I’ll be honest; a lot of the Loire Valley featured run-down barns and beaten up farm implements interspersed with mostly new houses built in the last thirty years. But occasionally there were awe-inspiring châteaux and stunning towns that have preserved their historic architecture.
One such place is the city of Blois, which sits on the Loire River and features a good-sized château of the same name right in the middle of town.
The château is next to impossible to photograph adequately, so I’ve included this historic photograph above from the late Nineteenth Century. Blois has played a critical role in French history, once serving as the seat of the royal government, and also was where Marie de Medici was banished the first time she tried to overthrow her son Louis XIII.
We only looked at the outside of the immense palace, which sits on a rise in the center of town, but it features transitional architecture and design as France was pulled out of the Gothic into the Renaissance in the early Sixteenth Century.
Particularly in the use of white stone quoining and red brick, and also in the chimneys and dormers we see the influence in St. Louis architecture.
But let’s head into the town, which is a perfect example of how historic preservation can work with a modern city. Below, you can just see the tower of the cathedral peeking up above the houses.
While the Baron von Hausmann annihilated Medieval Paris during the reign of Napoleon III, here we see what France used to look like before grand urban renewal plans of the Nineteenth Century swept away the centuries of historic fabric in many French cities.
Narrow streets encourage walking and the automobile is not king.
Beautiful half-timber construction create unique spaces that are not easily replicated today. I wonder where that bridge below goes.
This house below carefully cantilevers out on each successively higher floor, increasingly floor space.
There are newer houses, but there is a uniform hue to the color palette that creates a harmony in the streetscape.
Street level retail allows for short walking trips for those who live above the ground floor.
This long staircase that lines up with the bridge over the Loire commemorates a famous citizen of the town.
And yes, there are half-flounders all over France–so much so that I am convinced that at least some of the influence on St. Louis’s own flounders comes from not just Germany but from here as well.
These two houses on a narrow back street were perhaps our favorite houses in the town.
But the Baroque arrived from Italy and we can see it in this church near the château with its own French twist.
The interior is painted in an exuberant manner, not with illusionistic ceiling paintings as you would expect in Italy, but with grotesques. There is a dome over the crossing, much like in so many churches in Rome, but it has a different feel.
The city of Blois demonstrates how a historic town can live in the modern world without largescale demolition to accommodate the automobile. America has much to learn from communities such as this.