Chinon stands on the banks of the River Vienne, the largest tributary of the Loire, about fifteen kilometres from its confluence with that great river. The medieval town is located on the north side of the river, squeezed into a narrow strip of land below the steep hillside on which the castle stands. Now it is bypassed by the D751 which strides across the river on a new bridge a couple of kilometres to the west. But in past times the road used to wind down the hill around the foot of the castle and along the river bank to a point where a small island in the river provided an easy crossing point onto the flat plains to the south.
On top of the hill are the remains of the ancient fortress, setting for a number of important events in France’s history. Now only the remains of the protecting fortified walls and a few other structures are left, the tallest of which is the clock tower above the main gate from which a bell strikes the time every hour of the day and night. There is also what is left of the Cowdray Keep where some of the Templars were lodged after their arrest by Phillipe the Fair on Friday 13th October 1308. They left behind some famous graffiti.
The old town below the castle contains many beautiful medieval houses, some of them half-timbered and some with magnificent circular outside staircases. It is a pleasure to walk round this area, along the narrow streets and passing through the little squares, with the castle looming overhead. This is the setting for the annual Medieval Market about which I shall tell you more in a later blog. It is also the setting for a large part of The Eighth Child.
The hill on which the castle stands is honeycombed with underground caves and passageways. These are now used for the storage of the full wine casks (Chinon produces a famous red wine) and other goods. In recent years the caverns have been put to many other uses including social and sports clubs. There is even a small theatre approached by a wide, sloping passageway from the town. In the last war they were used for hiding escaping allied airmen and various articles of war used by the Résistance. They form an important part of the setting for my novel.
It can be seen that the town and its environs are a romantic location where you can imagine all kinds of things happening, as well as a splendid base from which to plan a touring holiday in the area.
Next week I will tell you more about the annual Medieval Marché which takes place in the town every year on the first weekend in August.