31 December 2017

L'Hostellerie Gargantua, a hotel in Chinon

A hotel, L'Hostellerie Gargantua, occupies this 15th century building on a narrow street near the Eglise Saint-Maurice, just below the château in Chinon. The hotel "may have a real connection with Rabelais, as this was once the Palais du Bailliage, where Rabelais' father may have carried out some of his legal business," says the author of the Cadogan Loire guidebook.

The Hostellerie Gargantua offers rooms at very reasonable rates. It also has a restaurant with both indoor and outdoor seating, and prices in the 20 to 30 euro range for lunch and dinner. I'm not advertising for it, but I do think the building is interesting. The shot above shows the north façade.

Look at this Google Maps aerial view of the building and neighborhood. It's a view of the west side of the building, in the middle of the photo, with the turret. Here's a link to the hotel's web site, which you can view in English or en français. You can also find it on TripAdvisor, of course.

If you haven't experimented with Google Maps (the way I've been experimenting this morning) you might be amazed at what you can do with its maps of Chinon. The hotel Gargantua is the building right behind the tree with the red dot on it in the middle of the image. Click on the image to display it at a larger size in a separate window, and then click on it again if you see the + cursor to see more details and scroll around.

Finally, here's a view from a slightly different angle. You can see the whole château complex behind and above the town. Again, enlarge the image to see more detail and see if you can find the Gargantua hotel in this one. All credit and thanks to Google Maps, of course.

30 December 2017

Chinon from above

I went back into my photo archives again and found these photos that I took more than 17 years ago. It was October 2000, and we had rented a little house in Vouvray. We wanted to spend a week exploring old Touraine and adjoining areas of the Loire Valley. It was the trip to France that led us to decided to come live in the Loire Valley in 2003.

This has to have been the first time I ever went to Chinon. Even though I had spent a couple of days in Tours back in 1972, and had seen Chambord, Chinon was not on my itinerary. I knew about it, however, because one of my professors at Duke University was a French Renaissance specialist who had written at least one book and a number of articles about the Chinonais writer Rabelais.

One of the most striking things about these views from up in the château de Chinon is how dark they are. It's all the black slate rooftops. In Saint-Aignan and points east, a lot of the roofing material is red terra cotta tiles. The towns are more colorful seen from above. The slate is much more characteristic of Brittany to the west. I once knew a French woman in Paris who said she didn't like going to Brittany because all the black slate roofs were too depressing.

I think I might have taken the photo on the right from the top of the Tour de l'Horloge, which I posted photos of yesterday — or one of the other old towers. I can't believe I climbed all the way up there and took only one photo, but the others don't appear to have been taken from so high up. I bet Walt has more pictures but he was taking slides back then, not digital photos. I was using my first digital camera, a Kodak I got for Christmas in 1998.

There are several churches and chapels in Chinon. I'm not a historian or architect, but my reading leads me to think the one above is the Eglise Saint-Maurice, which dates back to the 12th century. The Plantagenets donated money to help finance its construction at that time. Chinon had been an important religious center before the Viking invasions of the 8th and 9th centuries.
My googling tells me the church with two towers in the photos above and on the right is the église collégiale Saint-Mexme. Mexme (the name is a variant of Maxime) was a hermit and disciple of saint Martin who lived in Chinon in the 5th century. An earlier church named for him was replaced by the current church around the year 1000 (about the same time as the church in Saint-Aignan). Like nearly all the churches in France, it has been modified and enlarged over the centuries. The other church in the photo, on the far right, is L'Eglise Saint-Etienne.

29 December 2017

Angles of approach

The Tour de l'Horloge stands at the entry gate of Chinon's Château du Milieu. As has been noted, it is a ridiculously pencil-thin tower. It was built in two stages: the lower part, with the entry gate, dates back to the 12th century. The upper section was added on in the 14th century. This is a view from down by the river.

The tower is only five meters wide. That's 16½ feet and is not much compared to its height (22 m, or nearly 75 feet). Located on a rocky spur north of the Vienne river, it soars over the town. I wonder how far above the river the top of the tower stands...

The clock at the top of the tower has been ringing every hour of the days since 1399. In 1429, Joan of Arc passed through the gate at the bottom of the tower  — and through so many others all over the Loire Valley and France over the years before her death by incineration in Rouen. (That's Walt and our dog Collette on the lower left edge of the photo.)

It's an impressive structure. I believe that Walt and I climbed the stairs to the top on one of our visits. I'm still looking for any photos we took that day.

28 December 2017

Ruins, and why

Here are some more of my 12-year-old Chinon photos, along with some commentary (in italics) from one of my favorite books about the Loire Valley, the Cadogan guide. I like it because it's a good read, entertaining as well as informative, and I don't have to translate it!

“Looking steeply up from the town below, the castle seems to consist of little more than a string of beautiful battered towers and fortifications... It's worth making the climb up the winding, treacherous paths... not just because the castle offers beautiful views over the town and the Chinonais [the surrounding countryside], it also has a few rooms to visit and great ruins to clamber around.”

There are more furnished and finished buildings and rooms there nowadays that there were when the Cadogan edition I have was published (2001). The Château de Chinon is still mainly a ruined site, but a little less than it was just a decade ago.

I didn't take the photo above from an angle that illustrates his point, but the author of the Cadogan Loire guide describes the castle's Tour de l'Horloge (clock tower) as “anorexically” thin in one paragraph, and “risibly” so in another. See this photo to confirm that; the clock tower is on the far right.

So what happened at Chinon to turn the castle into ruins? By the end of the 1400s, “the château was used mainly as a base for military operations and as a state prison... during the 16th century Wars of Religion, the fort was used by royal forces but the château was gradually falling into a state of disrepair...”

“Cardinal Richelieu acquired the property in 1633, when King Louis XIII sold it to him. Richelieu added this territory to that he had amassed close to his family home to the south. In his usual manner, his first thought was to demolish the place. Instead, it was simply left to fall further into ruin by him and his descendants.” The town of Richelieu is less than a 30-minute drive south of Chinon. I have some photos I took there in 2003 and again in 2006 that I might post one day.

27 December 2017

Tired of walking?

If your dogs are starting to bark, and if it's getting close to lunchtime, you might want to get a table at one of these places in Chinon. You can sit down and rest, have a coffee or a glass of wine, and watch the world go by. (I can't recommend any of these places out of personal experience. I'm just showing photos.)

According to the Cadogan guide, the house above, now a café restaurant called La Maison Rouge, was built in the year 1400. The restaurant gets pretty good ratings on TripAdvisor, and upstairs there's a vacation rental apartment for two to six people. The rental rates look reasonable. See the web site here, in French or in English.

For a light meal or a sweet treat, you can always look for a crêperie. I remember that we went into the one above one afternoon with friends who were visiting from California. They were hungry, but at an odd time by French standards — 3:00 p.m. The woman who greeted us said she could make us a dessert crêpe, but nothing else. I'm not sure Le Rabelais exists any more. I can't find it on TripAdvisor or on Google Maps.

The restaurant called Les Années Trente is still in business. I found it on Google Maps. On TripAdvisor, it's rated as one of the two best restaurants in Chinon. According to the restaurant's web site, it's open for lunch from 12:15 to 1:30, and for dinner from 7:30 to 9:00. It wouldn't have done us any good that afternoon when we were searching for a mid-afternoon snack. The restaurant seems to make food to go (à emporter) however.

The place above is where we ended up on that October afternoon. It's located a little ways east of the bridge that spans the Vienne river in Chinon. We were lucky they could accommodate us, because it was obvious the staff was still cleaning up the mess from a very busy lunch service. The Café de la Paix is a brasserie, and that kind of French restaurant usually stays open all day and into the night. It gets pretty good TripAdvisor reviews, but the look of the place has obviously changed completely since 2005.

26 December 2017

The streets of old Chinon

What you see in the photos here are called "streets" (rues) in French, not (British) "lanes" or "alleys". There is also a word, ruelles, meaning "little streets". The rue on the right is paved with cobblestones (pavés or "paving stones"). If you think they would be rough to drive on and would make your car rattle, you're right. But as you might imagine, cars basically move at a snail's pace on streets like these.

Don't look for the sidewalk (or what the British call a "the pavement") because usually there isn't one. You just walk down the middle of the street, not on the side. Anyway, the cars, when there are any, aren't racing through. You'll have time to step out of the way. If you're walking in rainy weather, you'll want to avoid stepping into the rain gutter that runs down the middle of the street.

The narrow streets (les rues étroites) of Chinon are picturesque — that's for sure. Of course they were built without automobiles in mind, since they are hundreds and hundreds of years old. The Michelin guide uses the expressions ruelles médiévales, petites places ("tiny squares"), and quais tout au long de la Vienne (the riverside walk) in describing what old Chinon is like.

The Michelin guide also quotes this ditty by the Renaissance writer Rabelais, an illustrious Chinonais:

Chinon, Chinon, Chinon,
Petite ville, grand renom,
Assise sur pierre ancienne,
Au haut le bois, au pied la Vienne.

[Chinon, Chinon, Chinon,
A little town of great renown,
Solidly built on ancient stone,
With woods up and water down.]

25 December 2017

Christmas colors and foods

The turkey is in the oven. Oh, I don't mean it's cooking yet. I just took it out of the refrigerator to get the giblets out and make stock, and now I've stored it in the oven with the door closed to keep the cat from getting at it while I write this blog post.

I can imagine Santa Claus driving a car like this red and white 2CV that I photographed in Chinon in 2003.

Yesterday a good friend from England who used to live here came by at noontime and we made our Christmas Eve cheese fondue. We always enjoy eating that in wintertime. It takes three cheeses: Gruyère, Comté, and Emmental, along with white wine, kirsch, and a pinch of nutmeg.

This man touting the Chinon wines looks like he could be a stand-in for Old Saint Nick in this 2003 photo.

While we were eating and talking, our friend asked what we would be making for our Christmas dinner. We told her turkey with chestnut stuffing (farce aux châtaignes). She said that was also a classic Christmas dinner in England. I said something about Americans not eating chestnuts much and wondered out loud if the trees just don't grow in North America (the way pecan trees don't grow here because the summertime weather is just not hot enough).

I wonder if this is supposed to be the Renaissance writer François Rabelais, of Chinon.

Well, it turns out that a chestnut blight imported from Asia killed off more than four billion North American chestnut trees in the early part of the 20th century. They've never recovered. Asian chestnuts were immune to the blight, and European chestnuts were much less susceptible to it than the North American trees were. So Americans have to do without chestnuts unless they are imported. It's a pity... Okay, now it's time to start cooking the turkey.

24 December 2017

28,000 square meters

Twenty-eight thousand square meters is the equivalent of just over 300,000 square feet (seven acres). That how big the château at Chinon turns out to be: 400m x 70m, according to the Michelin Guide Vert. "Three separate medieval fortifications were combined into one in the castle's heyday," writes the author of the Cadogan Guide to the Loire Valley.

This first photo shows what you see as you approach Chinon from upriver along the Vienne. « ...cette forteresse date, pour l'essentiel, de l'époque d'Henri II Plantagenêt (12e siècle) » — that's what I read in the Guide Vert. Even though Henri became king of England in 1154, he died at Chinon in 1189 (at the age of 56 — I notice that he was born on March 5 as I was).

Anyway, I like the view above. I took the photo near Ligré, a village on the  left bank of the Vienne river, about three miles (5 km) southeast of the château. We used to like to go to the Château de Ligré winery there until we settled in here in Saint-Aignan and stopped doing so much driving all around the Loire Valley. We got old, I guess.

Here's a map of Chinon that I photographed somewhere. You can see how big the château complex is (the rusty red color toward the top of the map) compared to the town, which is in two parts on either side of the river, linked by the old bridge. Click or tap and pinch the photos to enlarge them.

23 December 2017

Le pont de Chinon

The town of Chinon is in western Touraine — southwest of Tours. It's a 60- to 90-minute drive from Saint-Aignan, depending on whether you take local roads or the limited-access, high-speed autoroute. It's three or four hours by train from Paris. The town of Chinon, on the banks of the Vienne river, sits in the middle of some of the most prestigious red-wine vineyards of Touraine. The main grape is Cabernet Franc.

Here are three shots of the bridge that spans the Vienne at Chinon. The river is 372 kilometers (230 miles) long, and it flows into the Loire (length 1,000 km) just a few kilometers west of Chinon. In the photo above, that's Walt walking with our dog Collette, who left this world in 2006 at the age of 14, along the tree-lined street that borders the river. These photos date back to 2005.

From up on the grounds of the château, the view above, looking south, shows the bridge deck and the part of town that's on the south (or "left") bank of the river. The population of Chinon is about 8,000, making it twice as big as Saint-Aignan and comparable to the town of Loches in eastern Touraine.

It was the Plantagenet family of Anjou that played a great role in developing Chinon nearly a thousand years ago. Henri II, who was to become king of England in 1154 and reign for more than 30 years, had adopted Chinon as his favorite residence. He had the bridge reinforced and quais built along the riverbanks — not to mention the château, of which the Michelin guide says that what you see today was built, essentially, during Henri II's time there.

22 December 2017

Cleaning the cameras for future outings

It seems obvious that the best plan of action for me right now, vis-à-vis Chinon and its enormous hilltop château, would be to go back over there and take some "after" photos to compare to my "before" photos. Speaking of the latter, here's one from October 2005:

Click or tap on the image a couple of times to see it at a larger size.

The panorama above is a stitched-together composite of two separate photos that I took on 27 October 2005, when friends were visiting from California and we were out touring around the region. I was using a big Canon Powershot Pro90 IS camera that I bought in the year 2000. It's long gone now. I donated it to Emmaüs, which is a sort of Good Will charity organization here in France.

Speaking of cameras, I have now successfully dis- and re-assembled two of my Panasonic Lumix cameras this week. The goal was to clean the inside of the lens and the little glass "screen" of the camera sensor, which captures images transmitted through the lens.

The issue I wanted to resolve, and did resolve, was dust or lint or whatever that had accumulated on the back end of the lens or on the sensor screen. It needed to be removed, because it showed up in my photos as smudges or blotches that I had either to live with or to erase using photo editing software.

To open up the cameras and get access to the image sensor and lens, I had to buy a special screwdriver. The screws — six to ten of them depending on camera model, Lumix ZS1 or ZS8 — are really tiny. The dish in the photo above measures 3 x 2 inches (75 x 50 mm). Here's a link to a Youtube video showing how to do the job.

Above is a photo showing a smudge on an image that dust inside the camera was causing. It's right above the Cape Lookout lighthouse (N.C.) in this long zoom shot. By the way, I now have two Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS8 cameras as well as the older ZS1. I bought the first ZS8 in 2012, and the second (used) two months ago when I was in North Carolina. I think I now have cameras that will serve my purposes for the rest of my life!

21 December 2017

From Montrésor to Chemillé to Chinon

Chinon is a very different kind of place compared to Montrésor. It's a big town, pop. 8,000 or so. The château at Chinon is basically a ruin, and it's enormous. And it has much greater historical significance than does the château at Montrésor. The Plantagenets and Joan of Arc feature in its past.

A section of the Château de Chinon in an October 2005 photo

That said, I need to do some reading to refresh my memory of the history of Chinon. And I need to process some photos. Most of the ones I've found so far date back to 2005, and digital cameras didn't consistently produce images of the same quality back then. We'll see.

Meanwhile, I want to post a couple of photos of the village that lies just to the west of Montrésor. It's called Chemillé-sur-Indrois, and it's the spot where a small earthen dam creates a plan d'eau, a small artificial lake, just three kilometers (a couple of miles) from the Montrésor château.

Le plan d'eau de Chemillé-sur-Indrois, near Montrésor

There's a good restaurant there called Le Moulin de Chaudé. Nearly two years ago I posted photos I took during a meal there, and here again is a link. I am providing this information for an American who participates in a travel forum that I like to read and who has said he plans to visit Montrésor on an upcoming trip to France.

In warmer weather (we were here in December) this terrasse is set up with tables and chairs for outdoor dining.

Also, here's another panel of that Renaissance-era stained-glass window in the church at Montrésor. I don't know why I didn't post it earlier.

I can't seem to finish with Montrésor.

20 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 28)

Parting glances... Here are some things you might see when you walk around in Montrésor for a few hours. First, a knight, or at least a well-armed soldier. I guess the French word for knight — chevalier — is appropriate because...

...another thing you might well see is a cheval like this one. A horse was grazing along the south bank of the Indrois on the day in May when I was there in 2006.

And you'll of course see doors and windows. Des portes et des fenêtres. The door on the right would have to be in Touraine and date back to the time of Ronsard. Cueillez dès aujourd'hui les roses de la vie, he wrote. How many of us love to take photos of doors, windows, and shutters (volets) in French villages and towns? I raise my hand.

Like this one. I took close-up photos of the chain and lock on this door, but I'll spare you. The door surrounded by roses (above) and the door under the arch (left) are both in buildings that are part of the château complex. See below.

I still have a lot of photos that I've taken in Montrésor over the past 15 years and could post, but I'm going to start moving on. Maybe I should choose another town or village and do another series.

19 December 2017

Montrésor (nº 27)

The village of Montrésor in the Loire Valley's old Touraine province is a string of houses below a 500-year-old château and church along the little Indrois River. It's about 45 minutes by car south of better-known Amboise and an hour east of Chinon. Three closer towns of note are Loches, Montrichard, and Saint-Aignan.

The Indrois is a small river that flows into the Indre River north of Loches after winding for 25 or 30 miles through the southeast corner of Touraine. The Indre in turn flows into the much larger Loire River, making the Indrois a sub-tributary of France's largest and longest river.

The Wikipedia article about the Indrois describes the rivière as only « moyennement abondante » (the flow is not especially impressive). In other words, it's not much more than a stream. Above and on the right are views of the Indrois from up in the château.

Though small and lazy, the Indrois does flood every 20 years or so, and the floods are sometimes more significant than you might expect for a stream with a fairly small drainage basin. The Indre River into which the Indrois flows has a drainage basin ten times as extensive and is five times longer, and it's still basically a small, slow-flowing river.

At Montrésor, the château stands on a sort of promontory above the Indrois valley, which is lined with vegetable gardens on its north bank and maintained as a park and river walk on the south bank. There are pretty views from the château and its grounds. At nearby Chemillé, downstream, the Indrois is dammed and forms a small artificial lake. There's a very nice restaurant there called Le Moulin de Chaudé where we've had several delicious meals over the past two or three years.