A version of the following article was the first to be published to the original Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Fantasy blog and was one of our most popular. It is only fitting that it should become our first full article here at our new home on MiceChat, for even more people to enjoy!
Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Fantasy is an unofficial guide to the world beyond Disney, exploring the original stories and sources of beloved films and attractions. - Cory
The Loire Valley of France is famous the world over for its unparalleled assemblage of Renaissance castles located in such close proximity to each other. These include well-known tourist destinations such as the châteaux of Chambord, Blois, Cheverny, Chenonceau, Villandry, Saumur and Azay-le-Rideau. Just off the beaten path, tucked away on the tributary river Indre, overlooking the pleasant village of Rigny-Ussé and backed by the Chinon forest, is a delightful castle that inspired a legendary fairy tale: Château d’Ussé, the real Sleeping Beauty Castle.
The Château d’Ussé, of course, has a history that is quite its own. First constructed in the 11th century, the property underwent many restoration and rebuilding projects as it passed from hand to hand through the intrigues of marriage throughout the French court. The complex was complete in its present form for the most part by the 17th century, when it was frequented by literary giants like Charles Perrault and, in the 19th century, Chateaubriand. When I crossed the bridge over the Indre and approached the great walls of Château d’Ussé, I could immediately see how Perrault drew potent inspiration for my own favorite fairy tale, Sleeping Beauty.
Upon entering the gates, a circuit takes visitors through the Flamboyant Gothic chapel completed in 1612, wine cellars hewn from rock, the carriage house, and a dismal little dungeon in the base of the castle towers before admitting into the castle itself. The castle is still occupied to this day by the last family to have come into possession of it, Casimir de Blacas d’ Aulps the 7th Duke of Blacas. Free reign is not given to the whole place, nor, sadly, to the forest behind it (which I would beg for a little woodcutters cottage to complete the tableaux).
The main interior spaces open to the public reflect the castle’s true history, with antiquities and mannequins outfitted in different fashion exhibitions throughout the year.
In the 17th century, a decree went out over the land that each castle should prepare a permanent bedchamber for the use of King Louis XV should he pass through the region. Château d’Ussé was no exception, and prepared a room for him, along with an office antechamber. An imaginative mind cannot help but think of Aurora slumbering in this well-appointed room, though that waits for another chamber of the castle.
The castle that inspired Sleeping Beauty could not do without a recapitulation of the tale. In the upper towers, an additional series of tableaux feature mannequins in mostly Disney-inspired costume (with the Disney-Tchaikovsky soundtrack piped in overhead). Some have suggested that Château d’Ussé was one of the castles that inspired the construction of those in Disney’s empire. Whether or not this is true, one can enjoy a walkthrough of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in the Disneylands of Anaheim and Paris, as well as the real thing in rural France.
A visit to Château d’Ussé takes one away from the regular paths trod by tourists, as it never appears on the lists of the Loire valley’s most magnificent châteaux. Just getting there can be an adventure unto itself for those unaccustomed to driving in Europe (we popped a tire and nearly hit an RV full of Gypsies just to get there!). Though not as steeped in historical significance per se, it is a true pilgrimage for citizens of fairy land… A homecoming to the true life fairy tale castle.
We hope you enjoyed this journey into a true-life fairy tale. Join us again in two weeks for a look at the original Sleeping Beauty in the Wood by Charles Perrault! And please view our first article here on MiceChat which ran two weeks ago as it has been updated with video from the real life scenic Grand Canyon Railway.