CHENONCEAUX, May 31 – The staff far outnumbered visitors to the elegant Chateau de Chenonceau in the Loire Valley of France, as it reopened yesterday with meticulously prepared safeguards against the coronavirus.
The jewel of the Renaissance, which attracts more than a million visitors every year, cannot justify its reopening for financial reasons as long as Parisians are no longer allowed to travel beyond a radius of 100 kilometers from home , director of communications Caroline Darrasse told AFP.
But the reopening a few days earlier – the detente takes effect on Tuesday – has allowed the site to test the precautions that staff have put in place, noted Darrasse.
A strict one-way route has been laid out inside the castle, and parts that are in a hurry have either been cordoned off or restricted to a few at a time – like the impressive kitchens on the lower level.
“This is his first castle,” smiles Lucile Daron Van Gennep, 32, whose eight-month-old daughter was tied to her forehead.
With her 35-year-old husband, Coenraad, she had the gallery of the castle spanning the Cher – where Catherine de Medici had once thrown sumptuous balls – for herself.
“It’s a nice surprise,” said Lucile, speaking behind her mandatory mask. The couple lives in Saumur, within the limit of 100 km.
Many smaller sites, such as the Chateau d’Usse, famous as the presumed backdrop for the Sleeping Beauty fable, reopened at the very beginning of France’s deconfinement on May 11.
In the Renaissance town of Amboise, Clos Luce, where Leonardo da Vinci spent the last three years of his life – the 500th anniversary of his death was last year – reopened on May 20.
“We have done everything we can to reassure” the security of the visit of the imposing mansion in the heights of the city, director François Saint Bris told AFP on Friday. “It is intelligently done. “
The foreclosure cost the site about 1 million euros (RM 4.83 million) in lost revenue per month, with expenses totaling around 250,000 euros, he said.
Friday, however, the site visitors were few.
Likewise, things were slow at another early riser, the royal fortress of Chinon, where 17-year-old Joan of Arc had a pivotal meeting with Charles VII in 1429.
Fortress curator Marie-Eve Scheffer said the four-day Ascension weekend, normally the busiest of the year, had attracted some 450 visitors, compared to a normal flow of around 3,800 people .
“We expect a bigger return next weekend,” Scheffer told AFP by phone.
Historian Stéphane Bern, who led a regional pressure campaign to persuade French President Emmanuel Macron to allow the castles to start welcoming visitors again, has encouraged patience.
“It will start again,” he told AFP. “It’s about priming the pump, starting the machine. “
Bern, a champion of France’s cultural and historical heritage who is a frequent radio host and television presenter, noted that as long as the sites cannot reopen their restaurants and gift shops, visiting them is “less attractive”.
The dean of the region which was once the playground of French kings – the vast castle of Chambord – will not reopen until next Friday.
Tourism represents 15% of the Loire Valley economy against 9% at the national level. The sector normally brings in around 2.9 billion euros a year.
The Loire Valley – collectively a World Heritage Site – is jostling with Paris and Provence as the leading French tourist destination, and is well positioned to dislodge the French capital as the country emerges from isolation.
In Chenonceau, an attraction remained a constant throughout the confinement: a bucolic picnic area along the castle canal, where a dozen visitors had lunch yesterday. – AFP