During our fall trip to Europe, we visited Château de Cheverny in France’s Loire Valley. This one of the most popular, privately-owned châteaux of the region, and is an interesting attraction if you’re visiting France. This post offers my tips for visiting Cheverny, plus a photo tour of the chateau, and information about its history.
That history is fairly interesting, and mostly revolves around the back-and-forth of the chateau in the Hurault family. This dates back to Henri Hurault, a lieutenant-general and military treasurer for Louis XIII, who purchased the grounds for the chateau.
As a result of fraud, the Hurault family lost Château de Cheverny. King Henri II then gifted the property to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. You might recall her name from our Château de Chenonceau post (she was one of its “Six Ladies”). She preferred that chateau, so she sold Château de Cheverny to the former owner’s son, Philippe Hurault, thus bringing it back into the Hurault family.
Phillippe then built the present château between 1624 and 1630, with exterior designs being done by the sculptor-architect Jacques Bougier. His design of Château de Cheverny is based upon the Palais du Luxembourg. Interior design was done by the daughter of Henri Hurault and Marguerite, marquise de Montglas.
Over the course of the next 150 years ownership changed hands many times, and in 1768 a major interior renovation was undertaken. The Hurault family had sold the property in 1802, but re-purchased it once again in 1824.
To this day, the Hurault family owns Château de Cheverny, with the Marquis de Vibraye being the present owner.
In 1914, the Huraults opened Château de Cheverny to the general public, and they purportedly still reside in portions of the chateau that are not open to the general public. Based on my rough take, at least half of the building is not open to the public. Somewhat of a bummer, but neat to see a “functional” chateau.
Now for our tips and review of Château de Cheverny…
My tips for Château de Cheverny are pretty sparse. You can find general info about planning your visit to Cheverny on their official website, which includes operating hours, tour times, and current admission costs.
We visited on a whim, and hadn’t done any research before stopping here. In fact, we didn’t even know that Château de Cheverny still has the pack of hound dogs that made it famous until we heard them. Having seen photos and video of packs of hounds roaming the grounds on (what appeared to be) a ‘hunt reenactment’, I asked a staff person when the dogs come out. She told me “first thing in the morning.”
However, in researching online, I can find literally nothing that corroborates this. There are articles that consistently state the dogs are fed daily, and that’s something worth watching. Cheverny’s website even has a schedule for feedings, but there’s no mention of when the dogs go on a hunt, much less a consistent schedule for it.
On the one hand, I could see this being a daily thing; an almost ritualistic custom or tradition even when there is no actual hunt. On the other hand, dogs are unpredictable and this chateau is privately owned, so I could see limiting guest exposure to them to minimize liability/risk concerns. Since I can’t find many tourist photos of the dogs roaming the grounds, my guess is that it’s not a regular thing.
Aside from the dogs, the highlight of Château de Cheverny is the interiors. Almost immediately upon entering the château and we were greeted by dinosaur antlers. Like Chambord, Cheverny featured antlers in all of some of its decorating.
These are actually cervus megaceros antlers, which is the prehistoric ancestor of the elk and not technically a dinosaur. Tomayto, Tomahto. Counts as a dinosaur in my book. (Your move, Gaston.)
In terms of seeing the interiors, this might be one place where the guided tour is worthwhile. A decent amount of information is included in the flier you’re handed upon entering the chateau, but we overheard the guided tour, and it was much more instructive.
Given that each interior space is packed with art and other objects, there’s a lot you are prone to overlook if just browsing on your own.
With regard to tours, we also noticed that, between the official tour being offered and third party tours of the chateau, there were ‘pockets’ of crowds. We were able to skip ahead of one tour group, which then served as a buffer for us from other crowds during our tour of Château de Cheverny.
This was particularly nice, as some of these rooms and halls are a bit tight, and we went from being in crowded rooms to being in empty ones after passing by the tour group. Given how many tour groups we saw during our visit, my guess is this is a strategy you might be able to adopt (or else I wouldn’t be mentioning it) if you visit.
Now for a quick review. We enjoyed Château de Cheverny, but it lacked a certain grandiosity that really wowed us. Instead, the draw here is the maze of rooms through which you walk and learn about the lifestyle of the Hurault family over the centuries and by extension, other similarly-situated royal families (it’s not simply an exercise in self-adoration by the family).
Each room packs a powerful punch (moreso than either Chambord or Cheverny), and is filled with numerous tapestries and works of art. Château de Cheverny displays a range of furniture and meticulously arranged interior decor, all of which is remarkably well preserved.
It’s really neat to see, and paints a better picture of noble life in France better than the other chateaux we visited.
For some reason, there was a LEGO exhibit at Cheverny when we visited (see the dogs above). Now, I love LEGO just as much as the next 8-year old trapped in a 31-year old body, but the execution here was tacky.
LEGO creations were actually placed within the room displays, which are otherwise period-specific time capsules, either displacing authentic parts of the room or “supplementing” them.
To me, this is at odds with the chateau’s main purpose and value. Château de Cheverny presents itself as a historic landmark and a big part of its appeal is that these rooms are preserved slices of life in their era. Legos were not part of that era.
I can understand and appreciate that historical landmarks want to ‘stay relevant’ and appeal to a wide range of visitors, but I think the means of accomplishing that in this setting is by having a pop art (or whatever) display somewhere on the premises outside of the chateau itself.
Trying to combine two different forms of art like this feels forced, and cheapens the core experience.
You don’t have to look far for an example of how this could be executed appropriately, as Cheverny has such an example: its dedicated exhibition to Tintin in one of its satellite buildings.
Why the same approach was not taken with LEGO is unclear, but such a dedicated exhibition would have been infinitely preferable to cramming LEGOs into the preserved rooms.
With that said, the LEGO displays hardly nullify the allure of the individual rooms. They are beautiful despite the LEGO displays, and we found these rooms to be the highlight of Château de Cheverny.
The parks and gardens outside were also nice, but we did not find anything particularly noteworthy about these as compared to similar gardens and parks throughout France.
Of the three châteaux we visited in the Loire Valley, I would rank Cheverny last. This is not necessarily an indictment of Cheverny. In isolation, it was pretty cool. The grounds were nice, the dogs were a unique element, and the rooms (LEGOs aside) were impeccably preserved and staged really well. Even with the embarrassment of canine riches and actual riches in the rooms, it just did not measure up to the other chateaux we visited.
That leaves me in a bit of a predicament when it comes to a recommendation. We are glad we visited Château de Cheverny and liked what we saw, and we also appreciated how it was distinct from the other two spots we visited that day. Its highlight was the lavish interiors, which were superior to those at Chenonceau and Chambord. However, with dozens of other high profile chateaux in the Loire Valley, I can’t help but wonder if we would have been more satisfied had we chose a different one to visit. In light of that, I’ll give this something of a tepid recommendation: I doubt you will regret visiting Château de Cheverny if that’s what you opt to do, but I’m betting that you could do better if you only have a day or two in the Loire Valley.
These photos were shot by me with a Nikon D750. Most photos (including all interiors) were taken with the Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 Lens, handheld. For additional trip planning advice for France, we recommend Rick Steves France 2017; it’s by far the best guide to France (we favor Rick Steves’ advice for all of Europe. His PBS specials are also excellent.)
Have you visited the Loire Valley? Which chateaux did you visit? Any tips or thoughts to add? If you haven’t visited, what do you think of Château de Cheverny? Questions? Share any thoughts you have in the comments!