Sunday, July 20, 2014

Le Tour de France: Loire Valley

Monday, June 23
It was another pretty drive from Chartres to the Loire Valley. We arrived at La Source, and I was so happy, a really lovely spot. We did some laundry and explored the property...fruit trees, vegetable garden, chickens, rabbits! Then we drove to Blois for dinner, our host Catherine made a reservation at le Bistrot du Cuisinier, with a view of the Loire River. We enjoyed another scrumptious dinner, and Dan's wine was so delicious. I wish I had noted the name of the wine, phooey. After dinner, I took many photos of the Loire River and kept repeating how pretty it was. We walked across the bridge to where the car was parked, and saw a bride and groom on the street!

Chickens

View from dinner

Entrees

Plats

Dusk

Dusk

Pont Jacques-Gabriel

Tuesday, June 24
After an amazing breakfast, we drove to Château de Chambord, a giant castle. Huge. We arrived a few minutes after opening, so the crowds weren't too bad yet. We saw a tour bus departing already, I think they only went to the gift shop! There was a large Arabian-esque tent being constructed in front of the château; later we asked the bike rental guy, and he said it was for an event happening in a few days, very top secret. Part of the château had scaffolding over it, and I observed that one side had recently been cleaned, but other side was dirty. We checked out the views from the rooftop and went up and down the double-helix staircase, purportedly designed by Leonardo da Vinci. Of course we saw another field trip of schoolchildren, looked like a fun one with a costumed docent. I also saw tapestries and paintings of hounds. After touring the apartments and trophy hall, we watched the informational video about the château, then saw the fancy carriages for the coronation of a duke, but he never became king.

Chateau Chambord

Elaborate setup for a private event

Château de Chambord

Dan on the double-helix staircase
 
Dan checking out the trophies

French school children

Hound painting

We rented bikes and rode on a trail through the forest, looking for deer and boar (no luck). Then we rode along the canal for a bit, and saw the bike rental guy on a boat! There were many other cyclists riding or picnicking in the shade. I got an ice cream, then we headed back toward Blois. The parking lot was full of cars; I am glad we arrived early! We picked up a few things and returned to La Source for a picnic lunch. When Dan asked to use a wine opener, our host Christian thought the wine had warmed up too much during the drive back, and put the bottle of rosé in a cute wine cooler bag. So civilized. (They also serve warm milk with coffee in the morning. And if coffee is ordered after lunch or dinner it's always served with a little sweet, a cookie or chocolate, the way it should be!)

Dan biking at Chambord

Lunch at La Source

if fait pas chaud ici

After a little nap, we were off to Château de Chenenceau, another pretty drive. Everyone was leaving when we arrived, perfect timing! This was my favorite château, I loved all the details, from the pretty green door to the bunny rabbit floor tile to the fragrant floral arrangements. This is the one I would live in if I could! We did the audio guide, and it was fun to see the kitchen rooms. After the tour, we met a couple from the Bay Area who took a photo for us. Then we saw the carriage house, duck pond, kitchen garden, and donkey play area. I enjoyed the kitchen garden far more than the formal gardens of Catherine de' Medici and Diane de Poitiers. We also saw a beehive! (Dan has two beehives, so he always likes looking at them.) And a florist loading gorgeous floral arrangements into a van. The grounds were nearly empty after we went through the labyrinth, so we walked back to the château to take more photos. Caterers were setting up for an event after the château closed, and we considered crashing the party. Would they have noticed?

Sphinxes

Green door

Bunny tile

Kitchen

Cher River

Posing

Château de Chenonceau

Le Potager des fleurs

Le Potager des fleurs

Le Potager des fleurs

Burros

Posing

Château de Chenonceau

We saw several hot air balloons on the drive back to Blois, so picturesque! We had dinner at le Bistrot de Léonard, then it was time for bed! It was a wonderful day in the Loire Valley.

Wednesday, June 25
After another decadent breakfast, we toured the Château de Blois. The audioguide is narrated by various characters who lived in the château over the years. While it was informative and well-intentioned, I am not sure it was successful. Still, we learned a lot about the history of the château. There also is an impressive art collection.

Louis XII

Porcupine

Royal salamanders

Château de Blois

Stained glass

Throne

Gutterpiece statuary

We walked around town and went inside a church, I think it was Saint-Nicolas, but I am not sure. Then we browsed the flea market in front of the château and watched the snakes popping out of the windows of la Maison de la Magie Robert-Houdin.

La Maison de la Magie Robert-Houdin

Our host Catherine had recommended a boulangerie and charcuterie near the B&B, but both were closed for the lunch break. This was something that we had not planned for at the start of each day. Lesson learned. Eventually the shops opened again, and we had a late lunch picnic at La Source. Some cucumber slices had fallen on the ground, and I asked Christian if we could give them to the chickens. He was feeding them wheat. He also showed us that the rabbits eat the leftover baguettes from breakfast. I ate many raspberries from the garden, which he encouraged. Then we drove to Château de Cheverny, and arrived just in time to see the hounds being fed, what a sight! Lots of howling. First we watched them waiting, waiting, and eyeing the spread, then the free-for-all after they were released. Of course there was another field trip; the children expressed dismay at the smell. Ha ha! The family who owns Cheverny still live in the upper floors, and apparently the dogs go hunting every week.

Feeding the chickies

Waiting for supper


Water fountain

So many hounds!

Please do not tease the hounds

After I took many, many photos of the hounds, we toured the château, which is lavishly furnished. Also there was china with a hound pattern! It was late, so there were only a few other people. For some reason, I was very burp-y and belched rather loudly on several occasions. The other people touring the château were horrified/amused, but I consoled myself with the idea that I gave them something to talk/laugh about. We also walked around the gardens and saw the cafe where the orangerie had been, the Mona Lisa was supposedly hidden there during WWII.

Château de Cheverny

Front

Then we saw the trophy room and kitchen garden. I seem to like kitchen gardens more than the formal gardens. I especially liked a sort of arbor with floating orchids, so pretty.

Le jardin potager

Posing with orchids
 
Le jardin potager

Some gentlemen began playing French horn-like horns (without keys) in the trophy room, and the hounds howled in response. So howly! Dan thought they were getting ready for a hunt. We wanted to see if the hound pattern china was at the gift shop, but it was closed! The one time we wanted to go to the gift shop, it was closed. Ha!

Howling hounds

Hound

After a little rest at the B&B, we had dinner on the terrace at Au Bichon Lyonnais. We walked around Blois after dinner and saw many people out for the World Cup, it was very lively. Then we went to see the sound and light show at the Château de Blois. We thought it would be in English that night, but they had changed the program so that it is always in French, with simultaneous translation into other languages. But you need to buy (or bring) headphones for the translation, which we had not planned for. Dan happened to have a set of headphones in his bag, so he listened to the narration while I just watched the light projections. I found it to be far too long, and we had to stand the whole time, rather tiring. I think Chartres en Lumières is way, way better. And free! With benches to sit on!

When we returned to the B&B, our host Catherine invited us for cake and drinks, and to watch the World Cup match. She had made tarte Tatin, which we enjoyed with delicious ice cream and a lovely white wine. She and Christian are such welcoming hosts, I wish I spoke French so we could have chatted more!

Thursday, June 26
Our last breakfast before leaving: homemade jam and yogurt, fresh-squeezed juice, croissants, baguettes, fruit from the garden, and raspberry clafoutis made by Catherine. Plus a different kind of charcuterie each morning for Dan to try too. We would miss this place. Catherine packed up our unfinished croissants and clafoutis for the journey, and we said goodbye. We hope to return someday!

Breakfast at La Source

We took the autoroute toward Burgundy; it was a long drive and not very picturesque once we left the Loire Valley. The view improved when we exited and drove toward Vézelay, passing vineyards and more French cows. We parked the car and picked up a sandwich, then walked up the hill to Abbaye Sainte-Marie-Madeleine, a big church dedicated to Mary Magdelene and her relics. We saw many carvings depicting bible stories. I enjoyed the view from the terrace behind the church, and saw three dogs who appeared to be on holiday with their people. I didn't get a chance to pet them though.

Abbaye Sainte-Marie-Madeleine de Vézelay

Tympanum

Bible stories

 View

Checking out the view

Then we walked back through town to the parking lot. Vézelay is a pretty village, with colorful flowers and window shutters. We saw a group of French-speaking people, who were perhaps retired. Each person was holding a baguette for lunch. It was so cute. I wanted to take a photo, but decided not to be rude. I took a picture of this pretty restaurant instead.

Cute restaurant

Then we continued on to Beaune!

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