Spiral staircase in the Francis I wing, the Royal ChÃ?¢teau de Blois, France; Château Royal de Blois

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Château Royal de Blois

Top choice in Blois

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 (at 10.30am, 1.15pm and 3pm).

The most famous part of the Gothic wing is the richly painted Hall of the States-General, from the 13th century. Along one wall, interactive screens illustrate the development of the château over the centuries.

In the Renaissance wing you'll find the extraordinary spiral loggia staircase, decorated with fierce salamanders and curly Fs, heraldic symbols of François I. Other highlights include the Queen's Bedchamber, in which Catherine de Médicis (Henri II’s machiavellian wife) died in 1589, and the King’s Bedchamber, 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 Flamboyant Gothic Louis XII wing (look for his heraldic emblem, the porcupine), displays 300 16th- to 19th-century paintings, sculptures and tapestries.

Admission includes use of an augmented-reality tablet computer called a HistoPad. Kids aged five to 12 can guide their parents through the château with the interactive Parcours Enfants (Path for Children) app; wi-fi is available to download it.

From late April to late September, a sound-and-light show brings the château’s history and architecture to life with dramatic lighting and narration; an all-new 360-degree spectacle was inaugurated in 2018.

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