pancake-flat plain. Once you have taken in the long view, it is worth joining the queues to purchase an entrance ticket to have a wander around inside.
In August, the sheer number of tourists creates various bottlenecks as you enter the chateau and work your way into the inner courtyard. But once you are in the labyrinth of rooms, corridors and 85 staircases, you should find enough space to appreciate both the sheer scale and the intricacy of this remarkable building. The broad double helix stone staircase in the central keep is both impressive and mind boggling, while the rambling roof terrace with its views over the surrounding parkland is well worth a linger. Inside the chateau, most of the rooms are disappointingly bare, but some impressive furnishings do remain, while art exhibitions fill many of the empty spaces. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Château of Chambord is aristocratic French history writ very, very large. 8/10