Sunday, July 15, 2012

Chateaux Hopping (Première Partie)

Our first full day in France was spent chateaux hopping in the Loire Valley. We asked for some guidance from the person at the front desk of the hotel, and looked some things up in our guidebooks and decided on 3 or 4 chateaux that were relatively close by to visit. It turns out that Tours was an excellent HQ for our adventures, and we saw some truly incredible sights this day.

We were up fairly early (around 8:00) and got on the road by 8:45. First stop: breakfast, and the front desk guy basically told us our only option in the area was McDonald's. With little choice, we headed over.

When we got there, we found a the nicest McDonald's we'd ever seen. We still could hardly order food there, and accidentally ordered almost the entirety of Nathan's meal twice, but other than that we got a good start for the day.

Here are some shots of Chez McDonald's:

Look at that place! It's a thing of beauty!

Nathan eating his first truly French meal

The first stop after breakfast was Chateau Langeais. This was in a bit to the west of Tours and was a chateau that was in a bit more rustic condition. We arrived in Langeais and found an unbelievably picturesque town square with the castle in the background:

Could this be any cuter?!

The town hall, flying the colors on Bastille Day

A look up the street at the chateau

The castle itself is a bit on the rustic side (as castles go), but was a castle to start with as had we seen it last we might have been a bit disappointed. Instead, this castle gave us a taste and each subsequent castle just got better and better.

Apparently, it was at this castle that the king of France (Charles VIII) married Anne, the duchess of Brittany and unified all of France. Whatever the history, the chateau was very well preserved and looked gorgeous from the outside. Here are a few other shots of the castle to show what I mean:

Langeais as seen from the castle yard inside the walls

The original fortress built around 1000 years ago that
has since crumbled

Finally, here's Nathan as he'd look if he was a French solder 500 years ago:

Pretty menacing, huh?

After exploring Langeais, we drove back east through Tours to a town called Amboise. On the way, we passed some of the most amazing villages that were right on the banks of the Loire river. In many of the villages, because their was not much room, the houses actually had been dug into the side of the very steep hill on the north side of the river. I don't have any pictures, but I'm sure you can find some. It was absolutely fascinating how (and maybe more important why) they had gone to the trouble.

Before we visited the chateaux in Ambroise, we walked through the old part of the town and found a sandwicherie where we had lunch. I'm not kidding either; the sign over door said "sandwhicherie"! Apparently, in French you can stick "-erie" onto anything to indicate a place where they sell and/or make that   thing. For instance, we saw a boulangerie (bakery), a patiserie (pastry shop), a saladerie (salad restaurant) and bagpiperie (bagpipe dealer). BTW, I made that last one up.

Here's a shot of the old town and our favorite sandwicherie in Ambroise:

A nice clock tower in old town Amboise

See the sign? I told you it was a sandwicherie!

The town of Amboise was significantly bigger than Langeais. This is probably because the aforementioned Charles and Anne made the Chateau Amboise their home after their wedding. This likely drew a lot more people to this town.

Where Langleais was beautiful if somewhat spartan, Amboise was just beautiful. It was huge, on top of a massive cliff overlooking the whole area, and filled with gardens and other comforts.

Here are a few photos of Amboise:

The view of the river Loire from the castle

Looking at the outside of the main building from the 
castle yard

Part of the chateau as viewed from the inside

One of the gargoyles standing watch
over Amboise

The chapel at Amboise where Leonardo Da Vinci
is buried

See? I told you!

You may be wondering why Leonardo Da Vinci was living in a town in France. Apparently, King Francois I loved and appreciated Da Vinci and brought him to Amboise when he Da Vinci was 64 years old. He lived in Amboise until he died.

They say you should keep them wanting more, but I'm not sure what the first they say when the second they never really wanted the first bit, let alone more. Either way I'm going to stop here and finish up later. Au revoir!

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