might as well make it the grandest – and Chambord is the most lavish of them all, and the most visited. It’s a showpiece of Renaissance architecture, from the double-helix staircase up to the turret-covered rooftop. With 426 rooms, 282 fireplaces, and 77 staircases the sheer scale of the place is mindboggling – and in the Loire, that’s really saying something. History Begun in 1519 by François I (r 1515–47) as a weekend hunting retreat, it quickly grew into one of the most ambitious – and expensive – building projects ever undertaken by a French monarch. Construction was repeatedly halted by financial problems, design setbacks and military commitments (not to mention the kidnapping of the king’s two sons in Spain). Ironically, when Chambord was finally finished after three decades of work, François found his elaborate Visiting the château Inside the main building, a film (subtitled in four languages) provides an excellent introduction to the château's history and a