Lovers of literature won’t be able to resist a visit to these three fantastic museums in Touraine, in the heart of the Loire Valley, which was once home to three of France’s greatest writers
François Rabelais was born in the late 15th century at La Devinière, a farm set amidst the rolling fields of Seuilly, just 7km from Chinon. The surrounding countryside was a rich source of inspiration and became a natural backdrop for his giants’ adventures. In his writings, La Devinière became both Grandgousier’s castle and the epicentre of the Picrocholine Wars.
Today, the farmhouse is home to the Rabelais Museum, brimming with collections of rare editions of his works, old prints, posters, original drawings by the likes of Derain, Doré, Robida, Matisse, and illustrated books. The museum chronicles the important events in Rabelais’ life and showcases a rich body of work which, with its combination of humour and fantasy, heralded the new ideas of the Renaissance.
The son of a lawyer, scholarly Rabelais spent his childhood at La Devinière and left Touraine in around 1510, keen to further his quest for knowledge. He first became a monk, and then a doctor after studying at the University of Montpellier, where he was fascinated by botany and anatomy.
As a writer, he published his first two novels in Lyon, Pantagruel (1532) and Gargantua (1534). They were both later banned and condemned by the theologians of the Sorbonne. Rabelais’ travels, especially in Italy, shaped his mind and spirit as a true man of the Renaissance, humanist and visionary. Rabelais remained a famous and prolific author throughout his lifetime, inspired by the changing world around him and by his homeland of Touraine.
Honoré de Balzac
The exquisitely romantic Château de Saché was a veritable writer’s retreat for Honoré de Balzac, a place where he could escape the pressures of life in Paris and truly throw himself into his writing. The château’s Renaissance-style architecture bears discreet marks from its construction during the Middle Ages and from later renovations, which have given it a beautiful romantic air. Set amidst two hectares of parkland, it enjoys sweeping views of the peaceful neighbouring landscapes, from the village of Saché to the Indre Valley.
Inside, the house which was once like a second home to Balzac, is furnished and decorated in the style of an early 19th-century bourgeois mansion, bringing to mind the functional castle of Clochegourde from his 1835 novel, Le Lys dans la Vallée (The Lily of the Valley), which was set in the Indre Valley. Today home to the Musée Balzac, you can wander through the château’s rooms where you’ll find displays of the author’s life and works. You can also soak up the atmosphere of La Comédie humaine through the reproduction of different rooms, such as the room of the priest of Tours, Foedora’s boudoir and Lawyer Derville’s office.
Born in Tours in 1799, Honoré de Balzac left Touraine for Paris at the age of 14 but returned to his native soil throughout his lifetime. From 1825 to 1848, he frequently visited Jean Margonne, owner of the Château de Saché. His works such as Father Goriot, Louis Lambert, César Birotteau and Lost Illusions were all partly written at Saché, which proved a huge inspiration to Balzac.
Pierre de Ronsard
From the remains of the old church where ‘prince of poets’ Pierre de Ronsard is buried to the gardens which the 12th-century canons considered a ‘heaven on earth’, the old monastery of Saint-Cosme has retained its historical, spiritual and poetic distinction.
Prieuré Saint Cosme, also known as Ronsard’s house as he was the resident prior here from 1565 to 1585, now offers a number of tours, which link different eras and arts through the prism of architecture, poetry and contemporary art. It offers an eclectic programme of exhibitions, with facilities designed to stimulate all five senses and an interactive approach which invites visitors to learn, enjoy the surprises and relax, with family or friends.
The youngest child of a noble family of Vendôme (Loir-et-Cher), Ronsard entered the court of King Francis I as a page at the age of 12.
A privileged witness to the Renaissance, he was attuned to the spirit of his time and was a traveller, a tireless worker and a worthy servant of the kings. Forced by illness to give up his military career, he became a cleric in 1543 and then devoted himself to writing.
Inspired by his muses, he created an extensive work filled with poems, odes and speeches. In 1565, Queen Catherine de’ Medici and her son, the young King Charles IX, appointed him head of the priory of Saint-Cosme, which quickly became one of the poet’s favourite places of inspiration and it was his last home, where he is still at rest.
Find out more: www.touraineloirevalley.co.uk
From France Today magazine
Lead photo credit : Rabelais’ birthplace museum at La Devinière © Stevens Frémont
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