Thursday, 5 September 2013

Château d'Ussé: The Real Sleeping Beauty's Castle

The Loire Valley is famous the world over for its unparalleled assemblage of Renaissance castles located in such close proximity. These include such well-known tourist destinations as the châteaux of Chambord, Blois, Cheverny, Chenonceau, Villandry, Saumur and Azay-le-Rideau. Just off the beaten path, tucked away on the tributary river Indre, overlooking the pleasant village of Rigny-Ussé and backing the Chinon forest, is a delightful castle that inspired a legendary fairy tale: Château d'Ussé, the real Sleeping Beauty Castle.

The Indre River.


Château d'Ussé.

The Château d'Ussé, of course, has a history that is quite its own. First constructed in the 11th century, the property underwent many restoration and rebuilding projects as it passed from hand to hand through the intrigues of marriage throughout the French court. The complex was complete in its present form for the most part by the 17th century, when it was frequented by literary giants like Charles Perrault and, in the 19th century, Chateaubriand. When one crosses the bridge over the Indre and approaches the great walls of Château d'Ussé, one would be blind not to see how Perrault could draw so potent inspiration from it.

Upon entering the gates, a circuit takes visitors through the Flamboyant Gothic chapel completed in 1612, the wine cellars hewn from living rock and the carriage house before admitting into the castle itself. The castle is still occupied to this day by the last family to have come into possession of it, Casimir de Blacas d' Aulps the 7th Duke of Blacas. Free reign is not given to the whole place, nor, sadly, to the forest behind it (which would beg for a little woodcutters cottage to complete the scene).

The Chapel.

Wine cellar.

Carriage house.

The main interior spaces open to the public reflect the castle's true history, with antiquities and mannequins outfitted in different fashion exhibitions throughout the year.


The drawing room.

An escape tunnel leading beneath the castle and into the forest beyond.

Be our guest...

In the 17th century, a decree went out over the land that each castle should prepare a permanent bedchamber for the use of King Louis XV should he pass through the region. Château d'Ussé was no exception, and prepared a room for him, along with an office antechamber.

The castle that inspired Sleeping Beauty could not do without a recapitulation of the tale. In the upper towers, an additional series of tableaux feature mannequins in mostly Disney-inspired costume (and the Disney-Tchaikovsky soundtrack). Some have suggested that Château d'Ussé was one of the castles that inspired the construction of those in Disney's empire. Whether or not this is true, one can enjoy a walkthrough of Sleeping Beauty's Castle in the Disneylands of Anaheim and Paris, as well as the real thing in rural France.

Thorns encircle the castle.

Maleficent crashes the christening.

Gifts of the fairies.

A last spinning wheel in the tower.

The prince arrives to Aurora's bedside.

Aurora's overgrown chamber.

Charles Perrault weaves his story for children.

Ashley surveys her kingdom.

The witch's tower.

A dusty and mysterious attic.

A visit to Château d'Ussé takes one away from the regular circuit trod by tourists, as it never appears on the lists of the Loire valley's most magnificent châteaux. Just getting there can be an adventure unto itself for those unaccustomed to driving in Europe. Though not as steeped in historical significance per se, it is a true pilgrimage for denizens of fairy land... A homecoming to the true life fairy tale castle.

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