Blois (pop. 50, 000) is one of the Loire's most popular and historical cities. Home to monarchs Louis XII and Frangois I, Blois's chateau was the Versailles of the late 15th and early 16th centuries; today it exemplifies the progression of French architecture from the 13th to the 17th century. Housed within are excellent museums: The recently renovated Musee de Beaux-Arts, featuring a 16th-century portrait gallery; the Musee d'Archeologle, showcasing locally excavated glass and ceramics; and the Musee Lapidalre, preserving sculpted pieces from nearby chateaux.
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(02 54 90 33 33. Open July-Aug. Daily 9am-7: 30pm; Apr. -June and Sept. 9am-6pm; Oct. -Mar. 9am-12: 30pm and 2-5: 30pm. ?6, students ‚4. ) At night the seemingly tame Blois lights up. Move from the cafes of Place de la Resistance to iLe Blue Night, 15 r. Haute, for a selection of over 100 international beers served in a bar that resembles a medieval chapel. (Open daily 6pm-4am. )
Trains leave pi. De la Gare for: Orleans (30min. 14 per day, ‚8. 40); Paris (l%hr. 8 per day, ‚20) via Orleans and Tours (lhr. 13 per day, ‚8. 20). Transports Loir-et-Cher (TLC; 02 54 58 55 44) sends buses from the station and pi. Victor Hugo to nearby chateaux (45min. ; 2 per day; ‚10, students ‚8. ). Or, rent a bike from Amster Cycles, 7 r. De Desfray, one block from the train station, for the hour-long ride to the valley. (02 54 74 30 13. ‚13 per day. Open M-Sa 9:15am-lpm and 2-6: 30pm, Su 10am-l: 30pm and 3-6:15pm. ) To reach the tourist office, 3 av. Jean Laigret, take a left on av. Jean Laigret out of the train station. ( 02 54 90 41 41; www.loiredeschateaux. Com. Open Apr. -Oct. Su-M 10am-7pm, Tu-Sa 9am-7pm; Nov. -Mar. Reduced hours. ) HHStel du Bellay, 12 r. Des Min-imes, is at the top of porte Chartraine, 2min. Above the city center. This family-run establishment offers spotless, comfortable rooms and personal attention. (02 54 78 23 62; fax 02 54 78 52 04. Breakfast ‚4. 20. Closed Jem. 5-25. Singles and doubles ‚24; triples ‚45; quads ‚55. MCA. ) Le Pavilion, 2 av. Wilson, has clean and bright rooms. Take bus line 3A from the station; the hotel can also be reached on foot in 20min. (02 54 74 23 27; fax 02 54 74 03 36. Break-fast ‚5. 25. Singles ‚24-38; quads ‚50. MCA7. ) Fragrant patisseries entice from rue Denis Papin, while rue Drussy, rue St-Lubin, and place Poids du Roi have a number of dining options. Postal Code: 41000.
DAYTRIPS FROM BLOIS: CHAMBORD AND CHEVERNY. Built from 1519 to 1545 to satisfy Francois I's egomania, Chambord is the largest and most extravagant of the Loire chateaux. With 440 rooms, 365 fireplaces, and 83 staircases, the chateau rivals Versailles in grandiosity. To cement his claim, Francois stamped 700 of his trademark stone salamanders throughout this hunting lodge and built a spectacular double-helix staircase in the center of the castle, (a 02 54 50 40 00. Open Apr. -Sept. 9am-6: 45pm; Oct. -Mar. Reduced hours. ?7, ages 18-25 ‚4. 50. Under-18 free. ) Take TLC bus #2 from Blois (45min. 2 per day, ‚10) or bike south from Blois on D956 for 2-3km, and then turn left on D33 (lhr.).
Chevemy and its manicured grounds are unique among the major chateaux. Its magnificent furnishings include elegant tapestries and delicate Delft vases. Fans of Herge's Tintin books may recognize Chevemy's Renaissance facade as the inspiration for Marlinspike, Captain Haddock's mansion. The kennels hold 70 mixed English Poitevin hounds who stalk stags in hunting expeditions, (a 02 54 79 96 29. Open July-Aug. Daily 9:15am-6: 45pm. Hunting Oct. -Mar. Tu and Sa. Off season reduced hours. ?6, students ‚4. ) Chevemy is 45min. South of Blois by bike and on the route of TLC bus #2 (see above).