Fifteen kilometres southeast of Blois, the Château de Cheverny is the quintessential seventeenth-century château. Built between 1604 and 1634, and little changed since, it presents an immaculate picture of symmetry, harmony and the aristocratic good life. This continuity may well be because descendants of the first owners still own, live in and go hunting from Cheverny today. Its stone, from Bourré on the River Cher, lightens with age, and the château gleams in its acres of rolling parkland. The interior decoration has only been added to, never destroyed, and the extravagant display of paintings, furniture, tapestries and armour against the gilded, sculpted and carved walls and ceilings is extremely impressive. The most precious objects are hard to pick out from the sumptuous whole, but some highlights are the painted wall panels in the dining room telling stories from Don Quixote; the vibrant, unfaded colours of the Gobelin tapestry in the arms room; and the three rare family portraits by François I’s court painter, François Clouet, in the gallery.
Inspired by the Château de Cheverny, Hergé created Marlinspike Hall as a country home for Captain Haddock in the Adventures of Tintin. The Hergé Foundation has a small but fascinating permanent exhibition, which is worth a visit.
You can explore the elegant grounds on foot, or take a sedate tour on a little train and by boat (April to mid-Nov; €17.90 including château and museum entry). The kennels near the main entrance are certainly worth a look: a hundred lithe hounds mill and loll about while they wait for the next stag, and feeding time (5pm) is something to be seen. Cheverny’s hunt culls around thirty deer a year, a figure set by the National Forestry Office.