Again thanks to all those that made lots of comments on the last post. We are thinking of you all back in NZ with the country struggling after the delayed effort in getting people vaccinated.
Friday 1 October 2021
I picked Sylvia up at work at noon and she plugged into the GPS Chateau Moulins that we were going to do a drive-by on on the way to our, accommodation at Relais des Trois Chateaux. The route took us south through Montpelier then northwest through to Toulouse on what was about a 6-hour journey. As we drove down the road heading to the Chateau Moulins, I pointed to the big barn across across the paddock and jokingly said there it is. Well that’s exactly where the GPS took us. There are in actual fact eight ChateauMoulins in France and we had picked the wrong one. On checking the map we were still some 230km and two-and-a-half hours from where we had wanted to go!!! But anyway we had a good look around some different countryside as we headed to our hotel, eventually arriving around 8:30pm. The food was good, the service average, even for France, and the workmanship in the recently renovated bathrooms was worse than terrible but we settled in there for the night.
Saturday 2 October 2021
After breakfast we headed for our first stop of the day, Chateau Chenonceau. The site has been some sort of chateau or fortification since about the 11th century. Like many of these buildings it was burnt down and rebuilt between 1515 and 1521. In 1535 the chateau was seized by King Francis I for an unpaid debt to the crown. After Francis’ death in 1947, Henry II offered the chateau as a gift to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers.
She was apparently one of the prettiest women in France and spent her life maintaining her looks by having cold baths and wearing lots of make up. As it turned out, when Henry, as a seven-year old prince, had been sent off to Spain, through some dodgy hostage deal, Diane, some 20-years older than him, had kissed him goodbye and he fell in love. Later when he became king he took her on as his mistress. She went on to build the magnificent gardens, the arched bridge across the river and the halls on top of it, but in 1556 when the king died the Queen had it taken off her. (For some reason she was a bit jealous of Diane who had supervised the education of their children among many other things).
Anyway Diane didn’t do too badly out of the deal as she got another castle down the road, which apparently with its land was worth more than this place. She became quite a renown business woman with a large silk plantation among other things. We were quite intrigued by some of the gadgets in this castle – a good example is a pump to pump water up to the kitchen from the river and another was a spit roasting device in front of one of the massive fireplaces where a weight was hanging out the window on a rope to turn the wheel which in turn rotated the roast on the spit in front of the fire.
During the First World War the large halls above the bridge over the river were used as hospitals, the model of this setup is displayed in one of the outbuildings at the moment. In good French style they grow and make their own wine and there’s a winery in one of the other buildings as well the old stables filled with a number of carriages and other modes of transport including a couple of old Bentleys. There’s also a large vegetable garden and lots of houses which various people associated with the castle nowadays live in.
Next stop was Chateau de Chaumont-sur-Loire. This was originally built around 973 to keep an eye on the border between county Blois and county Anjou. It stayed in the d’Amboise family for 5 centuries. In 1465 Louis XI had the place burned down to punish one of the family for annoying him. It was later rebuilt and stands pretty much in the same form today.
Like other similar places you don’t see the whole thing because parts are under restoration or locked off for other various reasons. This place is undergoing ongoing maintenance and it’s not as nice and well-presented inside as the previous place but still very interesting to look around, and the grounds, stables and other buildings are all in really good nick making the visit well worth while. This is the place Diane De Poitiers was given when thrown out of Chateau de Chenonceau. She finished off the construction and the structure that is here today is as it was in 1566. We can still see the pock-marks where bullets have struck the wall at some stage in the past and wonder about all the stories the building could tell if it could talk. When we read about these places I’m sure we only get a glimpse of what’s taken place over the last thousand years.
Next we headed up alongside the Loire River, stopping at a sign that says restaurant. Driving into the carpark we don’t see a restaurant. The car park is full so we park on the side of the road. On the other side is a cliff and on a closer look at the bottom of the cliff is the entrance to Le Pied dans le Plat. It’s a restaurant inside a cave about 40m deep and 20m wide with lots of rock bolts in the ceiling. The place is pretty full but they give us a table down the back behind what is the dance floor. It turns out that the cave was dug by hand around 400 years ago. After a good meal we continued up-river noting that in this area there were several cave business at the base of the cliff.
Next stop was just a drive by of the Chateau Royal d’Amboise, another place knocked up in the 15th century and visited by kings and literary figures such as Leonardo da Vinci through to the 19th century. On the hill above the town and the river it has commanding views over the area.
Last stop for the day was the Chateau Royal de Blois. This place has been a chateau since pre-854 when it was attacked by Vikings. It was rebuilt in the 10th and 11th centuries. In the 16th century the red brick wing was added. In 1515 when Francis I took power a new wing was constructed at the request of his wife with one of the period’s most important libraries, which later became part of the national library. It has an external spiral staircase on this wing that looks outstanding. Following the arrows going up and down various spiral stairs we worked our way through the place with all its extravagance of the times on display in various rooms. Again large parts are closed off so as usual we never got to see it all. There is a garden at the back which looks out over the city below, with its huge churches and orange-clad-roofed stone buildings.
Driving back to our hotel Relais de Trois Chateau, which is certainly no chateau in comparison to what we have seen today, the countryside is mainly cropping. Interestingly this so-called valley to us seemed more like a large plain with a rivers and canals running through it. There are still large fields of sunflowers, the flowers now dead, awaiting harvesting along with corn and other crops. Only a change of crop defines the paddocks – there is little to no sign of stock hence the reason for no fencing.
Sunday 3 October 2021
First stop was the magnificent Chateau de Chambord. This place is by far the most impressive of what we saw. Construction started in 1519 in what was a swamp area, cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey and damp enough to rust them. In summer it was hot, humid and plagued by mosquitos. On the good side it was surrounded by some great hunting. It was in fact designed as a hunting lodge for King Francis I (1494-1547) in the French Renaissance style, using both French and Italian designers including Leonardo da Vinci. They think he was responsible for the concept of central grand staircase with its two spiral sets of stairs and the tower on top. The construction was slow to get underway intrupted by the Italian war from 1521 to 1526. Building resumed September 1526 at which point 1800 workers were on the site. The king only visited the place for a total of 7 weeks before he died; each time furnishings and food had to be brought in advance – a major exercise requiring some 2000 people. The exiled king of Poland lived there from 1725 until 1733, during which time it was furnished. The French revolution in 1792 saw the place stripped and everything including the doors sold; some doors were burned to keep the place warm during the sale.
The place is huge with with canals and waterways remaining from when the swamp was drained In the 1930’s it was taken over by the state and restoration started after WWII. The 13,000 acre property was fully walled.
Unlike in other chateaus there are no arrows directing you through the place. This is good as the rooms are so big there is space to just wander. There are many spiral staircases other than the main one some which are locked off. There is quite a large chapel and lots of parts that are closed to to public. One thing that is really common in these chateaus that I haven’t mentioned before is really bad art of various types, but mainly abstract, and to our eyes most of it is very untasteful or to put it bluntly bloody awful.
It seems pre-Covid there were some 700,000 visitors going through the place. Tourism might be bad for our carbon footprint but it does a great job in preserving places such as these. There is no way anymore will be built. As we looked through this place we were discussing how big the wealth gap must have been in those days, or was it that there were a lot more available resources and less people demanding them.
Not too far down the road is Chateau Fougeres sur Bievre. In 1030 this manor house belonged to the Count of Blois. During the 100 year wars it fell into English hands; they abandoned it in 1429. In 1470 Peerre de Refuge, adviser to the Duke of Orleans and treasurer to Louis XI turned it into a miniature fortress. It did a stint as a spinning mill from1812 to 1901, became a historic monument in 1912 and passed to the french government in 1932.
This place is almost quaint, built around a courtyard the buildings are quite narrow particularly the northwest side, which is only a couple of meters wide. We entered from around the back following the arrows which took us up and down narrow spiral stairs and at one stage into the roof space. Some of the bedrooms are set up as they were and in places posts and beams have been put in place to hold up the sagging ceilings.
Last stop for the day was Chateau Cheverny. This property has been in the hands of the Huraults family since the late 14th century. Once a forttres and taken by the crown because of fraud, King Henry donated it to his mistress Diane de Poitiers. Looks like she did pretty well out of that one kiss!! She didn’t spend much time there and sold the property to the former owner’s son, Philippe Hurault, who built the current chateau.
After the revolution in 1802 the family stripped of its wealth sold the property, but bought it back in 1824. It’s been open to the public since 1914 and they boast it has only been closed to visitors twice, once when the present owner got married the other when the queen mother visited. The family still live in the chateau, tucked away in probably quite large apartment down the right-hand end.
The place is well-preserved and arrows guided us up and down stairways and through most of the building. Out the back there are grounds and a cafe in what was the old orangerie building, and out the front, near the stables, are the 150-odd French hounds, still used for hunting and much larger than the english fox hounds. There is also a trophy room, which one can view from the door. The old stable area is off limits as it is used as an admin area by the family. There are large well kept grounds along with a vineyard.
Arriving back at the hotel at around 5pm there were no staff around, not even a drink available so we headed back over to Blois for a meal. The first place we went into had menu’s on the tables; Sylvia went to the bar to ask for some food and was told “no Food”. We had a drink and left. The next place wasn’t much better – the waitress, busy perusing her phone, eventually got up, sent us to sit outside and went back to her phone. We went to the pizza restaurant down below and had a great meal and surprisingly good service – not common in these parts at all.
Monday 4 October 2021
We set of at 0715 as Sylvia had a meeting at 1400hrs. The drive back was a lot shorter and took us through some quite interesting countryside, lots and lots of farmland and some spectacular bridges and viaducts put in to get keep the traffic moving at 130 kph.
Saturday 09 October 2021
We took a drive out to Aigues Mortes and enjoyed a great pizza lunch at one of the many restaurants within the city walls. The place was pumping as some sort of carnival was going on. Outdoor bar areas had fences around to make sure those entering had their Covid jabs. We decided to walk the city walls, getting a ticket at the entrance. About 3 meters thick, with towers at intervals and great views over the city it was quite interesting.
One thing that is prominent in all these old places is the size of the fire places they must have had a big team of lumber jacks to keep the wood up to them.
Heading along the southwest part of the wall we looked down on an arena where it looked like some form of bull fighting was going to tale place. We waited and watched as a truck came and sprayed water around the outside edge of the arena. Eventually a bull was released, not into the arena but to the outside, taking the crowd by surprise. The people leaning on the post and rail fence had to jump into the arena to escape the leather bound horns of the bull. At one stage he actually ran up to the grand stand scattering those seated in that part. Next he made his way into the arena and the people jumped out apart from a few who stayed to challenge the bull as he pored the ground, tongue hanging out, ready to take on all comers. As soon as he made his move these people would run and jump over the rail to safety. There were some hay bales in the middle of the arena which a number of people decided to sit on and torment the bull and eventually the bull knocked the top bale off sending the three squatters to the ground and then, as if saying “okay I won” he trotted off back to his pen. The bull had a great time entertaining the crowd and went home alive and well at the end of it.