A Travellerspoint blog

Charming Chateau Chenonceau

sunny 26 °C

If Chambord is the grandest chateau in the Loire Valley then Chateau de Chenonceau, which spans the River Cher, must surely be the prettiest...

large_58b29e20-ecfe-11e9-9d1f-5fb94302f571.JPG

All of France was once ruled from this Chateau by an Italian noblewoman, Catherine de Medici, following the death of her husband King Henri II of France, (1515 - 1559). Henri was mortally wounded in a jousting tournament with the captain of his Scots guards and his 15 year old son was crowned Francis II. But not for long. He soon died and Catherine became Queen Regent on behalf of her 10 year old son King Charles IX. Then he died and with her help her third son became King Henry III. Catherine was still pulling her son's strings when in 1572 thousands of protestant Huguenots were slaughtered in the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre and she got the blame for it. Now let's take a break and have a look at the original front door of the Chateau dated 1519...

5beda4e0-ecfe-11e9-9d1f-5fb94302f571.JPG

Phew – a good pair of walking shoes, stamina and a clear head for history are needed here. This is our third chateau in three days and we barely mentioned the great Royal Chateau of Blois where Catherine de Medici died at the age of 69, just a few months before her third son died.This chateau still has towers and walls that were part of an ancient castle that was already 400 years old when Francis I turned it into one of his many palaces in the early 1500s...

large_f3b59600-ed19-11e9-b3da-d5832dc604b3.JPG

Now, if you are not reeling from all this historical stuff, let's get back to Chenonceau where, while Catherine de Medici was planning major extensions and the beautiful gardens, her husband, Henri II, was more interested in pursuits of a carnal kind with his mistress Diane de Poitiers. She even had her own bedroom on site...

5e4a3280-ecfe-11e9-b8a4-43b01bee91b9.JPG

Henri left the chateau to Diane on his deathbed but Catherine soon shoved her out and redecorated for when her daughters and daughters-in-law visited. All five were queens and this was their bedroom...

large_5d688510-ecfe-11e9-9d1f-5fb94302f571.JPG

Beneath the chateau are extensive kitchens with a fascinating array of pots and pans...

58edd260-ecfe-11e9-9d1f-5fb94302f571.JPG

The crowning glory of Chenonceau is the long gallery that spans the river...

large_585cb5f0-ecfe-11e9-9d1f-5fb94302f571.JPG

This great room, and the two floors above it, was built by Catherine as a grand ballroom to entertain visiting royalty and noblemen. During the First World War the chateau was turned into a hospital by the owners and the the galleries became wards for hundreds of wounded soldiers. In 1914 the chateau's operating room was equipped with one of the first X-ray machines in the world. Catherine de Medici was also interested in medicine in the 1500s and she had an extensive apothecary. This is one of the medicine cabinets...

5e1c6bc0-ecfe-11e9-84a3-6d671447f306.JPG

The walls of the Chateau de Chenonceau exude history. While decisions made here changed the course of history in the middle ages, the chateau had a role during the Second World War when it straddled the demarcation line between Nazi occupied France and Vichy France and was used to smuggle people across the river to potential freedom. If only the walls of these corridors could talk – what stories they would tell...

5c9815b0-ecfe-11e9-9d1f-5fb94302f571.JPG

large_5db126d0-ecfe-11e9-9d1f-5fb94302f571.JPG

Posted by Hawkson 11:01 Archived in France Comments (4)

A Chateau a Day

semi-overcast 20 °C

The Loire Valley to the west of Paris has long been the hunting ground for the French aristocracy so it is no surprise that they would want to have a little pied-à-terre somewhere in the woods from where they could take pot shots at the passing game. This is the petit pied-à-terre of King Francois I which was begun exactly 500 years ago in 1519...

large_1-P1090482.jpg

This 426 room chateau at Chambord may seem a little excessive as far as hunting lodges go, but medieval French kings had a tendency to go a little over the top. King Francois the first (and almost the last) spent only 72 days in this chateau during his 32 year reign but to be fair he had lots of other castles to get around. This is his 'townhouse' on the other side of the Loire River in Blois...

large_7dff0d20-ebf6-11e9-a97d-196f9e2e46b5.JPG

More about Blois next time. Now back to Chambord where the most unusual feature is an elaborate stone staircase that intertwines two flights that never coincide. Two people joining the staircase from opposite points on the same floor can never meet...

1-P1090556.JPG

Even today it would take some fancy engineering and at first glance it seems implausible. But to understand the principle take two similar corkscrews and screw them together. Got it? Never mind – open a bottle of wine, drink it and try again. It is suggested that the staircase was designed by Francois's friend Leonardo da Vinci who lived nearby in Amboise, but no one can be certain that he had a hand in the plans. While the giant staircase is certainly the centrepiece of Chambord there are soaring architectural features aplenty...

large_1-P1090573.JPG

However, these cherubs are not the prettiest...

1-P1090581.JPG

Louis XIV, the sun king, made many additions to Chambord in the middle of the 1600s but he rarely visited – he already had his chateaus at Versailles and Fontainbleau for hunting. This is Louis XIV's bedroom in Chambord where he held court...

large_1-P1090517.jpg

The numerous royal chateaus weren't usually staffed or furnished. The king's entourage of thousands would travel just ahead of him, carrying the furniture with them from one chateau to the next. They would have everything set up just in time for the king's arrival and he always felt at home.
Château de Chambord was ransacked by the proletariat during the revolution of 1789 and everything of value was stolen, auctioned off or used as firewood. The pots and pans in the great kitchen are all contemporaneous to the time but not originally from the chateau...

1-P1090497.jpg

The rooftops and spires of Château de Chambord are truly magnificent and are said to resemble the skyline of a medieval city...

large_1-P1090585.JPG

The 13,000 acre estate surrounding this great chateau is home to wild boar, deer and all kinds of game and it is surrounded by a wall more than 30 kilometres long – now that's what we call a garden...

large_1-P1090560.JPG

Another day; another chateau! We are staying in the Loire Valley for the next eight days and will be visiting one of the great chateaus every day – if we can stand the pace. However, there is much more to France than the rock piles of the royals and the rich so we will be digging deeper into daily life à la mode française.

Posted by Hawkson 23:52 Archived in France Comments (5)

Farewell to the Dordogne

semi-overcast 20 °C

Religion played a significant role in French daily life in the past and churches and monasteries were often built with fortifications in case the 'neighbours from hell' came calling. The cistercian abbey of Cadouin was begun exactly 900 years ago in 1119 and suffered badly during the religious wars in the 13th and 14th centuries. The abbey is on the El Camino to Santiago de Compostela because a cloth said to be the facecloth from Jesus's tomb was kept there from 1214. These are the cloisters where millions of devout pilgrims assembled to view this precious relic for more than 700 years...

c08bb7c0-eaab-11e9-a204-2da2c9e65b6c.JPG

Unfortunately for the abbot's money box, in 1924 some smart-ass scholar realized that the wording on the cloth was actually Islamic and had nothing to do with Christ. (Although the pilgrims still come).
The builders of the monastery and church in Rocamadour, another stop on the Camino, took defences to new heights when they built high up on the cliffs above a steep gorge...

large_7f8d0900-eaaa-11e9-bfef-e51f366283fc.JPG

The church, several chapels and various monastic buildings cling precariously to the rock face and appear only to survive through the grace of God and the spiritual power of the Black Virgin whose statue is worshipped here...

7d56c810-eaaa-11e9-bfef-e51f366283fc.JPG

Luckily for us an elevator and a funicular transported us to the top otherwise we would have had to follow the pilgrims up several giant staircases from the pretty medieval village in the valley below...

large_Rocamadour.JPG

Our time in the Dordogne has come to an end and we are now headed north to Orleans and the Loire Valley to visit the chateaus of the Bourbon kings. We are leaving behind a land steeped in history where we have walked in the footsteps of cro-magnon people: humans, not dissimilar to ourselves, who left their paintings and marks in Lascaux Cave never thinking that we would be marvelling at their skills twenty thousand years later. The Dordogne area is riven with caves: many containing the the artworks of ancient man and many that have been occupied by troglodytes for thousands of years. Here in the steep cliff face above the riverside village of Laroque-Gageac it is possible to see the cave houses that once protected the villagers from war and marauding animals...

large_83352970-eaaa-11e9-b7fd-552ad6336e0a.JPG

The medieval houses that are strung along the riverside under the cliffs seem to be in peril of rock slides but they have survived for hundreds of years...

834d1e40-eaaa-11e9-bfef-e51f366283fc.JPG

The river, the houses and the cave pocked cliffs at Laroque-Gageac create a postcard scene...

large_83644fc0-eaaa-11e9-b7fd-552ad6336e0a.JPG

But there are also many caves that have remained completely hidden from time immemorial and have only been discovered by luck. The most famous painted caves at Lascaux were only discovered in 1940 because a teenager's dog chased a rabbit down a small hole in the hillside. Les grottes de Maxange were unearthed by a local quarryman just a few years ago when he was blasting the cliff face and he unearthed one of the most spectacular cave systems we have ever seen. Because of the unique conditions within the limestone cliffs near Cadouin the calcite stalactites and stalagmites have grown in all directions – they are known as eccentrics...

830f03d0-eaaa-11e9-bfef-e51f366283fc.JPG

There are millions of these incredibly beautiful eccentrics, and probably millions more in parts of the caves yet to be explored, and it is difficult to believe that nature created them over hundreds of thousands of years. Many of them look more like artistic glass creations of Chihuly...

large_cbc8c330-eaab-11e9-a204-2da2c9e65b6c.JPG

There is still much to see and do in the Dordogne but on we must go – maybe next time. Tomorrow, one of the most magnificent chateaus in France – Le Château Chambord.

Posted by Hawkson 09:19 Archived in France Comments (3)

Birthday in Bergerac

semi-overcast 19 °C

On Tuesday October 1st we commemorated a very special birthday in Bergerac. It was the day China celebrated the 70th anniversary of its founding as a communist country. China has come a very long way since October 1st 1949 and even here in Aquitaine in Southwest France the effect of the buoyant Chinese economy is noticeable. More than 150 of the best vineyards and many great chateaus are now owned by Chinese nationals. But someone else has come a long way since that date and here we are with her brother and his wife celebrating seven very successful decades...

large_1-P1080911.JPG

Our birthday dinner at l'imparfait restaurant was superb, but there are many fine eating establishments in Bergerac and we are doing our best to get around them all. Foie gras and duck are the most common menu items but we've also enjoyed sweetbreads, mackerel, goose and snails – all foods rarely found on Canadian menus.

The medieval city of Bergerac is just one of the numerous historic communities that straddle the Dordogne River and exist largely on tourism and wine today. Bergerac is particularly well known because of Cyrano de Bergerac, a soldier and poet whose enormous nose prevented him from professing his love for his cousin , (or so the story goes). Cyrano is credited with vanquishing the English from this part of France in the mid 1600s and he is celebrated with at least 3 statues in Bergerac. This one stands outside the main church...

1-P1090201.JPG

We are staying in this four story medieval house next to the chateau in the middle of the old city...

1-P1080875.JPG

Our lodgings have been comfortably refurbished with many more mod/cons than the original owners could ever have imagined in the 16th century. However, Bergerac has street after street of houses that were built in the middle ages – here are just a few...

large_1-P1080882.JPG

1-P1080887.JPG

1-P1080871.JPG

The Bergeracois have been very sensible in banning motor vehicles from most of the old city, although in truth many of the roads are smply too narrow and too tightly woven for all but the smallest vehicles. Don't try driving through here...

large_1-P1080878.JPG

However, the Dordogne River is a wide, though shallow, highway that gently meanders past the old city and has been used for centuries to carry wine and produce from the fertile valleys of the Dordogne and its tributaries to Bordeaux and ultimately to the world. Flat bottomed boats called gabarres were the traditional sailing vessels used for transport and we took a short river cruise on a replica gabarre from the town of Beynac which is built into the rock face. From the boat we were able to get wonderful views of chateaus and castles that were built nearly a thousand years ago when the English and the French were at war over this land. The French originally controlled one side of the river from the castle high above the river in Beynac...

large_1-P1090318.JPG

This seemingly impregnable castle was built in 1115 and was captured by Richard the Lionheart for England in 1194. And this is the English castle of Castelnaud-la-Chapelle on the other side of the river which was built about 950 years ago.

1-P1090379.JPG

Descendant of the original owner, Francois de Caumont, eventually grew tired of living in a monstrous and uncomfortable castle so he built Les Château Milandes nearby in 1489. This is the chateau that was eventually owned by Josephine Baker.
It would take months to trace the convoluted histories of these incredible places and we only have a week, but an interesting fact about the gabarres is that the Dordogne River usually flowed too fast for the boats to sail back upstream once they had delivered their goods in Bordeaux. So the boatmen would break up their boat and sell the wood for firewood. They would then walk the 200 miles home and build another boat ready for the next year's crop.

Posted by Hawkson 12:26 Archived in France Comments (5)

La Vie en France

semi-overcast 21 °C

Daily life in France is little different than life in any other Western country, however there are certain customs and institutions that are fairly unique here.

La Mairie
Rules and regulations are important to the French, (not that they always comply with them). Just remember where the word bureaucracy comes from! La Mairie, (the town hall), is the centre of administration in every community and is usually housed in a beautiful building on the town square. This one is in the village of Trémolat.

large_Marie.JPG

Le commémoratif de guerre
Even the tiniest of villages has a war memorial. France has a great number of wars to remember, chief among them the two World Wars when being Germany's next door neighbour turned out to be a liabilty. This memorial stands on the banks of the Dordogne River in the town of Lalinde...

936e0b00-e824-11e9-bdc9-8d20bb59ceed.JPG

La boulangerie
Few French can survive without their daily bread and, when smaller villages lose their stores to the hypermarkets and shopping malls, the boulanger is usually the last to leave town. One of our delights of visiting France is a warm baquette for breakfast. The baker's charming wife served us sweetly every morning in the Le vieux fournil, (the ancient oven), bakery in Bergerac...

Boulanger.JPG

La boucher
The town's butcher is also a survivor and the range of meats and the quality would put the average Canadian purveyor to shame. Rabbits, wild boar, horse and all kinds of game birds are readily available here alongside the speciality of this region of France. Perigord is renowned for foie gras, (goose liver pâte). However, the ancient inhumane process of force feeding geese to produce grossly enlarged livers is now illegal. Goose and duck are the staples of every butcher and restaurant in the Perigord and we have taken advantage of that. While meat prices in general are comparable to those in Canada certain cuts are prized here. For example: in this butcher's shop in Bergerac the finest steak was 24.80 euros a kilo, ($36.00 Cdn) while the calves liver was 37. 90 euros a kilo, ($55.00 Cdn.)

large_Boucherie.JPG
La laverie
Ancient wash-houses usually fed by natural streams can be found in almost every small town and village and it is occasionally possible to see a woman doing the week's laundry there. This unusual, and sadly neglected, semi-circular laverie was cut into the rocks on the outskirts of the village of Monplaisant in medieval times...

Laverie.JPG

Le marché
Although supermarkets and enormous hypermarkets are common in all larger towns, street markets remain as a major source of goods in almost every community. Covered market halls more than 500 years old like this one in Cadouin are a common sight...

large_92caed30-e824-11e9-87d1-015d66acff1d.JPG

We love the markets of the world but here in France they are an institution that cannot be missed. The Sunday morning market that winds through the medieval streets in the Dordogne town of Sarlat-la-Canéda is a perfect example, with hundreds of venders selling everything from wine to furniture. Variety is the spice of life in France and there is vast array of products for sale in every market. In Sarlat on Sunday we counted more than 25 types of onion, shallots and garlic on one stall, and 30 different dried sausages on another....

Sausages.JPG

This stall offered dozens of different cheeses...

large_92d378b0-e824-11e9-88a8-05fd500a4700.JPG

Note: The cheese counter in one supermarket in Bergerac had more than 400 different cheeses on offer.

La cave à vin
Vineyards and wine shops are ubiquitous throughout France, although the aisles of every supermarket and corner store are stacked with booze of all kinds. The local plonk can be bought in plastic bottles for a few euros a litre while drinkable bottles of vin ordinaire start around three Canadian dollars. However, the sky is the limit for certain Chateau bottled vintages. This chateau bottled Bergerac wine was $5 Cdn a bottle but only $4 if you bought six...

Wine.JPG

That's all we can write for this blog – we still have 5 bottles to get through.

Posted by Hawkson 03:49 Archived in France Comments (4)

(Entries 46 - 50 of 702) « Page .. 5 6 7 8 9 [10] 11 12 13 14 15 .. »