If you are in search of a true fairytale château, may I recommend that you start with Château d’Usse, near Bourgueil in the Loire Valley. This picturesque residence is widely regarded to have inspired Charles Perrault, author of La Belle au Bois Dormant, a tale better known to many as Sleeping Beauty. If these rather convincing credentials are insufficient there are a few other château-candidates I would suggest, starting with my personal favourite Chenonceau (pictured below, catching the last few rays of a brilliant sunset), or perhaps the much-loved Azay-le-Rideau. This latter château was built in the 16th century by Gilles de Bertholet, treasurer to François I (although in truth it was a heavy modification of a pre-existing fort rather than a new construction), the result rather Italianate in style, charming and elegant. Of note, Chenonceau and Azay-le-Rideau both sport distinctive witch’s-hat roofs on their corner towers.
But it is not just to the Loire Valley we should look; Bordeaux also has its own version of the fairytale château, and here too there are several contenders. Although Château Palmer undoubtedly warrants a mention, the two châteaux that bear the name of the ancient Pichon vineyard would top the list of many. Château Pichon-Baron (the full title of which is Château Longueville au Baron de Pichon-Longueville – I will stick with Pichon-Baron) is perhaps the strongest contender, the keen, conical roofs sitting atop their circular towers lending the building an almost magical feel. In fact there is something naggingly familiar about its appearance, especially those witch’s-hat turrets at either side. This familiarity is not coincidental. According to Clive Coates in Grands Vins (University of California Press, 1995) Château Pichon-Baron, built in 1851 at the behest of Raoul de Pichon-Longueville, was intentionally modelled on the aforementioned Loire Valley ‘fairytale’ châteaux, in particular Azay-le-Rideau.
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