Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Loire Valley - Chateaux and Wines

We arrived in Amboise around 6PM and after moving the luggage to the apartment and parking the car we headed out to explore a little and get some dinner. Nearby we discovered an Italian restaurant where we had a veggie fix, green salad, tomato salad (outstanding) and a vegetarian pizza with a bottle of Chinon, Cab Franc.  All quite tasty.

Our apartment is on the l'île d'or, the only inhabitable island in the Loire River. It is directly across from "the royal Château at Amboise” a 15C favored royal residence. We visited the chateau on our European tour in 1986. It still looks the same. ;-) The thing that struck us the most about the Chateau is that it has a huge round structure (sort of a squatty tower) that encloses a ramp built to allow residents and guests to arrive at Chateau level (several stories up from ground level) via horse and carriage. The tower is still there too.

Amboise castle and bridge to l'île d'or; shot from our apartment
We woke to a grey day. We had planned an easy day to follow the longish drive…but we had hoped for sun. Sigh. Anyway we started the day doing laundry. Wow. Fun. Well it is in fact a bit of an adventure. It's been quite an experience mastering the various washers and dryers on this trip. Thank God for the internet and for being able to find user manuals on-line!

We eventually found the energy to head to the well-regarded E.Leclerc Hypermarche. We stocked up on breakfast supplies, wine and cheese. Pat discovered some fresh “shell beans”, one of our favorites so we decided to eat-in. We picked up a roast chicken and a baguette along with peppers and tomatoes as accompaniments.

When we got home, we noticed that instead of buying chunky peanut butter to go with our croissants…which we thought would be fun to try, we got crunchy speculoos. Hmm, what is it?  It is made of wheat flour, sugars, oils and some spices. A little research on the web reaps the headline “Biscoff Spread: Lotus Speculoos spread dubbed 'crack in a jar' is flying off supermarket shelves.” Bischoff is the British name for spice cookies known as Speculoos on the Continent, and this is apparently just a spreadable version. And it seems to be available in the US, so be on the lookout if you haven’t seen it and …if you have a sweet tooth.

Later we walked around town. Along the way we peaked into Clos Luce, the home of Leonardo da Vinci at the end of his years (from 1516 to 1519), checked out a few Troglodyte homes (houses built into the limestone cliffs), and basically walked around the chateau.
Troglodyte home - built into the limestone cliff
Our rental is the second house from the right...La Porte Bleu
Another famous local chateau is Chenonceau which is built over the River Cher. It’s is one of the more recognizable of the chateaus. In 1986 we rented bicycles at the train station to ride the roughly 10 kilometers to the chateau. Now, 30 years later, we had planned to canoe under the Chateau, but it just wasn’t that appealing with the grey weather. Fortunately the weather improved a bit and we opted for a view of Chenonceau from an insider spot…across the river from where typical visitors arrive. We got some good views. and a good walk. On our return discovered that the new “in” way to travel under Chenonceau is on something like a paddle board.

Chenonceau ...from the walking path across the River Cher from the main entry.
During WW II, Chenonceau served as a hospital, so it was undamaged. Sitting on the boundary of the German occupied territory, it also served as an escape route to unoccupied France.
Cruising down the River Cher
Our evening snack, Cheese: Bleu de Brebis…very creamy. Tomme de Savoie …medium hard, flavorful, a little nutty. Baguette, tomato and pepper with a bottle of Chinon, Coteau de Noire (a red Loire wine) from Philippe Alliet.

It is chateau day. We were off to Chambord with it's a spectacular array of towers. We wandered up and down the double helix staircase (two circular staircases combined in one space, offset by 180 degrees...thought to have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci). We enjoyed viewing the spires from many different angles (especially ground-level and roof-level). Chambord is typically pictured with a marvelous reflection in the water in front, but we had a construction site instead.  We think there was more work going on than originally planned due to the flood in June which damaged the grounds.  The spires were still impressive, even without the reflection. Note: Chambord is the largest château in the Loire Valley; it was built as a hunting lodge for François I, whose royal residences were in nearby Blois and Amboise. 

Oh, look! It's King François I...
Chambord Towers from inside the castle
The spires from the rooftop. If you look closely you can see Pat waving from the bottom left of the photo. 
tThe double helix staircase
Then we are off to Chaumont-sur-Loire for it's international garden show. The theme this year was "gardens of the future" with some plantings focused on intensive gardening, some on dealing with raising water levels and some simply on beauty. We had a nice lunch at the pasta restaurant before touring the grounds and buildings.

Yep, that is a flooded house with the grounds and house now serving as a garden.

The chateau is lovely, fairy-tale'ish. The horse stables are luxurious. The "permanent" gardens were delightful with beautiful purple, blue and white plantings. The stables were quite luxurious and the horses must have had a really good life. The decor of the stables was not quite like the chateaux but it's not exactly a typical stable either.

The Tack Room
Layout of Chaumont Sur Loire...with the castle in the top right.
Wednesday, we decided that a rerun from 30 years ago was in order. We had to visit Chenonceau again. The gardens, Chateau, and farm definitely deserve the #1 ranking they get of all the chateaux to visit in the Loire.  It will be interesting to compare photos from our two visits.
This is the main garden still planted in the original Diane Portier design.
Here's the front view castle from the garden.  Looks pretty much the same as from the back.

An elegant cabinet
Some detail from one of the Flemish tapestries. Nice colors. Nice birds.
A couple of the supporting farm buildings
After a snack at the apartment we ventured out to nearby Clos Luce, a small chateau (a large home) where Leonardo da Vinci spent his final years, upon the invitation of King François I. We had a very interesting visit learning about the many  “inventions” Leonardo conceived 500 years ago. There were some models in the house and more in the garden. Everything from a pump to a tank to a swing bridge.
Pat caught a photo of Leonardo talking about his Mona Lisa (he is a projection,
the painting, a copy ...we assume)
This is a small sample of a large collection of models of his many futuristic inventions
This dovecote could house 1000 pigeons. It was creepy thinking of being there when they start flying around. We also wonder if they were able to keep track of the specific little cubical was "theirs".
A canon in front of the armored car designed by Leonardo
Dinner was on the island again, at a nearby cafe. Two burgers and a praline dessert with coffee. We had good seats and enjoyed the slightly different view of the castle during dinner.

Tomorrow: Off to Bordeaux.

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