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Landmark French chateau set for major renovations

travel Updated: Apr 21, 2012 18:17 IST
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With its fairy-tale facade, elaborately turreted roofline and vast grounds, Chambord is probably the French Loire Valley's best-known Renaissance Chateau.

But every house and garden needs a spruce-up now and then, and the French state is about to embark on a four-million-euro ($5.3-million) renovation of this grand home which mixes mediaeval motifs with elegant fancy.

"The general idea of these projects is to re-energise the perception of Chambord," says the estate's executive director Jean d'Haussonville.

"We want to highlight Chambord's uniqueness as an architectural masterpiece and show that it is on paar with some of humanity's grandest monuments, including the Great Pyramid, Angkor Wat or Machu Picchu in Peru," he added.

The chateau attracted some two million visitors last year, of whom 780,000 paid to visit the building, which has been listed as a regional UNESCO World Heritage cultural site, while others toured the immense grounds for free.

The chateau is located in the Loire Valley in central France, about 200 kilometres (125 miles) southwest of Paris.

Renovations, which should not impede the tourist traffic, are to begin in the autumn, nearly 500 years after King Francois I commissioned the building of the immense chateau, the largest of the Loire grand estates, which boasts 440 rooms, 365 chimneys and a 5,500-hectare (21-square mile) estate.

It also boasts the largest enclosed forest park in Europe, a long-time favourite for presidential hunts.

The renovations include a re-working of the lawn on the estate's north and east, following plans drawn by the architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart for Louis XIV. Completion is scheduled for 2014.

"We're able to rebuild the gardens thanks to plans discovered in the national archives," says curator Luc Forlivesi.

Walkways leading to the castle, which are dusty in the summer and muddy in winter, will be resurfaced and visitor accomodations will be refitted. A farm will be converted into a luxury hotel with a view of the chateau.

The chateau hopes renovations will help boost its reputation as a cultural centre. Last year, the home hosted its first classical musical festival and it is now highlighting the works of modern artists, as well as offering artist residencies and theatrical events.

The state-run firm in charge of the estate hopes to increase visitor numbers to more than one million paying customers in the coming years.

"We would like to invite the public back to Chambord, even if they think they already know it," d'Haussonville said.