Fantastic French Vacation – Part2 Loire Valley

Chenonceau

Loire Valley is a region in central France and best known as Chateau Country for the many beautiful chateaux adorning the area. Former kings, queens and the wealthy chose Loire Valley probably in part for its proximity to Paris, moderate climate and delightful landscape with River Loire and its tributaries running through. Driving through the area, we would come across signs for chateaux unheard of before and here and there a chateau would pop up unexpectedly atop a green hill or over some big wall off the roadside.

Chambord, Chaumont, Clos-Luce, Chenonceau, Villandry, Amboise, Blois and Cheverny, probably the most recommended chateaux of the area, were included in my destination guide. But, not totally surprised, we did not have enough time for all but half of the list, Chambord, Chaumont, Chenonceau and Clos-Luce.

Chateau de Chambord

Chambord was the first we visited. Started in 1519 by Francis I as a hunting lodge, Chateau Chambord is some king-sized extravagant indulgence. Its dimension is grand and its form, a mix of medieval and Renaissance architecture, is symmetrically elegant. The center piece of the keep is a grand, double spiral staircase, ingenious design that connects all living quarters in quite an intriguing way. Space around the staircase is relatively plain and was probably left so by design. Chambers/apartments in the keep are ornately decorated. Most catching feature of Chateau Chambord though is its roof line comprised of a small army of towers, turrets and spires. Strolling through these marvelous forms and shapes on the terrace atop the keep, it is easy for one to fancy being in a wonder land of some sort. It filled my heart with glee and out from me slipped child like chuckles.

Chateau Chambord’s front facade

Roofline of the keep

One of the rooms

Double spiral staircase set in center of the keep

Chateau de Chaumont

An aerial view of Chateau Chaumont and River Loire flowing by the bottom of the hill on which it is built had captured my imagination and the photo had been one of those on my vision board. It was exciting to finally get to visit it. Chaumont is not as large as Chambord in size but nonetheless a grand structure in its own right. Although not fully restored, what is left on display can easily conjure up splendor of its heydays. And indeed Chaumont’s former owners include Catherine de Medici, wife of King Henry II, and Diane Poitier, Henry II’s mistress. Chaumont’s unrivaled vantage point is undoubtedly that sweeping view of River Loire and the land beyond.

Diane Poitier’s room-Note the gorgeous tile floor

View from Chaumont

Chaumont’s front facade

Chautmont from opposite the river

Clos-Luce

Clos-Luce, surrounded by its own garden and park, is an elegant mansion located in a quiet neighborhood of Amboise. Tapestry and furniture from Renaissance era are exquisitely beautiful. Clos-Luce’s magnetic appeal comes from its connection to Leonardo de Vinci who was invited to french court by King Francis I and lived at Clos-Luce for the last years of his life. Can be seen at Clos-Luce are some art works by de Vinci and his studio/students. Also exhibited at the mansion are models of de Vinci’s numerous and extraordinary inventions, giving insight into the genius that de Vinci was. Photo taking is not permitted inside the house but allowed outside and at the model exhibit.

Clos-Luce’s front

Clos-Luce’s garden

Some of the models displayed

Chateau de Chenonceau

When we came out of Clos-Luce, we were about a couple of hours behind schedule and we had not been to Chateau Chenonceau yet. Continuing on to Chenonceau meant we would not have as much time for our next destination, Nohant. But I am glad we did visit Chenonceau and it worked out fine since Nohant is quite small. Chateau Chenonceau is beautiful and extravagant. Embraced by private, dense woods and gardens, Chenonceau is gracefully set on an arched bridge over River Cher. The chateau is loaded with ornate artifacts. Stunning and vivid tapestries span from wall to wall, fireplaces dominate rooms in oversized proportion and elaborate decors, ceilings are covered with colorful motifs and paintings, royally canopy beds, exquisite furniture and brilliant paintings fill the rest of the space. As dramatic is history of the chateau, full of royal intrigue. Diane Poitier was once mistress of the chateau. After Henry II’s death, Diane Poitier was forced out of Chenonceau by Catherine de Medici who then took Chenonceau for residence herself.

Chenonceau

Chenonceau from its garden

Tapestry covered hall way

One of the rooms-Note the fireplace

Tours

The chateaux are fantastic but Loire Valley has more to offer. The area is a major white wine producer and I had hoped to do some wine tasting but just couldn’t squeeze it in. I did book a hot air balloon ride as a surprise for my husband. Weather condition was perfect the day of the scheduled flight and we were ready for some wonderful aerial view of chateaux amidst pretty landscape. Our balloon however would not start due to technical difficulty. We booked with Balloon Revolution via Tours Tourist Office and our pilot speaks English enough but he could not explain what exactly the problem was. We and three other couples watched two other balloons with another hot air balloon company take off from the same site. We were offered the chance to reschedule but we couldn’t fit it into our schedule and had to settle for refund.

We choose Tours for our base in Loire Valley and stayed at Hotel Mirabeau for two nights. Tours is one of the larger towns in the area and offers flights and trains connecting many destinations. Its tourist office is useful in various booking and has a computer available and free to the public, to check mails, etc. Hotel Mirabeau is very conveniently located, just a couple of blocks away from the train station and the tourist office which is opposite to the train station. Along Blvd Heurteloup, there are multiple parking blocks on both sides, some are pay spots, marked as Payant, and some are free. The block right outside our hotel is free. It was busy during the day but easy to find a spot at night. Tours is an interesting mix of new and old. It has the energy of a big town but not overly crowded. While walking to La Ruche on Rue Colbert for dinner, recommended by our hotel, we stumbled across a magnificent church, Saint Gatien’s Cathedral, and our dinner at La Ruche, prepared by a female chef, turned out wonderfully delicious, in top four of the trip.

Saint Gatien’s Cathedral

Saint Gatien’s Cathedral’s commodious interior

Broad pedestrian walk way on Blvd. Heurteloup runs through the middle of the road

Fountain on the square in front of Tours train station

Stay tuned, more posts to come.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: