Thursday, April 28, 2011


We have been back from our trip to the Loire Valley for over a week and I am still going through the pictures. I was repeated called a “Japanese” tourist by my beloved sister-in-law but I do have some great pictures to show for it.

We stayed at a very peaceful farm house. There were horses, cats that came to rub against your legs when you ventured outside and just about every day we overheard the daughter of the owners singing to herself as she played with her hula-hoop. Ah, rural childhood. The farm house added a charm and element of relaxation to a vacation that was packed. Almost every day we saw at least two Chateaux! For those of you who know us well, Keith and I tend to travel like this. It was a good thing we had Elise to rein us in. 

I have decided that a documented play by play of everything we saw would be ridiculous and take me a month to complete so instead I will give you some of the highlights both in terms of events and pictures.

Driving to all of the Chateaux was a treat in itself. We got to see little town, many sheep and topography that changed from rolling hills to flat fields reminiscent of Saskatchewan. The first day we hit two of the more well-known Chateaux. The first was at Amboise. This is where half of Leonardo Da Vinci is buried and was one of the first medieval fortresses to be transformed into luxurious living quarters for the pleasure of the King. We followed this up with Chenonceau, the chateau built by women. At every stage of development, the building of this chateau was influenced and most often directed by women. From faithful wives to mistresses, and mothers regent this chateau was created to be breathtaking and demonstrate power. It was probably the best situated chateau we saw with a huge park and lane leading up to the chateau that spans the river. 

There was also a maze at Chenonceau. What more could you want?

Throughout most of our voyages we were guided by a green Michelin guide book that we found in one of the drawers of the farm house. It was an amazing source of information on everything from autocratic history, and architecture to religious wars and the modern occupants of the Chateaux. (Yes some are actually still lived in!)  The only thing was the book was from 1988, so not so modern. It is clear to me that they do not make guide books like they used to.

Two other Chateaus that demonstrated the need for perfection not just in their architecture but their settings as well were Azay-Le-Rideau, which actually diverted a river in order to create a moat, and Villandry. Villandry made the top three list for all of us.  The building itself was like so many other Chateaux. It has continuously been added on to and you can see below where the original single towered Keep is in comparison to the more modern additions. The magic of Villandry was in its gardens. On different terraces surrounding the Chateau the gardens ranged from perfectly manicured boxwood hedges to more wild natural species. The owners of the Chateau since the 19th century have been cultivating the French Renaissance gardens including symbolic colours to demonstrate the different types of love, to shaping intricate patterns highlight the different types of crosses of Christianity (Celtic, Maltese, etc). Oh yes and there was a maze as well!

Can you see the Keep?
Our best day was more medieval than Renaissance. We went to the Saturday morning market in Loches which was huge. There was a huge amount of selection and we actually bought a whole chicken for dinner head on and everything. After also purchasing cheese, meet and fresh strawberries, we wandered around the oldest part of the town which included the remnants of a huge fortress and quaint cobblestone. Our afternoon was occupied by a wine festival in Chinon. For 4 euros we got a wine glass which was our pass to test wine from the multiple wineries at three different locations throughout the old town. How much more European to you get than walking with your wine down the street to your next wine tasting? We also went to the castle in Chinon. It is just the bare bones of what remain of the stronghold from which Henry II reigned over Angevin and England. Later this was also where some of the senior officers of the Knights Templar were held to await trial. Their graffiti on the walls of their cell still endures. In addition, this is where Joan of Arc met the Dauphin of France for the first time before beginning her crusade to rid France of the English.

Some other honourable mentions in the Chateau category go to Cheverny for the most lived in look (probably because it is!). The dining room includes a series of wooden inlays of Don Quixote. In addition to this, the chateau is a functioning hunting lodge and has a pack of at least a hundred hounds. On the complete reverse of this is Chambord. It is completely unliveable. It was freezing, even though it  was plus 25 outside. The beauty of this place is it’s architecture. The layout is so complex that we got lost many times and the double staircase centred the building was a wonder. Perhaps designed by Da Vinci this building is entirely unique and yet mathematically perfect at the same time. 

Another highlight was seeing the former Abbey of Fontevraud where Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and their son King Richard the Lionheart were all buried. Another casualty of the French Revolution, the Abbey was actually turned into a prison and has only recently been reclaimed.

The only down side of the whole holiday was that we were the first ones to visit the farm house this year and we quickly found out that the heat was not working. No problem we thought. We made a fire which resulted in smoke everywhere. This combination resulted in me finally giving in to sickness on last day. Unfortunately, I’m still battling the coughs and congestions from this.