Oct 14, 2019

The Paris Diaries #8: The Loire Valley. Chateaux Plural.

And just like that, I'm home.

That first glimpse of the harbour.

That first proper coffee.

The sound of the dryer.  The list of chores to get through.  The yoghurt in sensible plastic tubs.  It's all got to be done, hasn't it?

Speaking of yoghurt. I'm going to miss pulling the foil top off individual serve glass pots of yoghurt.

Which is my clumsy, jet lagged attempt at a segue into number eight in the Paris Diaries series.

Paul bakeries - beacons of light for stomachs and brain cells in the early hours.

The episode which sees me find my way to The Catacombs to meet my tour guides and group ahead of a day road-tripping into the perimeters of the Loire Valley region.  I took a tour organized by City Wonders.  The ticket price covered access to three chateaux (Chateaux Chambord, Nitray and Chenonceau), lunch with wine at Chateaux Nitray as well as a winetasting there plus further wine tasting at Chenonceau).  Our guides, Diane and Michelle were both hilarious and informative.  They were also wonderful hosts.  The group was big enough to fit a tour bus but despite being there as a solo traveler, I had no trouble chatting and getting integrated with the rest of the group.

There's a certain excitement to road trips for me.  Seeing the terrain whizz past me and change in the process from city to semi-rural and industrial to rural to chateau country in the case of the Loire region.

The Loire Valley spans 280 kilometres and is around 2 hours' drive out of Paris,  Considered the cradle of French food and wine because of its fertile soil and favourable clinate, the region is also UNESCO World Heritage listed.  Key criteria for this recognition are that the Loire Valley is one of the areas first settled in what is now known as France (early cave paintings can still be found here), the French language originated here and the area is also 'the land of a thousand castles (of which we managed to see three on this tour).  As you would expect when chateau and history mix, there's lots to learn about French royalty here as many past monarchs made their mark here in good and not so good ways here.

I won't lie, I was fascinated by French roadhouses.  They're supermarkets with bonus food courts.  They also have an excellent number of clean toilet cubicles which you can avail yourself off as your tour bus refuels.

Chateau Chambord greets the sun.
 Our first stop (besides the roadhouse) was the infinitely more regal and grand Chateau Chambord.

Chambord is the largest chateau in the region as was built by Francis I between 1519 0 1547.  It was built in the French Renaissance style at a time when France was hoping that some of the glitter of the Italian Rennaissance could perhaps drift their way.  French nobility began courting the likes of Leonardo da Vinci in the hope that attracting the interest of one big name would encourage others to follow.

The brief was hunting lodge but the execution was a riot of extravagance.  There are four turrets, a keep and a decorative moat.  This region of the Loire Valley was also 'gated'.  This ensured that there were always enough wildlife for nobilty and their guests to shoot on a hunt.

Since being built, the chateau has doubled in roles as diverse as being a military base hospital and also being the place where works like the Mona Lisa were stored during WWII.

Louis XIV loved the chateau though he spent only a handful of nights there at a time with his court.  This is his ceremonial bedroom.

This view out onto the gardens highlights a row of decidedly modern-looking  yellow structures.  They are a reference to the designs and inventions of da Vinci.

The central double helix staircase is a design feature unique to this chateau.  Climbing it also did wonders for my appetite.

The interior of Chambord as its the base with other chateaux in the region is very sparse.  When the court came to stay, everything would be brought with it including furnishings and art.

Other than chateau staircases, my other favourite design feature of them are their kitchens which tend to span most of the basement of your average build.

There's something timeless in much of the furniture and equipment to be found in these rooms.

Chateau de Nitray was our second stop - for lunch and wine as well as chateaux exploration.

We were welcomed fondly by Earl Hubert de l'Espinay and his son who is a vigneron.

Champagne was sabered in honour of our lunch.

 After lunch, we took a walk and tour of the chateaux grounds.

 The Earl and his family still reside in the chateau seen below.

We got to look inside that all-important pigeon coop.  Not only did these coops store potential targets for a hunt, but the pigeons could also be a source of meat and eggs in times of need.

The ladder rotates around the central pillar of the coop.

Hitting the road again for our final stop, we were treated to a lively history lesson by Diane and Michelle as various majestic castles appeared in our line of vision.

The Loire river is actually pretty shallow as you can see from these photos.

 Chateau de Chenonceaux was our last chateau of the day.  We approached it from the tree-lined avenue as pictured below...

And here it is. 

 Chateau de Chenonceaux, a stunning combination of Gothic and Renaissance architecture.

The chateau is unique because it arches across water, the River Cher.

The present castle owes its magnificence to a number of women - Catherine de Medici who survived her husband King Henry II and Diane de Poitiers who had a long term affair with the late king.

The Medici Garden is named in honour of Catherine.

As is the Medici room and its striking floor.

The chateau's kitchen fascinated me the most.

All the copper,

the wooden cabinetry

and all that glorious light streaming through the windows, highlighting the colour and texture of the stone of the walls.

The rooms upstairs were all richly decorated with both tapestries and painting on the walls as well as detailing in the ceiling.  The wooden floors added warmth to the living spaces.  I sound like a real estate agent now, not an awestruck novice chateau groupie....

Looking out onto the Medici Gsrden from the chateau.

The rope balusters are strangely timeless.  I'm seriously considering them in my own renovation dreams.

You can see how the chateau arches over the Cher River in this photo.

The chateau gardeners were also replanting in the Medici Garden at the time.  Chateaus are expensive things to maintain.  The properties we visited ranged from being privately owned to being assets of the French government. 

Part of the gift store at Chateau Chambord

There are very generous tax benefits to owning chateau but costs still have to be met somehow which is why many that we visited offer gifts and wine for sale on-site in addition to the fees charged to visit.

In the wine cellar at Chateau de Chenonceau
Part of our visit at Chateau de Chenonceau was a wine tasting in the wine cellar.

It was cosy and the wines were excellent.  The logistics of trying to bring wine home to Australia were beyond me so I passed on buying any.  I was told, though, that wrapping wine in socks will ensure that they survive travelling in suitcases and on luggage carousels.  If I'm ever brave enough to do this, I'll be sure to report back.

The chateau also features a number of gardens, each designed to a particular theme.

This rather modern arrangement is part of the Russel Page garden,

Others are more traditional in design and there were also areas of land devoted to vegetable patches and livestock.

Our day in the Loire drew to a close far too quickly for my liking.

We hit the road for Paris watching the sunset and the wind turbines whir.

I nibbled away on these French kale rice crackers as I reflected on the history and beauty that I'd been absorbed in all day.

And then I did what any self-respecting fortysomething mother on a leave pass in Paris on the Champs Elysee would have done for dinner.

I listened to my heart and went to Maccas for a 9 Euro double cheddar and beef burger with some McNuggets on the side because they've got more nutrition than French fries (I think).

Staying classy as always,


PS - I intend to redeem myself after the Maccas confession in my final Paris Diary post.

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