21 July 2011

Saint-Aignan, Amboise, and Blois

When I said that it had turned cold yesterday, I exaggerated slightly. Before going out, I put on a fleece jacket over my corduroy shirt, but then I was too warm during the day. And it didn't rain until late in the afternoon. We had some nice sunshine around mid-day.

We took our friends to Saint-Aignan for a walk up to the château grounds and enjoy the views out over the town's rooftops and the river. The château itself is privately owned and not open to the public, so you can only see it from the outside. Then we drove over to Châteauvieux, a neighboring village, to see the château and church there. I posted about Châteauvieux, with photos, just a few days ago.

Saint-Aignan, on the banks of the Cher River

Lunch was a galette bretonne in the crêperie in Saint-Aignan called Le Bigouden. A galette is a buckwheat crêpe (crêpe de sarrasin) filled with savory, not sweet, ingredients. My galette, for example, was wrapped around a slice of ham, some melted cheese and cooked mushrooms, and an egg that still had a soft runny yolk. It was topped with a spoonful of chunky stewed tomatoes.

We also had dessert crêpes — some topped with hot fudge sauce and vanilla ice cream, others with the same chocolate sauce along with whipped cream and chopped ripe banana. Cups of espresso coffee finished off the meal. The Bigouden is a good restaurant. It's too bad there weren't many other customers there. Earlier we had driven past the zoo in Saint-Aignan and noticed literally hundreds of cars in the parking lots out there. I guess that was where it was happening yesterday, not in Saint-Aignan's old town.

Our next stop was Amboise, a 30-minute drive distant. What a difference! We drove through the old town looking for parking space, but every space along the narrow old streets was taken. There was quite a bit of traffic, especially on the wide boulevard that runs parallel to the Loire River past the old town and the château. We finally found a parking space in the big lot along the river, near where the Sunday morning outdoor market is held.

Amboise, on the south bank of the Loire River

We walked back to the château, which our friends wanted to go into. It was no surprise, after seing the number of cars in town, to find a big crowd going into the château. We paid 10 euros ($14 U.S.) each for tickets. The sky had clouded over and there were short showers of drizzle and a stiff breeze as we wandered around the big terrace that surrounds the château and took in the views out over the town and the Loire River.

We saw the little chapel on the château grounds that is the site of Leonardo da Vinci's tomb. The Italian genius spent the last three years of his life in Amboise — he died there in 1519 — at the invitation of the French king François 1er. A big tour group with a French-language guide got there just before we did, so we had to wait for them to leave before we could really see the interior of the chapel and Leonardo's tomb.

We went inside the château and it was just as crowded with tour groups and hundreds of tourists just shuffling along looking at paintings and old furniture, many either reading the brochure they give you when you buy your ticket or listing to the audio guide with headphones that you can rent at the entrance. The château has been heavily restored over the past two centuries and is furnished in the 19th-century style.

It got quite hot inside the château because of the crowds of tourists. It didn't help that there were a lot of stairs to climb, and I was dressed in corduroy and fleece because of the gray weather outdoors. We had noticed, earlier in the day, that the interior of the church in Saint-Aignan, where we went to admire the 800-year-old frescoes painted on the walls of the crypt, was actually very warm. Normally you expect it to be chilly inside the big old stone churches and châteaux in this part of France, but the weeks of hot weather we had earlier in the summer have warmed up the stone. The contrast with the cool outside temperature yesterday was striking and unusual.

As we left the Amboise châteaux, real rain moved in. Three of us hadn't brought along umbrellas or rain jackets, and we got fairly soaked walking the 10 minutes back to the car. It was getting to be time to drive our friends to Blois, where they were going to catch a train back to Paris. The rain kept up, sometimes falling lightly, sometimes a lot harder, for the rest of the day.

Blois, on the north bank of the Loire
As always, you can click the picture to see an enlargement

Walt and I dropped our friends at the train station at 5:15 and then went to do some shopping in a specialty food shop in Blois before driving back to Saint-Aignan. As we left Blois and headed south, it was raining very hard between Cour-Cheverny and Soings-en-Sologne. We took narrow country lanes over to Chémery and then through Noyers-sur-Cher before we crossed the river on the Saint-Aignan bridge and got home at 7:00.

Callie was very happy to see us after spending about eight hours alone at home. It was still raining hard outside, and when I tried to take her for a short walk, she didn't want to go. I gave up. Walt and I fixed ourselves salads from leftovers (we had made a big salade niçoise for dinner the night before) and had a glass a wine. The rain stopped so I took Callie out at about 8:00 p.m. It was still broad daylight and the rain had let up.

Instead of going for a walk in the vineyard — I was afraid the rain might start falling again at any minute — I just let Callie wander around the yard for a while while I did some weeding under the tomato plants in the garden. The dog ate grass for a while, I noticed — it's growing tall and green after the recent rains — and then just sat down and watched me work, waiting.

We came back in the house, I dried Callie off with a towel, and we settled in to relax for an hour in front of a TV documentary with segments about châteaux and vineyards down in the Dordogne, and then about islands off the Normandy coast, before turning in. The rain started falling again and raindrops made a pleasing noise slapping against the roof tiles and the skylight windows upstairs. When we went to bed at about 9:30, it was still light outside, but we were tired after a long day of sight-seeing.


  1. Thank you for taking me on this sight-seeing tour. It brought back many happy memories and made me realize just how much I miss the Loire Valley!

  2. Ken, have you visited the Leonardo da Vinci house and gardens, not far from the chateau in Amboise? It's really a pleasant walk in the park, with large scale models of his inventions, so you can really see how he expected them to work -- and some do work! There's also an exhibit in the house. Of course, if it's raining, it's not so nice. We went on a hot, sunny day and the park was well-shaded.

  3. Love your landscape photos of Blois, Amboise and St Aignan! Wow!

    I guess it's better to be too warm, than too cold...It's a dark rainy day here in 'Bama which is unusual for this time of year.

  4. My favorite part of the château at Amboise is the massive tower (seen in your photo) with its internal spiral ramp for soldiers with their horses and wagons to enter and exit the castle high above the river.
    Are there other castles with that system? Amboise is the only place I've ever seen with a tower that serves that purpose.

  5. Great post, Ken, with amazing photos, and a real slice-of-life description. It was relaxing to read :) Every time you talk about Amboise or Blois (or Chambord) I think of the Alliance-arranged day trip to see them that Aimée, Jane and I took. It even included a nice lunch in Blois, I believe. I had never even heard about the Loire Valley in any of my French classes in high school!

  6. Beautiful photos. Glad you had a nice visit. And very glad the rain has come!

  7. Corduroy and fleece, and no umbrella. A bit musty when wet but you must have looked very chic. The galettes sound delicious!

  8. Love the photos they are perfect. Do you use a tripod? I'm sure I'd be shaking while getting that picture- postcard-perfection.

  9. Lesley, I use a tripod for kitchen pictures but not for outside shots.

    Ladybird, I know you do.

    Ellen, we've visited Le Clos Lucé before but not this time.

    Evelyn, I thought you were under that heat dome I've been reading about in the newspapers.

    Dean, that horse and carriage ramp is amazing. I've never seen anything like it in any of the other châteaux around here.

    Judy, I'm sure that's a good memory. Even your mention of Aimée and Jane is a good memory of that year for me. Hope they are both well. You know that Walt and I ran into Jane at the airport (Roissy) one time in the 1990s, right?

    Ginny, it was a good visit. No package yet. Maybe today or tomorrow. Sunday is supposed to be dry so probably a good day for the zoo.

    Mitch, I buy nearly all my clothes in North Carolina these days so you just know how chic I am!

  10. Ken, I love your panoramic photo of Amboise. The Amboise chateau is one place I wish that we'd gone into when we were there. It is only since we've been home that I discovered what a significant history it has. Thank you for your great blog.

  11. I've heard of the very chic flying across the Atlantic to shop in NY, but never to shop in North Carolina. You, Ken, are truly a trend-setter!


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