27 September 2007

The grand tour

Wednesday of last week was the day of the grand tour of the Loire Valley châteaux that are within 25 miles of Saint-Aignan. That includes Chenonceau, Amboise, Chaumont-sur-Loire, and Chambord. I'm leaving out Blois and Cheverny, because we didn't have time to stop at either of those, and Valençay, which we saw a couple of days earlier.

There are many more châteaux nearby that are worth a visit, but it would take several days to see all of them. Le Gué-Péan, Chémery, Montrésor, Le Moulin, La Bourdaisière, Villesavin, Beauregard, Troussay, Selles-sur-Cher, and Fougères-sur-Bièvre are just a few of the others. Not to mention Saint-Aignan.

Chenonceau, 19 September 2007

But when it is your visitors' first tour of the Loire Valley, you have to hit the high spots. It's not too hard to get "chateaued out," if you know what I mean. It's like churches. After the fifth or sixth one, you find yourself yawning and muttering "okay, another church."

To really get to know the Loire Valley area, or any other, you have to spend a few weeks, and vary your pleasures by seeing a château or a church now and then but also taking days off to enjoy long walks along the rivers or through the vineyards. Stopping in a winery for a tasting and having a few nice meals made from ingredients you buy in the street markets is also a good idea. And restaurants.

A main shopping street in Amboise —
it wasn't too crowded at lunchtime.

Anyway, time is usually short and a certain amount of rushing around is necessary. Otherwise, visitors go away with the idea that they didn't really get to see all that they had wanted to see. Driving from château to château over the course of a long day is also a good opportunity to chat, relive old memories, and laugh it up with guests you don't get to see as often as you would like.

Speaking of my driving, I only managed to make Janice scream once while we were in the car. Joanna didn't scream at all, or at least not that I can recall. Remember, I had never met Janice before this visit, even though she has been a friend of my sister's for 20 years. She probably thought I was a madman as we raced around on our area's narrow curvy roads, and sped through villages that were often a tangle of traffic.

Joanna took this picture of the château in Amboise.

Janice's scream didn't come until the very last day of the trip, in Paris. We were driving around the bouldevard périphérique from our hotel near the Porte d'Italie toward the Porte de Bagnolet and the A3 autoroute that takes you out to Charles de Gaulle airport. A big truck was in the right lane and its driver was weaving back and forth over the line dividing his lane from the empty one between him and us. I needed to move over to make my exit.

I watched the truck weave for a few seconds until I thought I detected a pattern in his movement. No, he wasn't actually planning to change lanes. So that empty lane was mine for the taking. I stepped on the gas to try to get ahead of the truck and I started moving to the right. Problem was that he picked that moment to weave left. That's when Janice screamed. "Kenny, watch out for that truck!" she yelled, her life passing in front of her eyes.

But we made it. I've gotten better screams than that out of Walt. Once in Spain... oh well, we survived and so did the car, so there's not point going into the details. I also remember a woman I didn't know, a friend of a friend who came to visit, letting out a tiny scream one day when I decided suddenly to pull off the highway for a good view of the château at Chaumont-sur-Loire from across the river. I hadn't realized that the gravel shoulder of the road was so pitted and rutted. The car went sliding but the anti-lock breaks kicked in and saved us. Since we were wearing seat belts, our heads didn't even hit the roof of the car. And we got a great view of the château, way up on a bluff above the Loire.

The weather was nice, but it was a little too chilly to eat outside in Amboise that day.

Last Wednesday, there wasn't too much excitement of that kind. We walked the river path at Chenonceau in the morning. Then we went over to Amboise and had lunch. The restaurant I wanted to try, one that I've been wondering about for years, was of course closed on Wednesdays. So we went to a pizzeria down the street, directly under the high walls of the château d'Amboise. It's called La Florentine. The food was good. I had a pizza, Joanna had spaghetti with meat sauce, and Janice had onion soup and a big salad with lots of cheese in it.


After lunch and a walk through some of the busier streets of Amboise, we drove on over to Chaumont. I parked around back, in the "secret" parking area I discovered a couple of years ago. When you park there rather than down in the village, you don't have to suffer through a long, steep hike up the hill to get to the château. You're already on top of the bluff, so you just stroll over to the château on flat ground through a wooded park.

Joanna also took this picture of me at the wheel
of the Peugeot. That's the cathedral and the bridge
at Blois that you see through the windshield.

From Chaumont, Blois is a short ride. We stopped on the south bank of the Loire and admired the panoramic view of the city, with its château, an old convent, three big churches, and the old stone arches of the bridge across the river. We didn't cross the bridge so we didn't go into the main part of town. No time.


We pressed on toward Chambord, with me pointing out the château de Ménars on its bluff across the river. Mme de Pompadour lived there in the 18th century and had the place refurbished by the finest architects of the day. It isn't open to the public.

At Chambord, there were plenty of people but it wasn't what you'd call mobbed. It never is, in my experience, not the way Chenonceau can be. I guess the grounds are just a lot more spacious and the château de Chambord just about dwarfs all the other châteaux around here. We took pictures and looked around in the château's gift shop as well as some of the other souvenir stores on the grounds before we headed back to Saint-Aignan.

The many ornate chimneys at Chambord

When we got home at about 6:30, Joanna, Janice, Walt, and Callie went for a walk out in the vineyard while I copied my pictures onto my hard disk and started organizing and processing them. They seemed to have a nice walk, and Joanna took some pictures of — what else? — grapes. It was a good but long, busy day for us all.


  1. It is amazing to think of the wealth and skills that went into building these chateaux. Many years ago we visited several of the ones that you mentioned and I still can see in my mind's eye the spiral or double staircases, rooms and somwtimes the furniture.

    From a gardner's perpective the gardens were another constant source of pleasure.

  2. I have really enjoyed your blog since visitng Saint Aignan last month. The GRAND Tour today was especially picturesque and your comments on the pleasures of a day driving tour and opportunties to chat with friends and or family on the mark!!. Great photos as always. Conn McConnell

  3. Yes! Your recent posts have been SOOOO interesting. Wish I were there.


  4. Whew! What a whirlwind day. The desktop background for my computer is Chemery and my screen saver is a slide show of photos I took on a similar tour with you, albeit a more leisurely one. It's a great reminder of a wonderful visit and I'm sure J and J will be reliving this trip for years to come.

  5. Wow! Quite a grand tour! with grand photos, too. AND you had nice weather, which I find hard to believe as I look out of my window this morning!
    I found you were quite a safe driver and was surprised by your truck story! ;)


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