By Rick Steves and Steve Smith
This stately hunting palace is one of the more lavishly furnished Loire châteaux. Because the immaculately preserved Cheverny (shuh-vehr-nee) was built and decorated in a relatively short 30 years, from 1604 to 1634, 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 (not open to the public, but 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 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 given food 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 the dogs gather enthusiastically around the food, yelping 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.
Nearby, Tintin comic lovers can enter a series of fun rooms designed to take them into a Tintin adventure, hunters can inspect an antler-filled trophy room, and gardeners can prowl the château's fine kitchen and flower gardens.
The château is flanked by a pleasant village, with a small grocery, cafés offering good lunch options, and a few hotels. You can get to Cheverny by bus from Blois or by minivan tour from Amboise.
Steve Smith is the co-author of Rick Steves' France.