Chateau Gaillard, Amboise, France.

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Château Gaillard

Top choice in Amboise

The most exciting Loire château to open to visitors in years, Gaillard is the earliest expression of the Italian Renaissance in France. Begun in 1496, the château was inspired by the refined living that Charles VIII fell in love with during his Italian campaign. The harmonious, Renaissance-style gardens were laid out by master gardener Dom Pacello (1453–1534), an Italian Benedictine monk who brought the first orange trees to France.

In 1494 Charles VIII led a French invasion force into Italy. The expedition failed, but while there the French king discovered the Renaissance, including the elegance and refinement that he sought to recreate at the Château Gaillard, his private residence and pleasure palace. The king brought 22 Italian master artisans back to France, including Dom Pacello, whose gardens harmoniously blend with the château and the site's geography. About 90 varieties of grape grow in the small vineyard. Gaillard was the site of France's first royal orangerie (used to protect sensitive fruit trees during winter), now home to 60 varieties of orange tree.

The elegant château, its royal status indicated by the cornices' four parallel decorative elements, is decorated with 16th-century furniture and modern stained-glass medallions inspired by medieval miniatures. Beyond the 'cabinet of curiosities', with its 16th-century 'mask of shame' from Germany and antique snuff bottles, are a vaulted 13th-century kitchen, a 17th-century troglodyte kitchen and a 4m-wide spiral staircase from the Middle Ages.

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