Seven French kings lived in Blois' royal château, whose four grand wings were built during four distinct periods in French architecture: Gothic (13th century), Flamboyant Gothic (1498–1501), early Renaissance (1515–20) and classical (1630s). You can easily spend a half-day immersing yourself in the château's dramatic and bloody history and its extraordinary architecture. In July and August there are free tours in English.
The richly furnished complex's most famous Gothic feature is the richly painted Hall of the States-General, from the 13th century. In the Renaissance wing, the most extraordinary feature is the spiral loggia staircase, decorated with fierce salamanders and curly Fs, heraldic symbols of François I. Other château highlights include the Queen's Chamber, in which Catherine de Médicis (Henri II’s machiavellian wife) died in 1589. According to Alexandre Dumas, the queen stashed her poisons in the adjacent studiolo in secret cupboards behind the elaborate wall panels (from the 1520s).
The 2nd-floor King’s Bedchamber was the setting for one of the bloodiest episodes in the château’s history. In 1588 Henri III had his arch-rival, Duke Henri I de Guise, murdered by royal bodyguards (the king is said to have hidden behind a tapestry while the dastardly deed was done). He had the duke’s brother, the Cardinal de Guise, killed the next day. The bloodletting of the Wars of Religion continued when Henri III himself was murdered just eight months later by a vengeful monk. Dramatic and very graphic oil paintings illustrate these gruesome events next door in the Council Room.
The Musée des Beaux-Arts (Fine Arts Museum), in the Louis XII wing (look for his heraldic emblem, the porcupine), displays 300 16th- to 19th-century paintings, sculptures and tapestries.
In spring and summer, a sound and light show brings the château’s history and architecture to life with dramatic lighting and narration. Tickets are sold at the château.