Imposingly built on an rocky hill, and towering over the Vienne River and the medieval town below, the fabulous Château de Chinon is an impressive and picturesque sight viewed from the banks of the river. The views from its ramparts and towers are even more impressive, with sweeping vistas over the surrounding valley and down the Vienne as it stretches into the distance.
More than its location, the history of Chinon is the history of the bitter Anglo-French rivalry that consumed this region for hundreds of years. This was the main residence of Henry II, the Plantagenet King of England, Count of Anjou, Count of Maine, Duke of Normandy, Duke of Aquitaine, Count of Nantes, Lord of Ireland, and ruler of Wales, Scotland and Brittany. It represents the high watermark of ‘English’ power in France.
After three decades of fighting Louis VII, the King of France, and having successfully defeated an alliance of his own sons against him, Henry died at Chinon in 1189. At the time of his death, the Angevin Empire that he’d founded stretched across four countries, including the western half of modern-day France. It wasn’t to last.
Henry’s crown and titles passed to Richard I, the Lionheart, who spent most of his time crusading in the Holy Lands, as a prisoner of Saladin, or fighting to hold on to his French possessions. Richard’s rebellious brother John inherited his title as King of England, but his French possessions refused to recognise his claim on them. Bit by bit, the Angevin Empire fell apart, and Chinon was lost to French King, Philip II in 1205.
This wasn’t the last time Chinon played a role in the rivalry between England and France. During the Hundred Years’ War, the future Charles VII of France installed his court here – Paris and much of north-west France was under English control. Here, in 1429, Joan of Arc visited Charles for the first time to persuade him that she was God’s messenger. She went on to lead the King’s army to defeat the English at Orléans.
Today, this history is inventively told through a combination of video and written text throughout the castle and grounds. It’s a really pleasant place to wander around, with a nice cafe in the grounds, before either walking or taking a free lift down the hill to the medieval town below. The staff at the castle were really friendly, and you’ll find lots of activities taking place throughout the day.
From the castle’s battlements you can see vineyards stretching off into the distance. This is one of the Loire’s main wine regions, rightly famed for the Chinon Rouge wine made from Cabernet Franc grapes. Around the town, and throughout the region, are plenty of wine caves and cellars; had I not been driving I’d definitely have been tempted to try a glass or two.
The town of Chinon, home to around 8,000 people, is a sleepy place that exudes history. It’s full of ancient buildings, some dating from the medieval period, other from the 17th and 18th centuries. We wandered around, exploring the narrow streets, churches and squares, but couldn’t stay for too long as we were at the start of our trip back to the Netherlands and had another Loire château to visit.