Cheverny: A Château That's Gone to the Dogs
Those who complain that the Loire châteaux have stark and barren interiors missed Cheverny (shuh-vehr-nee). Because the palace was built and decorated from 1604 to 1634, and is immaculately preserved, it offers a unique architectural harmony and unity of style. From the start, this château has been in the Hurault family, and Hurault pride shows in its flawless preservation and intimate feel. The viscount's family still lives on the third floor. (You'll see some family photos.) Cheverny was spared by the French Revolution; the owners were popular then, as today, even among the village farmers.
Barking dogs remind visitors that the viscount still loves to hunt. The kennel (200 yards in front of the château, look for Chenil signs) is especially interesting at dinnertime, when the 70 hounds are fed. The dogs — half English foxhound and half French Poitou — are bred to have big feet and bigger stamina. They're fed once a day and the feeding (la soupe des chiens) is a fun spectacle that shows off their strict training. Before chow time, the hungry hounds fill the little kennel rooftop and watch the trainer bring in troughs stacked with delectable raw meat. He opens the gate, and they gather enthusiastically around the food and yelp hysterically. Only when the trainer says to eat can they dig in. You can see the dogs at any time, but the feeding show is fun to plan for. The adjacent trophy room is stuffed with more than a thousand antlers and the heads of five wild boar.
Pick up the English self-guided tour brochure — which describes the interior beautifully — inside the château, not where you buy your ticket. The town of Cheverny, in the Loire Valley, is easy to reach from Blois by excursion bus.