Monday, April 27, 2009

Loire Valley

I am in Toulouse again for work. This time it is for 1.5 weeks. The weather has been a little chilly and sometimes rainy but overall not too bad. Thursday night I went downtown for dinner with and we took an after dinner walk. This is St. Etienne Cathedral. I had not been in it's neighborhood before. The stain glass windows were lit from inside.
For the weekend, I went to the Loire Valley with Rhonda. Her husband works for Spirit and they are in Toulouse on a long-term assignment. We stationed ourselves in Tours - a town with a central location. The Loire Valley is famous for it's concentration of chateaus.
Hotel De Ville (city hall) is in the center of town and about a block from our hotel. The heart of Tours was a quaint old city while the outskirts were quite modern.
We had dinner at a sidewalk cafe. I tried the moules & frites for the first time - mussels and fries. You get a big pot of mussels and a side of fries - it is the traditional way to serve them. You just dig in with your hands. It was delicious & a bit messy.
On Saturday, we took a chateau tour. We paid to be driven around the area - well worth the money if you have a short period of time to spend there - did not have to figure out where things were yourself and had a knowledgeable van driver who gave us a lot of history along the way. (I recommend if you are ever in the area.)
We started the day by going to Villandry which is famous for it's gardens. The chateau is privately owned and the family lives in the stable house - which in itself is nothing to sneeze at. Villandry has been owned by this family for a few hundred years. We just had time to tour the amazing gardens.
The garden has several different sections. This is the romantic themed area.
This is the aromatic section with lettuces and herbs. There was also a reflecting pond and a maze.The rest of the chateaus we toured are owned by the French government. We then went to Azay Le Rideau. The river was rerouted to create the chateau's moat. It is surrounded by the village but has a good bit of land around it.
Wisteria was in bloom everywhere. It was so beautiful hanging over arbors and covering sides of buildings.
One of the great detailed windows at Azay Le Rideau.
It had to be hard to have to look out at this all the time.
Around the side.
Chambord is the largest chateau in the valley. It was built as a hunting lodge (I want to say it was for Charles VII.) It has ~300 fireplaces and very intricately decorated chiminies.
The front entrance.The grand stone staircase in the center. The main portion of the chateau was basically a four square around this staircase.
Some of the intricate turrets and chiminies as seen from the roof terrace.
The view of the grounds from the roof terrace.
The king's bedchambers.
Chenonceau was my favorite of all the chateaus we visited. It was built as a bridge across the river. It is quite a charming place.
The gallery on the ground floor that extends over the river. In WWI it was used as a hospital.
The view out one of the gallery windows.
There were beautiful fresh flower arrangements all around the chateau.
One of the 5 rooms in the kitchen area.
The stone staircase.
A view of half of the gardens from the 2nd floor balcony.
The face of one of the outbuildings was covered in wisteria.
On a totally different subject - this is a field of canola or rake weed. There are fields of brilliant yellow contrasted by the rich green grasses and trees as you drive through the countryside. It's hard to capture how beautiful it is. The flowers are harvested and pressed for oil. The quality of oil is low however and is mixed with diesel for bio-fuel.
On our drive home Sunday morning we happened upon the town of Loches. It has a Loire Valley chateau. The old walled city is at the center of town and contains a chateau, cathedral and donjon. It was quite a charming find - a happy accident. My camera battery died quickly though and so I only got a few pictures of a courtyard and the cathedral.

I have had the Loire Valley on my "must-see" list for 2 years. I am so glad I got to go and that it was not a disappointment. It was a fantastic weekend. I took almost 200 pictures - so this is a small sampling of them.


Amanda said...

Thanks for bringing the Loire Valley to Kansas! I loved Chambord, but I'd also have to say that Chenonceau is my fave. Except the double-helix staircase in Chambord is pretty cool. It's so peacefully romantic how the water goes under Chenonceau like that. When I saw Chambord, nearly the whole front side was covered in scaffolding. Not so romantic. :)

Jennifer said...

That's too bad it was covered with scaffolding because Chambord has such intricate detail to it. Chenonceau is just so romantic and feels livable. And I LOVED the kitchens in the basement. I could handle a 5 room kitchen like that!