Villandry & Blois (France 2015)

villandry2Just barely getting under the wire before the new year – determined to finish stories of our trip to France. Next up,  Switzerland and Germany from September, 2016.

We spent our last day in two places. First, Villandry, famed for its garden. I have to admit I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of blooms. The tulips had been beheaded and they were planting other things. There were some wonderful water features, some with swans. villandry5And I loved the trees trimmed to look like bumpers in a pinball machine. We wandered in the maze for a bit, then hit the road for Blois.villandry4

Blois is a big city, probably the biggest we saw on this trip, outside of Paris. We parked and had a coffee at an outdoor patio. The waitress was rather chilly but then…a flyby bird pooped on my shirt. We had a good laugh and she brought me a rag and water.

blois2blois4blois-castleWe walked past the castle. It’s a medieval / Renaissance monster, but I’m all castled out. We’ll go in another time. We did peek in through the gates to see the statue of Louis XII, one of the early owners. A lot of famous French kings lived here. My eye was caught by this downspout.

I want to add a word about Daniella and Florent, our hosts in Chinon for a week. We loved our stay at their B&B, the Agnes Sorel. They were both kind and helpful. Daniella and I had several nice talks in French – I’ll never be fluent but what fun to try. Anyone heading to Chin-un (as the GPS called it), it’s a great base from which to explore the marvelous French castles and countryside of the Loire Valley. We really missed the comfort there when we spent our last night near the Paris airport in a bed that sloped towards the edges. Au Revoir. Je reviens…


Montrieul-Bellay (France 2015)


On to Montrieul-Bellay. Parking gods were with us. First, some refreshments on a town plaza. Coffee Gourmand – espresso, and three little desserts: chocolate, cream, and lemon. Plus a pile of whipped cream. Mmmm good!
Next, we visited the castle, which consists of a large plaza surrounded by walls and buildings. Parts from the 13c (the walls) and 15c (the three dwellings) and 19c? (the main house where the current owners live.) Many centuries jumbled together. This model will give you an idea:montruiel

We got to climb the ramparts and look at the towers.  The spiral staircases inside have ropes for railings.

Down in the basement, a grape crusher which replaced foot stomping. (It’s at the end of the arches in the picture.) montruiel2

I only understood about 20% of the guide and 1/2 way through, I gave up from exhaustion. But it was a fascinating castle, more private than the ones we’ve been seeing.

As usual, I was fascinated by tiny details. A painted dragon. A monk perched on the side of a roof. A masked lover.




The view from the castle was wonderful; I envied those who lived there (in modern times – I’ve no desire to be a woman in Medieval France!)


Our trip back to the B&B was on tiny tiny roads because of a detour. In need of a salad after days of “fancy” food, we end up at a McDonalds – don’t tell. It was unlike those in the U.S. We ordered and paid on a big screen inside the store. Reminded me of self-serve gas. A girl brought a tray with our food.

And so back to Chinon, the river ending our day with romance.m-river

Loches Dungeon and Keep (France 2015)

Keep 1 Let’s start with the Keep, which was where the castle folk lived. It was built in the 10th century and was a prize passed back and forth between the English who at the time “owned” parts of France and the French. King John, of Magna Carta fame had and lost it twice. The final loss signaled the end of England on the continent.

The four stories were each single rooms. The bottom floor for storage, the 2nd for pomp and show, the third for living, and the fourth for safety, a place to withdraw if the castle was attacked. Each had a huge fireplace.Keep Stairs

You can climb up inside space, if you dare. The  hundreds of steps are narrow and inside the keep, you are standing on grills over space. Frightening. I had to edge along, heart pounding. (Remind me never to go to that glass floor over the Grand Canyon.) One set of twirly steps was so so narrow you could touch the walls with your elbows. But the view from the top was great.

We also went DOWN into the donjon (dungeon.) Those folks had great legs!  There were three parts. The early dungeon, down and down – writing on the wall by one high placed prisoner. “If you were going down these steps, you were sunk!” The carvings by prisoners. (audio giving height and shoe size?!) Dungeon Steps

Dungeon Painting




Dungeon carving



Outside these areas, but within the walls, were a couple of gardens – one recreated as medieval from texts, one around what appeared to be stairs down to the dungeon. BTW, we saw some privies in the dungeons. medieval garden



When we came out of the donjon and walked back down into the town, past a blue gate at a private home, the market was closed.Blue gate


We went on to Close Luc where Michaelango spent his last few years. Underwhelming and crowded, but as we came onto the street, a man with his little boy on the back bicycled past.

after market


We skipped Amboise Castle – we were castled out. Daniela, the owner of the B&B where we stayed said when she and her husband travel in Europe, “it’s much the same – another road, another castle.” 🙂boy on bicycle copy

Back to the B&B where we ate leftover pizza and the first tartes from a patisserie. Chocolate! Cream Puff! Lemon…too heavy.

Amboise and Loches (France, Spring 2015)

a to marketI have neglected this blog…been finishing a novel. But I need to march on through our French trip.  Today I’m writing about Amboise, one of my favorite places on our vacation.

There was a castle, of course.  As our hostess at the B&B in Chinon said, “when you travel in Europe it’s much the same – another road, another castle.”

I thought this castle special,but first we started in the town on market day. Not a market for tourists but with interesting cheese and vegetables, and locals shopping with baskets and on bikes.a bike shopping

a weird cheese











Check out these moldy cheeses. Like oysters.

After the market, we hiked all the way around the castle walls. The front is high on a cliff over the river and it’s walled on three sides. Some of the walls are from very early – 900 or so. I love the Medieval period and these walls definitely felt old.

a castle walls









a castle on river

Once we got inside the walls, we got lost; the area is large and it took us a while to stumble onto the main building and the royal apartments.  Nice views, Renaissance, nothing much to write home about.


a castle in arch




I did love the niche where carving took the place of wallpaper. BUT the donjon (dungeon) was a definite must see and the oldest part of the castle, not restored almost gave me a heart attack. More about that next time…

a carved wallpaper




Chambord (France, Spring 2015)

Chambord CastleAs predicted, today it’s raining, but not wanting to miss a day, we drove to Chambord. Renaissance chateau and what a setting.  On the grounds, acres of grounds, a “pond” had been built for boating. And all those fairy-tale towers. That was one of the attractions: we were able to climb up to the roof using a famous double-helix of stairs, that means those going up didn’t meet those coming down, although we could peek through tiny windows at other tourists.Chambord Towers

The castle was built for Francois I as a “hunting lodge.” Evidently never furnished because it had too many windows and high ceilings and was impossible to heat. When Francois came to hunt, beds, tables, hangings, even food had to be brought along, the last because there was no local village. Very practical! In addition the surrounding land was swampy and summers brought out the mosquitoes.

After years of restoration and abandonment, it was given to one of the final “kings” of France (after Napoleon – a very confusing part of French history); the man ruled for 7 days, was overthrown and went into in exile for 40 years, he eventually came back. We saw his coaches – OMG, pomp still. You’d think after exile he’d take the hint that the monarchy was over…

Chambord coach

A historical tidbit: He was born 7 months after his father died. There was no courtier in the room at his birth, so other pretenders to the throne said he was not a French prince. My hubby joked about his portrait: if you squint he looks like his father but perhaps more resembles the guard.

The castle, unlike Versailles, is mainly empty. The view from the roof to the courtyard was fun. And Chambord courtyardwe were entertained by a horse troupe as we left. The stables were originally for over 1000 horses. Seems extreme until you remember everything – travel, hunting, plowing, fighting – was done with horses.Chambord horse

Chambord was easily the most castle beautiful site we’ve seen, but not my favorite. There’s such a surface on Renaissance castles, it’s had to imagine anyone living in them. I have always imagined their public lives to be as false as their housing and because in castles, we usually don’t get to see the private rooms, it’s hard to imagine how they lived. It does say something that members of the court stood around while the queen was giving birth…

Although the grounds were crowded with families, we remarked on how quiet the French kids are on the whole. Drive home through fields and fields. Strange red tipped plants. Also some fluffy grain. I suspect my mother, a Kansas girl, could have identified it. Sun and shadow and green. Wonderful. Nap. Then out but the supermarket is closed. We have pizza. Good pizza. But how big is a 33 cm pizza? Too big! Dinner is done about 9:00. We’re becoming French 🙂 Chambord field

Mushrooms and Saumur (France 2015)

This charming nook greets us every morning as we leave the hotel.


Troglyte house
The region around Chinon has many “Troglodyte” homes. These are houses that were built into caves in the hillside. This was one of the fancier ones. Note the chimney. Naturally, with so many caves, they grow mushrooms. We went to lunch at a restaurant built in one of those caves. It was a steep climb, all for nothingl – mushrooms aren’t fattening! Mushroom StairsOn to Saumur Castle. First built in the 10th century, it became part of the English Plantagenet realm. It burned, as castles will, and was rebuilt in the 13th cent. Saumur CastleIt is the model for the September castle in Les Tres Riches Heures, a 1410 prayerbook for the Duc de Berry. It has been under restoration since 1904…anyone who has remodeled a kitchen will understand!Tres Riches Heures

We met a guide who spoke English, French, Spanish, German and a few Russian phrases. Hubby asked if he could translate Borscht?

SaumurThe main castle was set in a large courtyard surrounded by walls and a moat. Very traditional.

There were furnishings and displays of objects dug up on the grounds. Or at least from the time period. A tapestry; notice the hat! A carving from the chapel of a petulant girl. A restored fireplace and the wooden mechanism (original they said) that worked the well.

Saumur CarvingSaumurTapestry


Saumur Fireplace

WellOn the way home we passed a boat maker. Very much in demand – we see boats on the river everyday.

Boat Builder

BoatA little walk through Chinon. Eerie how few English speakers – most are Brit. Watch a movie in our room. Isn’t technology wonderful? But no popcorn.