Ok, so this day was pretty fantastic.
We struck out from Paris in the morning, retrieving our rental car and getting back on the road. Big news – it was sunny. This, it turns out, is a rarity in France at this time of year, and would bode well for our picture-taking endeavours. And on an entirely personal note, I started to feel slightly more human as my cold entered its decline.
We were bound for the Loire Valley. Let me say that again. The Loire Valley. You know, that beautiful pair of words that conjures up castles and wine and romance. I’ve always wanted to go there just to say I did.
A side note about driving in France; the road signs are fantastic. Aside from the fact that they tell you that you get to go 130 on the highway (km, not miles, but it still feels fast) all of the various castles and attraction towns have these great big signs. Seriously, they should be in a book somewhere.
Our first stop was Chambourd. For those who don’t know what Chambourd is (other than a yummy raspberry liqueur), allow me to enlighten you. Chambourd is an absolutely ridiculous castle in the Loire Valley. It was the brainchild (and I use that term lightly) of King Francois I of France, who decided he needed a big castle for his mistress, and that he should divert the Loire to run alongside said castle. Luckily, his retainers made him see the error of his ways about the river, but the castle is, to put it mildly, big.
The best way to describe it’s bigness is to narrate our drive up to the castle. Sarah, in the back seat, had read to us about the history of the place, and we were just tooling along a back country road making idle chat. Suddenly, Jenn looked to the left, gasped and exclaimed a couple of choice words that made us all laugh, and agree wholeheartedly. This is almost exactly what she saw:
And here it is from a little closer:
Seriously. What could Francois One have possibly wanted with 400 rooms and all those towers? Inside was cool, literally; can you imagine trying to heat this thing? But it was full of neat stuff, including a double-helix staircase that twists your mind – as one person goes up one side of the staircase, another can go up the other; you can see each other through windows, but will never meet on the stairs. Confusing? I know. You had to be there. And even if you were, it didn’t seem quite possible. But it was. Mind-bending, literally. I loved it, even as I shook my head at the needless extravagance.
By contrast, the 2nd castle we visited was Chenonçeaux, also known as the Castle of the Six Women.
But before we get there, I have to share one of these photos. Along the way to Chenonçeaux, we zipped by the city of Blois. We didn’t have time to visit, but we did do a little photo stop.
Viola.5 months later, I discovered this error. Ahem, I believe the term I was intending was “Voila.” Sheesh. Stupid American.
Now, back to the Chateau of the Six Women. Naturally, the Three Women on this trip resonated with Chenonçeaux a bit more than Chambord, mostly because it was lovely, elegant and not decorated in salamanders. It certainly wasn’t because it was mostly designed by women. Oh no, we would never be that gender-biased. 🙂 It’s set on the river Cher, literally; the river runs through it/under it. The kitchens and serving quarters are actually nice places with windows and natural light, and after the gold-plated, cherub-adorned ballrooms I’ve been seeing in other palaces on this trip, the idea of a ball in this room just sounded refreshingly awesome.
But really, the place is most magical from outside. It’s surrounded by gardens, and the river, and when the sun sets, it looks like this:
I know. Disney magic, anyone?
As we left the two chateaus behind, we headed north to a little town called Becherel, where we would stay in ANOTHER chateau, this one a bit smaller and with a room available to rent for one night for a few euros. More on that place in Day 10’s entry. A bientot!