Timid reopening for France's Loire Valley chateaus

Chenonceaux (France) (AFP) –


Staff far outnumbered visitors to the elegant Chenonceau castle in France's Loire Valley as it reopened on Saturday with meticulously prepared safeguards against the coronavirus.

The Renaissance jewel, which in a normal year attracts upwards of a million visitors, could not justify reopening on financial grounds until Parisians are again allowed to travel beyond a 100-kilometre (60 mile) radius from home, Communications director Caroline Darrasse told AFP.

But reopening a few days early -- the relaxation takes effect next Tuesday -- gave the World Heritage site a chance to test the precautions they have put in place, Darrasse noted.

"It's her first chateau," grinned Lucile Daron Van Gennep, 32, whose eight-month-old daughter was strapped to her front.

She and her 35-year-old husband Coenraad had the castle's gallery spanning the Cher river -- where Catherine de' Medicis once threw sumptuous balls -- all to themselves.

"It's a nice surprise," Lucile said. The couple live in Saumur, just within the 100-km limit, which will be lifted on Tuesday.

Many smaller sites such as the Chateau d'Usse, famous as the backdrop of the Sleeping Beauty fable, reopened at the very start of France's deconfinement on May 11.

But the doyen of the region that was once the playground of French kings -- the sprawling Chambord castle -- will not reopen until next Friday.

Tourism accounts for 15 percent of the Loire Valley region's economy, compared with nine percent nationally. The sector normally brings in some 2.9 billion euros ($3.2 billion) annually.