The Loire Valley in northern France is famous for its many châteaux. Although château literally means “castle,” it’s actually a peculiar hybrid of a mansion, palace, and military fortification. Formerly the proud possessions of nobility, châteaux have become so expensive to maintain that almost all of them now belong to government entities.
I chose to visit the château at Blois because my high school French textbook built a unit around it. It’s a good choice— besides this distinctive spiral staircase, this château has an interesting history. Built from the 13th to the 17th century with this courtyard at its center, it was where Joan of Arc received the blessing of the Archbishop of Reims to drive the English from Orléans in 1429. It was also where King Henry III assassinated the Duke of Guise, his enemy in 16th century Wars of Religion between the Catholics and the Protestant Huguenots.