I am not a great fan of sound & light shows but I think I should go to the one at Blois Castle so I can recommend it (or not) to visitors. As residents of Blois, we have free passes to the castle and the weather is very warm so it seems the ideal time.
We park where we always do along Gambetta Avenue between the train station and the castle. It’s only a five-minute walk. In June, July and August, the show starts at 10.30 pm and lasts for 45 minutes (10 pm in March, April, May and September). We’re about 15 minutes early so we get our free tickets by showing our passes and ID and go into the main courtyard. We are told to stay in the centre.
We see that lots of people have come with blankets and cushions. I have passed the age of being comfortable sitting on the ground so we find a place on the steps around the perimeter of the courtyard in front of the Gaston d’Orléans wing but the steps are a bit shallow. We think it might be better in front of the Royal Chapel (on the left as you walk in) and find a place there. It’s a little bit better.
At 10.30 pm, an announcement is made that everyone has to go into the middle of the courtyard as images will be projected on all four façades. A man comes and shoos everyone off the steps. I tell him I can’t stand up for any length of time (my foot starts burning due to an unoperable hallux valgus). He tells me that after the first fifteen minutes, I’ll be able to come back and sit down again on the steps.
That’s OK, I figure, I can walk around for that amount of time. The only problem is that the people sitting down in the centre don’t want other people standing in front of them! In the end, I see there is a group of people standing in front of the Gaston d’Orléans wing so I join them.
The show starts so I move around according to the façade on which the images are being projected. A dramatic backdrop of blue with gold fleur-de-lys appears on the François I façade. The Louis XII and Gaston d’Orléans wings are then lit up followed by the chapel. The main events in the history of the castle are then recounted.
The sound is very loud and distorted and I have trouble understanding what is being said. An audioguide is available for foreign visitors free of charge but it didn’t occur to me that I might need one. It would certainly have helped.
After the first twenty minutes (and more specifically after the story of Joan of Arc’s visit to Blois is finished), all the action takes place on either the François I or Gaston d’Orléans wings so we are able to sit down again in front of the chapel. I thank my lucky stars that the man at the beginning was so helpful!
The rest of the programme is taken up with the story of the Duc de Guise who was assassinated in the King’s Chambers on the orders of Henri III in 1588 after plotting to take over the throne.
It’s all very dramatic but the only voice I can really understand is that of Fabrice Luchini, one of France’s best-known actors. I’m surprised he’s among the cast but then I remember that Jacques Lang, the French minister of culture from 1981 to 1991 and incidentally the founder of the “Fête de la Musique“, the very popular music festival held in France on the summer solstice each year, was also the mayor of Blois from 1989 to 2000 so I imagine that had something to do with it.
Technically, the sound and light show is a bit of a disappointment though some of the effects are interesting. I particularly like the Joan of Arc procession which moves right across the François I wing. Unless the English text is easier to understand, I’m not sure I’d be willing to pay 8.50 euro per person (or 15 euro in a combined castle + light & sound ticket – the castle by itself is 10 euro) particularly if you don’t find it very comfortable to stand in the same place or sit on paving stones (even with a cushion) for 45 minutes. I don’t think we’ll be tempted to go again although we are glad we’ve seen it.