Valençay is actually in the Berry region but it can be included with those of the Loire Valley because of its period of its construction and its huge size, in which it resembles Chambord. Valençay was built in 1540 by Jacques d’Estampes. He had married the daughter of a financier, who brought him a large dowry, and he wanted a residence worthy of his new fortune. The 12th century castle was demolished and in its place rose the present building. Charles-Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord, who had begun his career under Louis XVI as Bishop of Autun, was Minister of Foreign Affairs when he bought Valençay in 1803 at the request of Napoleon, so that he would have somewhere to receive important foreign visitors. Talleyrand managed his career so skilfully that he did not finally retire until 1834. The railings of the entrance, with the former orangery and outbuildings were renovated in 1785 and again restored in 1805. In 1810 an exquisite theatre was inaugurated in one of the renovated outbuildings. Restored in 1989, it is a precious example of an Empire-style theatre preserved with its sets. The beautiful French-style gardens with its statues and fountains welcomes visitors to the château. Before entering the château’s courtyard just through the keep, I wandered alongside the 18th century south wing to take a closer look at the roof-level Mansard windows and the alternating small circular apertures called l’œil de bœuf windows. The double-return staircase, designed by the architect Henri Dauvergne in 1882-1883, leads to the courtyard from the small Duchess’ Garden along the eastern slope of the estate. From these steps, there is a splendid view of the forest of Garsenland and the hunting lodge in the distance. It was built by the architect Charles Bonnard, in 1810, and is one of the very rare examples of Italianate construction still in existence in France. Just beneath the 18th century wing of the château are the pantry, kitchen and wine cellar. They are enormous and demonstrate how much Talleyrand cared about food. His table was famous throughout Europe, notably thanks to his talented cook, Antonin Carême, whom he discovered in 1804. The entrance pavilion is a huge building, designed like a keep, but for show not defence, with many window, harmless turrets and fancy machicolations. The Talleyrand coat of arms hangs above the carriage entrance. Beside the 16th century keep is an outdoor gallery lined with basket arches and square pillars. It was inspired by the ones at Veuil and Villandry. The statue of Paris as a Shepherd, attributed to Pietro Francavilla is said to have come from the Palazzo Vecchietti in Florence. In the central room of the keep, in addition to the French-style ceiling, two 17th century fresco paintings have survived: a still life depicting a basket of flowers and a picturesque landscape with a fisherman in the foreground. The Grand Salon contains a remarkable collection of Empire chairs (c. 1808-1810), upholstered in tapestries worked, it is said, by the ladies of the Spanish court during their exile at Valençay. Behind the two columns in the room is the Empire table thought to have come from Kaunitz Palace, where Talleyrand stayed during the Congress of Vienna (1815). Hanging on the wall is a full-length portrait of Talleyrand (1806) by Pierre-Paul Prud'hon and a portrait of Talleyrand’s mother, Marie-Victoire-Eléonore de Damas d'Antigny (1728-1809) by Joseph Chabord. The south tower of the château was built in 1770 and is therefore referred to as the new tower. A room on the second floor houses the Music Salon. It has fine Louis XVI panelling, a piano made by Sébastien Érard dated 1808, and a Restoration style harp. This was just one of the apartments that belonged to the lady of the house. This turned out not to be his wife but the wife of his nephew, Dorothée, the Duchess of Dino. With her in the role of as Talleyrand’s chief political collaborator she also took on the duties of the perfect hostess at Valençay. Assisted by Dorothée, Talleyrand renovated and reappointed apartments, galleries and everyday living spaces. The state bedchamber, known as the king’s bedchamber, on the first floor, which was occupied by Ferdinand VII of Spain for six years, was decorated with a valuable grisaille wallpaper, produced in the Dufour factory in 1816, which depicted the story of Cupid and Psyche. Most of the mahogany furniture dates from the Empire or Restoration period. The tour of the ground floor includes the great Louis XVI vestibule and the gallery devoted to the Talleyrand-Périgord family with portraits of Talleyrand’s ancestors painted by Joseph Chabord from 1817. Empire chairs and a superb collection of 19th century neoclassical sculptures complete the decoration. Talleyrand’s Bedchamber, on the first floor, contains Empire furniture, some of which came from his Parisian mansion, the Hôtel de Saint-Florentin, where he would later die in 1838. There is a bust of Talleyrand on a table in the center of the room as well as showcases nearby which hold clothes, ceremonial costumes and decorations that evoke the minister’s long diplomatic career. Also on the first floor is the Duchess of Dino’s Bedchamber. It boasts an outstanding suite of mahogany furniture including a Restoration platform bed in Cuban mahogany, adorned with four columns. On the wall, Joseph Chabord painted the full-length portrait of Dorothée, Duchess of Dino, in ceremonial dress, in 1820. The next room on show is the Madame de Staël Bedchamber. It is on the first floor of the new tower and owes its name to the Empire-style bed that belonged to her. The guéridon with Egyptian motifs was designed for one of the follies in the garden, an Egyptian temple (now lost). In the Périgord Room is a collection of furniture that belonged to Talleyrand. The large early 19th century secretary is said to have been a gift from Prince Murat. Like all convertible furniture, it contains several secret drawers and hiding places. The prince used the worktable when he acted as ambassador to London (1830-1834). I’ve no idea who the bust on the left is. The one on the right is of Voltaire. The Blue Salon contains a pair of large Chinese-style vases that were fashionable in the 19th century, flanked by a Boulle bureau inlaid with brass and tortoiseshell. On the wall, a full-length portrait of Frederick-Augustus I of Saxony (1750-1827), who became king in 1806, was a gift from the sovereign to Talleyrand. The splendid ormolu-mounted Japanned writing desk with tiered drawers seems to be an original 19th century creation in Louis XVI style attributable to Charles-Guillaume Winckelsen (1812-1871). It was in this room that the Treaty of Valençay was signed on December 10, 1813, thirty minutes after midnight. A clock in the room marks the historic moment. The long gallery on the second floor serves the upstairs apartments. It is filled with bureaus of different designs. At the opposite end is a small room that used to be a chapel. Today it houses a copy of Houdon’s statue of Diana. Going down the Staircase of Honor, one arrives at the dining room. One could seat up to 36 guests around the large mahogany table. Louis Hersent’s portrait of Louis Philippe was a gift from the king to Talleyrand on his return from London. Les Pierres d'Aurèle Hotel in Saint-Georges-sur-Cher was just one of the places we stayed while we were travelling around the Loire. It’s situated in the middle of a 15-hectare vineyard from which the grapes are used to make their own wine. If you feel like it, the host will give you a wine tasting session and you can purchase a variety of reds and whites made on the property. The rooms have wonderful views over the vineyards and it is exceptionally quiet. The breakfast is served downstairs in one of the three dining rooms or, if you prefer, outside on the patio. I guess if you plan on visiting châteaux along the river, this would be a great place to stay.