how bright is my valley

Son et lumière literally translated means a sound and light show. The invention of the concept is credited to the curator of the Château de Chambord, Paul Robert-Houdin, who hosted the world’s first son et lumière in 1952. Typically presented at an outdoor venue of historic significance, like a chateau or a pyramid, special lighting effects are projected onto the façade of the building or ruin and synchronized with narration and music to dramatize the history of the place.  (And this being France, it’s all very “artistic,” too.)

These nighttime spectacles have rapidly become very popular. Call it the Christmas Lights Effect:  sometimes all anybody wants is a bit of old-fashioned ooh and ahh.  In France – particularly among the majestic chateaux of the Loire Valley – about 50 annual productions a year take place; primarily in the summer when there’s nothing to do but wait around for the grapes to ripen. So if you find yourself enjoying the wines by day, be sure to open your eyes once the sun goes down, too.

From the end of June through to mid-September, the Château de Chambord presents nightly performances of Chambord, Rêve de Lumières, which will carry you back to the Renaissance, when this vast fortress-like construction was a regular stop-over for the traveling court of François I.  Chambord has mastered the art of the sound and light show and this new creation, designed for all ages and cultures, uses music, dance and images to highlight the essence of this remarkable site.

The storming of the Bastille and the French Revolution, which led to the Declaration of the Rights of Man, was a tipping point in world history and one of the most significant events to take place in Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire.  And while not strictly a son et lumiere, the sound and light show at Cléry-Saint-André is a pretty spectacular spectacle, showcasing the tumultuous Revolutionary period  with magnificent costumes and spectacular decors.  Plus, Revolution or not, France has never betrayed its passion for fine food –  come early and you can take part in the Republican Banquet, featuring gastronomic specialties of the times.

For a change of pace head for the Château d’Azay-le-Rideau for an enchanted walk through the grounds of the château at night – it’s one of the most beautiful in the  Loire Valley.   Special lighting, sound and musical effects accompany you, along with projected images of weird and wonderful creatures. In this fabulous new kingdom of animals you’ll meet some strange sights, like a monumental hippogramophone and a ballet of amphibians. The poetic, digitally-enhanced show is a real treat for the eyes.

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