Most of our time in Blois seems to be spent frantically gardening, restoring fireplaces and making laundries, but this time, I’ve checked the weather report and Thursday looks as though it will be bright and sunny. We have breakfast in the garden then, after much searching, unearth our Blois & Chambord bike maps. We decide on itinerary n° 11 & 11 B (total of 50 K) because Jean Michel says we haven’t completed the loop before.
We drive to Saint Dyé sur Loire and park in the church grounds. It’s getting close to midday by the time we start out for Chambord. I’m a bit disappointed when we arrive to see there is more scaffolding.
After lunch at the Saint Louis (dish of the day and café gourmand) we cross the little bridge and set off along the Grand Canal because I want to take a photo of Chambord reflected in the water like my friend Anda from Travel Notes and Beyond. But clouds have appeared and the reflection is not exactly what I was looking for.
And what do we discover – a completely new view of Chambord from the other end of the canal. This time, the clouds are lighter and their reflection in the canal is spectacular.
We continue the cycle path towards Saint Laurent de Nouan, our final destination, and find ourselves in the little town of Thoury. I surprise Jean Michel by remembering it from a previous bike ride and he comes to the conclusion that we’ve already done the n° 11 loop (but not the n°11bis. The typical Sologne well of Fontaine Saint Michel has all been spruced up. You can see its little wrought-iron sculpture of a snake coiled around a tree branch.
Not long after, we come across the 11th church of Saint Martin de Crouy which coincidentally I published just a few days ago on Blois Daily Photo. Once again I astonish Jean Michel by telling him what’s inside the church! I also take a better photo of the sculpture of Saint Martin on the façade. By now, the storm clouds are looking more threatening.
By the time we reach Saint Laurent, we’ve ridden about 25 kilometers straight and I’m well and truly ready for a cold drink. The main street has a couple of interesting buildings, including Aux Trois Rois or the Three King Inn. Built in the 15th century, it welcomed such distinguished guests as Philippe le Bel, Louis IX, Charles VIII, Louis XIV, Alfred de Musset, Jean de La Fontaine, d’Artagnan and maybe even Joan of Arc. Unfortunately, it was dismantled between 1780 and 1781 and sold in several parcels. The mullion windows are copies of the original structure, I’m sad to learn.
To my disappointment, no friendly café comes into sight and instead we find ourselves on a 70 kph road taking us straight towards the Saint Laurent NUCLEAR POWER PLANT. Now why didn’t I realise that before when I looked at the map?
I rant and rave about the inappropriateness of putting a nuclear power plant on a cycling itinerary and we eventually reach the beautiful Saint Jacques windmill we have already visited on a previous occasion. Still no café …
We finally get to Muides after a very bumpy ride along the river thankful that it hasn’t actually rained. By then, we’re so near to our destination that the thought of the only somewhat decrepit café in Muides with its local bar supporters, no longer appeals. Also, it might be closed the way it was last time …
We cycle the last few kilometers back to Saint Dyé but the sky is muggy and not nearly as nice as the last time. I surprise myself by going straight up the hill next to the church almost effortlessly. I don’t know where that energy suddenly came from. In the future though, we’re going to remember only to do itinerary 11 and ignore 11 bis. A nuclear power plant indeed!
Paula McInerney from Contented Traveller, whom I’ve already featured in my weekly blogger round-up, is publishing a series of posts entitled “Outside my front door”. I was delighted when she asked me to contribute and I’ve been enjoyinghearing from other bloggers as well.
Outside My Front Door
Outside my front door is a large expanse of trees and grass and on the other side is the Loire River, flanked by two levees, first mentioned in 1584, which is the exact same year in which my Renaissance house was built.
If I go left five kilometers along the river, I will come to the city of Blois, with its royal castle, built on a promontory overlooking the Loire, and former home of Louis XII, François I, the star of the French Renaissance, and his son Henri II. Read more
Château de Villesavin, which isn’t really a castle, is an hour’s ride on horseback from Château de Chambord and was actually a glorified worksite hut built at the beginning of the 16th century by Jean Le Breton who was François I’s minister of finance and in charge of construction of his “hunting lodge“. The inside of the building isn’t particularly interesting, except for the “try-out” for the monumental staircase at Chambord and the kitchen, which has a few original features. Photographs of the interior are not allowed, unfortunately. More interesting is the 19th century wedding museum with its large collection of wedding dresses, headdresses and globes!
There are so many wonderful places to visit in the Loire Valley that newcomers to the region often need guidance. It’s pointless saying “Chenonceau is my favourite. You should go there” or “Forget about Chambord, there’s nothing to see”. Each of the châteaux is different and visitors will be attracted to one or the other according to their own individual tastes. My aim here is to give an idea of what each has to offer so you can make your own choice.
I only intend to talk about the “pleasure castles” here, and not fortified castles such as Chinon and Loches, or religious edifices such as Fontevraud l’Abbaye, or mansions such as Clos Lucé. I’ll start with the four “Cs”: Chenonceau, Chambord, Cheverny, Chaumont, followed by the royal castles of Amboise and Blois, all of which are located in the same general area, then Azay le Rideau, Ussé, and Villandry, which form another geographical group, with Valençay off on its own to the south. You can see more photos and further detail about each château by clicking on the corresponding name.
The rooftops of Château de Chambord, along with its famous double staircase, are its best known features and must be one of the most stunning examples of architecture I’ve ever seen. François I, the star of the French Renaissance, was only 25 when he commissioned the château in 1519. Unfortunately, despite the presence of 2000 workmen, it wasn’t completed in his lifetime and he only stayed there for 72 days out of his 32 years on the throne! He used it as a hunting lodge of course and it was not furnished – he used to travel around with everything and everyone he could possibly need. But his son, Henri II, as well as Louis XIV, who also loved hunting, turned it into the château we know today.
There is a series of furnished rooms in one wing that can be visited as well. In the mid-nineteenth century, the Count of Chambord decided to open the château to the public and furnish some of the apartments with his own private collection, mainly consisting of royal portraits and other rather disparate pieces of furniture. On 1st May every year, there is a wonderful antique and second-hand fair in the extensive castle grounds that is certainly worth attending. There are several restaurants and souvenir shops in view of the château.
Open all year except 1st January, 31st January, 25th December. From 20/01 to 31/03 and 01/10 to 31/12: 10 am to 5 pm; 01/04 to 30/09: 9 am to 6 pm. 11 euros.
Au Fil du Temps, 11 Halle, 41250 Bracieux, France Tel. 0254460384 (8 km from Chambord)
Château de Chaumont stands in a prize position overlooking the Loire and is best seen from the other side of the river. From April to October, it hosts a wonderful garden festival with a different theme each year. The château as it stands today was rebuilt from 1468 to 1511. It was bought by Catherine de Medicis, wife of Henri II (son of François I) in 1550. On his death, she forced her husband’s paramour, Diane de Poitiers, to swap Chenonceau, a gift from Henri, for Chaumont.
The château was later restored by Prince de Broglie between 1875 and 1900, including the beautifully furnished state rooms and luxury stables with their exercise ring. The top floor of the château, currently in a somewhat derelict state, can also be visited, as well as the basement kitchens. Between the château, the stables, the grounds and the garden exhibition, you can easily spend the day on the Domain, which has no fewer than four different restaurants.
Open all year round, from 10 am to 4.30, 5.30 or 6.30 depending on the season. 10 euro for the château, park and stables, and 16 euros if you include the garden festival.
Places to eat
If you want to combine your visit to Chaumont with a gastronomic experience in one of the finest restaurants in the region.
Domaine des Hauts de Loire, Route de Herbault, 41150 Onzain (across the Loire from Chaumont), 02 54 20 72 57, email@example.com, www.domainehautsloire.com
Built from 1513 to 1521 and celebrating 500 years of existence this year, Château de Chenonceau spans the Cher River. It’s a ladies’ castle, built in 1513 by Katherine Briçonnet, decorated by Diane de Poitiers, extended by Catherine de Médicis and saved by Louise Dupin during the French Revolution! All four are featured in a wax museum in a separate building. The château should be viewed from all sides, so you should allow time to walk around the grounds themselves, which include Diane’s and Catherine’s gardens, a vegetable garden and a labyrinth. You can also walk (or cycle) along the south bank of the Cher River or hire a rowing boat in summer.
The sumptuous inside is completely furnished with several masterpieces and includes a visit of the basement kitchens. A free iPhone app (Découvrir Chenonceau) offers an introductory visit in 11 languages! You can taste the château’s own wine in one of the restaurants inside the grounds. Every weekend in June and every evening in July and August, the gardens are illuminated at night.
Open all year round, 9 or 9.30 am to 5 to 8 pm, depending on the season. 11 euros for the château and grounds, 13 euros including the wax museum, plus 2 euros for an audioguide.
Château de Cheverny is another experience altogether. The domain has been in the same family for more than six centuries and open to the public since 1922. The château as we know it today was built between 1624 and 1640 by Count Henri Hurault and his wife Marguerite Gaillard de la Marinière. The sumptuous interior decoration is by Jean Monier from Blois. It is the only major château to have retained its original furniture and furnishings. Fifteen thousand bulbs are planted in the gardens each year, so if you can, time your visit for spring!
Cheverny has two other attractions. The feeding of its 100 hunting dogs is very popular with visitors during the summer (although the kennels are currently closed for refurbishment) and there is a Tin Tin exhibition – Cheverny was used as a model by Hergé for Marlinspike Hall, Captain Haddock’s residence in the Tin Tin comic books.
Just next to the château is the Maison des vins de Cheverny et Cour-Cheverny, where you can taste and buy the local wines.
Open all year round. 9.15 to 9.45 am to 5 pm to 18.45 pm depending on the season. The dogs are fed from 1/04 to 15/09 every day at 5 pm and from 01/01 to 31/03 and 16/09 to 31/12 at 3 pm on Tuesdays, Wednesday, Thursdays and Fridays. Château and gardens, 9 euro, with Marlinspike museum 13.50 euro, with boat and electric car trips 14.70 euro, plus Marlinskpike 19.20 euro.
The Royal Château of Amboise stands in a stunning position overlooking the Loire, best seen from the little island called l’Ile d’Or in the middle of the river. It became a royal residence in the mid-14th century and was a favourite with many French kings, from Louis XI to François I. It has an exceptional collection of Gothic and Renaissance furniture. An unusual feature is a wide ramp inside the château used directly by horses and carriages. Saint Hubert’s chapel is thought to be the last resting place of Leonardo da Vinci whose home in Amboise, Le Clos Lucé, contains scale models of many of his inventions.
The beautiful panoramic gardens afford wonderful views of the Loire, the old town with its half-timbered houses and the surrounding countryside. The very extensive Friday and Sunday morning market along the river is one of the best in the area.
Open all year round from 9 am to 12.30 pm and 2 pm to 4.45 pm from 15/11 to 28/02 and from 9 am to 5.30 to 7 pm from 1st March to 15th November. 10.50 euro + 4 euro for audioguide.
Places to eat
Chez Bruno, 38-40 Place Michel Debré 37400 Amboise, tel 0247577349, cell 0620562551 or 0617844228, http://www.bistrotchezbruno.com (just opposite the château)
Le Shaker, 3 Quai François Tissard, 37400 Amboise, 0247232426 (on l’Ile d’Or, the island in the middle of the Loire with a breathtaking view of the château)
Like Amboise, the Royal Château of Blois is built on a promontory right in the middle of the town overlooking the Loire River, and encompasses several different architectural styles from mediaeval times to the 17th century. At the end of the 14th century, the château was bought by the Orleans family and nearly a century later, Duc Louis d’Orleans became Louis XII and brought his wife, Anne de Bretagne, and his court to Blois. They modernised it all, so to speak, with stairs at each end and balconies on the first floor, decorating it with their emblems, the porcupine for Louis and the ermine for Anne.
François I, whose salamander is a recurring theme, lived in the château after he ascended to the throne in 1515. The Duc de Guise was assassinated in the King’s Chambers on the orders of Henri III in 1588 after plotting to take over the throne and Catherine de Medicis, wife of Henri II (son of François I) and mother of Henri III, died there the next year at the age of 70. The interior is extremely rich and colourful with many fine fireplaces and majestic pieces of Renaissance furniture. There is also a lapidary section with gargoyles, statues, pediments and other bits and pieces taken from buildings on the site. There is a sound and light show in the summer.
Open all year round from 9 am to 12.30 pm and 1.30 to 5.30 pm in the winter months and 9 am to 6 or 7 pm from 01/04 to 31/10. Sound and light show at 10 or 10.30 pm. Château 9.50 euro; château + sound and light show 14.50 euro; sound and light show 7.50 euro.
Vinomania, cellar, restaurant, wine bar, place ave Maria, 12 rue du Poids du Roi, 41000 Blois, 02 54 90 17 66
Azay le Rideau
Considered by many to be a “jewel of the French Renaissance”, Château d’Azay le Rideau was built on an island in the Indre River by a rich financier in the early 16th century during the reign of François I and combines the Italianate and French styles. It is more sober than the larger châteaux and one of its most striking features is its monumental fireplaces. The château was abandoned after the French revolution and redecorated by the Marquis de Biencourt. In 1898, the 4th Marquis had to sell out and it was not until it was bought by the State in 1905 that renovation began.
Now most of the rooms are decorated in the 19th century neo-Renaissance style, but the royal apartments still have some older pieces. A wonderfully reconstructed Renaissance bedroom with copies of authentic soft furnishings and rush-matting on the walls is accompanied by a very instructive video. The roof space, opened a couple of years ago after major restoration, is the most remarkable example of Renaissance master carpentry now on show.
The natural moat forms two “mirrors of water” reflecting the ornately sculpted frontons and pointed roofs of the château. The lovely jardin à l’anglaise or landscaped garden is the perfect place to wander on a fine day and affords stunning views of the château.
Open all year round. Every day from 10 am to 5.15 from October to March, from 9.30 to 6 pm in April, May, June and September, from 9.30 t 7 pm in July and August. Closed 1st January, 1st May, 25th December. 8.50 euro + 4.50 for an audioguide.
Places to eat
Le Lavoir in the castle grounds and a large choice of restaurants in the town itself.
Known as “Sleeping Beauty’s castle” because it was one of the châteaux that inspired Walt Disney, Château d’Ussé overlooks the Indre River. Cycling towards it in summer with sunflower fields on either side is an unforgettable experience. The original 11th century castle has been rebuilt several times, which explains its 16th-17th century aspect today. The grounds were redesigned in the 17th century by André le Notre, Louis IV’s landscape architect, who masterminded the gardens of Versailles.
Inside, monumental fireplaces and beautiful 18th century furniture and tapestries offer a backdrop to a life-like exhibition of mannequins in period costume which changes each year. The parapet walk offers access to rooms containing scenes from Sleeping Beauty and everyday life in the 19th century. A lovely Renaissance chapel stands outside the château.
Open from mid-February to mid-November, 10 am to 6 pm 17/02 to 31/03 and 1/09 to 11/11, and 10 am t 7 pm 01/04 to 31/08. 14 euros.
Valençay, rebuilt in 1520 by Jacques 1er d’Estampes and extended in the 17th and 18th centuries, was bought by Talleyrand in the 19th century at the instigation of Napoleon to welcome foreign dignitaries. Its sumptuous Italian arcaded gallery makes it a reference in the field of Renaissance architecture while its domed towers, dormer windows and bull’s eyes are perfect examples of the neo-classical style.
The inside is furnished just as it was during Talleyrand’s time, with elaborately embroidered Empire chairs, ornate tables and sumptuous chandeliers. Magnificent vaulted cellars house the kitchen, pantry and cellar in which one of the best tables of Europe was prepared.
The château is surrounded by a lovely formal garden and a landscape garden. Two nights each summer, the château is illuminated with 3,000 candles, and costumed actors and trumpeters revive the imperial celebrations of the past.
Open all year round. Every day from 16/03 to 11/11 from 9.30 to 10.30 am to 5.30 to 7 pm. 12 euros.
Also built overlooking the Loire, Château de Villandry is a château for garden lovers and the last of the major Renaissance castles to be built in the Loire Valley. It was the home of neither a king nor a courtesan but of Jean Le Breton, François I’s finance minister. He demolished the old feudal fortress, except for the keep, in 1532 and replaced it with an extremely elegant and richly decorated purely French Renaissance château. When the Marquis of Castellane bought it in 1754, he revamped the interior in the neo-Classical style. Unfortunately, he also destroyed the harmony of the outside, adding balconies, balustrades and trompe l’œil windows.
The gardens were much more successfully refurbished in the early 20th century to recreate the ambiance of a Renaissance garden. An arbour of grape vines leads to a large parterre, designed as a Garden of Music. The Garden of Love is on the other side of the canal. The garden combines flowers and vegetables and its true glory can best be experienced from the top of the château. A shop sells seeds and plants and other garden-related items.
Open all year round. The gardens are open every day from 9 am to 5 pm to 7.30 pm depending on the season. The castle is open from 9 am to 9.30 am to 4.30 to 6.30 pm from 16/02 t 11/11 and during the Christmas holidays. 9.50 euro, gardens only 6.50 euro.
And if you’re looking for an authentic place to stay in a central location, why not check out our rental accommodation for two in the mediaeval quarter of Blois – Châtel Rose. Click here for more information.
The day we went to Chambord, we really needed the break from our fireplace renovation. What I didn’t realise is that Chambord has over 300 fireplaces, a few of which look remarkably like ours.
We had decided to have lunch at the Saint Michel, just opposite the château and as we entered the restaurant, the waitress apologised for the smoke from the fireplace. Well, we know what the problem is, don’t we! Tightly closed windows and insufficient air intake. But it was pleasant to have a fire and our Australian friends appreciated the hunting decor and actually liked the smoke.
We all ordered the 22 euro “bistrot” menu as opposed to the 37 euro gourmet menu. I was amused to see that all the starters on the bistrot menu were Italian (smoked salmon and prawn cannelloni, prosciutto and mozarella bruschetta, beef carpaccio and mini red peppers stuffed with ricotta) while the main courses were traditional dishes (dear stew – no kidding – steamed haddock, three fishes stew and lamb knuckel-end & smashed carrots – also in the original.
Dessert was pear financier, French pain d’épices toast with salted-butter caramel ice-cream and crème brûlée with green lemon – they meant lime of course. The food was tasty and fresh, except for the French toast which had seen better days, and the service was friendly. I learnt afterwards that it’s also a very reasonably priced hotel. I don’t know what the rooms are like but having breakfast with that fabulous view of Chambord might be worth a bad bed!
The first thing we saw when we went into the château was the famous double-revolution staircase where two people can go up or down without ever meeting. Note the lack of people in the photo, perfectly possible in winter and totally unheard-of in summer. We were fascinated with the fireplaces and firebacks of course and loved the beautiful ceilings and other architectural details. One of the fireplaces is exactly the same shape as ours.
We headed for the roof (see my previous post on Chambord) while the light and weather were still good, which were were perfectly right to do because it started raining as we left.
After our visit to the rooftops, I then discovered that there is a series of furnished rooms which I have never seen before. It seems that in the mid-nineteenth century, the Count of Chambord decided to open the château to the public and furnish some of the apartments with his own private collection, mainly consisting of royal portraits.
When it became State property in 1930, there were 440 pieces, but only seven pieces of furniture. Today, there are 4,500 objects, including tapestries from the 16th to 18th centuries, and a large collection of furniture, particularly four-poster beds and objets d’art.
I even saw a bust of Molière, which I found surprising, but Louis XIV was also the master of Chambord and came to stay a total of nine times (far more than François Ier!), inviting Molière’s theatre troupe for entertainment.
I felt as though I hardly touched on the wealth that Chambord has to offer, so next time we cycle there, I’ll make sure we visit as well. I may have to get a season ticket!
Fellow Australian Susan from Days in the Claise, who also lives in the Loire Valley, but in the southern part of Touraine, has done a series of posts on Chambord Castle recently. We cycled there several times this summer, you may remember, but didn’t visit the inside. I didn’t think there was much beside the famous double revolution staircase. Intrigued by Susan’s posts, however, I decided to visit as soon as possible. A visit from Australian friend Kathy Standford from Femmes Francophiles and her husband yesterday was the perfect excuse.
All the photos below are all taken from the rooftops, which must be one of the most stunning examples of architecture I’ve ever seen. François I was only 25 when he commissioned the château in 1519. Unfortunately, despite the 2000 workmen, it wasn’t completed in his lifetime and he only stayed there for 72 days out of his 32 years on the throne! He used it as a hunting lodge of course and it was not furnished – he used to travel around with everything he could possible need – including the kitchen sink. But his son, Henri II, and Louis XIV, who also loved hunting, turned it into the château we know today.
My highschool friend Jane is staying with me in Blois for a few days. It’s quite hot so we’ve decided to cycle late afternoon and dine out. Jane has been cycling in Townsville along the Ross River in preparation for her visit and the day before, we’ve already ridden along the Loire from Château Menars to Saint Dyé sur Loire and back, a comfortable 16 K.
I’ve checked my bike map, Les Châteaux à Vélo, and seen that Bracieux to Chambord is about 8 K, which is perfect. I know the route because I’ve cycled on it before. You may remember that Bracieux is the little town where Relationnel and I were recently dubbed “cute” by one of the locals. We arrive in Bracieux without mishap and take the bikes off the back of the car. We’re organised by now and have everything we need, including our rain capes because there are a few blackish clouds floating around.
We ride into the town and check out the 17th century market place. We see that the restaurant on the corner “Au Fil du Temps” is open because the tables under the market place are already set. Off we go and I realise that I don’t know where the bike route is. I hate to admit this, but when I’m with Relationnel, I leave that sort of thing to him. We head off in what seems a likely direction and eventually find a little bike sign saying “Chambord”.
“I guess it’s because we already went cycling yesterday”, says Jane after about 5 k, “but it doesn’t seem as easy today”. “Don’t worry”, I reply, “only about 3 K to go”. But we arrive in a town that I don’t remember seeing before called Neuvy. It’s a bit worrying because I can’t see it on my map either. Some other cyclists tell us they’ve just come from Chambord.
I see a sign that says 11 K. Oops ! We find a street map and discover that we must have missed a turnoff early in the procedure and have been going east instead of north.
Jane looks very discouraged. We head off in the right direction this time, along a forest road, and when we get to the crossroads between Chambord (5 K) and Bracieux (3 K), she decides that we may as well push on to Chambord after coming all this way. We finally get to the stone wall surrounding the castle and enclosing what was François Ier’s favourite hunting domain. No one ever lived in Chambord – he used to travel with everything and everyone he needed, including furniture.
I miss the cycle route (again!) so we join it a little further on, which seems preferable to cycling along the edge of a 70 kph road. Now it’s spitting. We come out just before the château and as we round the corner, the view is breathtaking. We put on our capes but the sun then comes out and casts a wonderful light on the castle. We cycle through the grounds, past the château and finally stop and have a cold drink at a café with the castle in full view, just as everyone is packing up. By then it’s 7.45 pm but it’s still full daylight.
After a suitable rest, we go back along the 8 K route we were originally supposed to take! By the time we arrive back in Bracieux, we’ve ridden 30 K and Jane is understandably very proud of herself as 16 K is her record. We decide to have the full menu for 26 euro at Au Fil du Temps. There isn’t a wide choice, but the entrée (melon for Jane, smoked salmon for me) and main course (fresh salmon for Jane and entrecôte for me) are good value for money. The tarte tatin is somewhat disappointing. The service is friendly, however, and the setting is definitely worth it!
Au Fil du Temps, 11 Halle, 41250 Bracieux, France Tel. 0254460384
Each time we’ve come down to Blois since we signed the final papers in April, most of our waking hours have been spent getting the gîte ready and planting potatoes in the rain. So this time, we decided we’d have a holiday. Yesterday was our first “work-free” day so after a côte de bœuf cooked on the barbecue in the garden, admiring our reflowering wisteria, we cleared the table and set off for a walk in the twilight. These are the longest days in the year when it doesn’t get completely dark until 11 pm!
As we were walking up our road on the way back from a long ramble at about 10.30, we saw two couples about our age in front of a house whose ivy-covered front façade gives directly onto the road and could hear them laughing and saying, “Shh, not so loud. Don’t be so noisy” – in French of course. So as we got closer, I said, “Who are these people making so much noise in our street?”. Everyone laughed and I introduced us as their new neighbours. Relationnel chipped in, describing the house. “Oh, yes, then you must be the Australian!” came the reply! Once again, my fame had gone before me. Mr Previous Owner had obviously been paving the way for us.
We chatted and joked for a few minutes, then Françoise suggested we all come inside for a digestif, explaining that they had been celebrating her husband’s birthday. We accepted with alacrity. Françoise and Paul arrived in Blois 24 years ago from the Paris area and found intergration into the local community difficult at first. Since Françoise has a degree in English and Paul works for an American company, they have hosted many English speakers over the years, mainly youngsters, but Françoise told us a very funny story about a 74-year old American who came to stay and was surprised at the lack of air-conditioning. She even wanted to change host families but in the end, Françoise was able to get her into the local bridge club and, from then on, things improved considerably.
Their neighbours from just a couple of doors down, Liliane and Alain, are real locals. Well, not quite. Lilian is, as she, her parents and grandparents were born in Les Grouets, which is the name of our neighbourhood. She knows all the local history and was able to fill us in on the area. I had noticed Alain’s accent but didn’t like to ask where he was from. Not that he would have minded. He’s a great wit and obviously the life and soul of any party.
It turns out he’s Solognot from the region called La Sologne, between the Loire and Cher rivers and only a stone’s throw from here. It’s known for its forests and lakes and was a favourite hunting ground of kings and princes. Its most famous châteaux are Chambord and Cheverny. You may remember that we went to a huge brocante at Chambord in May.
We learnt from Paul, who’s in IT, that we’ll be getting a fibre connection in 2014, which is wonderful news. Françoise brought out her iPad (oh, wasn’t I jealous!) and took photos so I told them about the blog and the Loire Connexion community for anglophones masterminded by Summer Jauneaud. Françoise was delighted because she doesn’t have a lot of opportunities these days to speak English.
The time slipped by incredibly quickly, no doubt helped along by some sort of mint on the rocks digestif and we didn’t leave until well after midnight! What a wonderful start to our holiday ! And very encouraging for our future life at Closerie Falaiseau.
Yesterday was the first time I spent May Day in Blois. It was a good day. I woke up alive for the 3rd day running since I smashed my head into a very low authentic Renaissance beam at Closerie Falaiseau that you are supposed to duck under to go into one of the rooms. The people were on the short side back in those days! It felt as though I had a huge weight on my head and I did wonder for a few days whether it hadn’t been damaged forever. But it seems that I have survived!
While we were having breakfast, Relationnel suddenly got up, put his cap on and left. I was a bit put out until he came back a few minutes later with three little sprigs of muguet from the garden of our “little house”. It’s the tradition in France to give lily-of-the-valley on 1st May for good luck, especially to your loved ones. You can find it on practically every street corner, mainly sold by charities and similar associations. And because it’s Labour Day, it’s also the one day of the year when anyone can sell on the street without a permit in France.
Then we set out for the annual Chambord “brocante” or “vide-grenier” as they call it (attic emptier), the largest in the region, whom Madame Previous Owner had told me about a long time ago, warning me that we should be there by 7 am! Since we didn’t even wake up until 10.30 am, it was considerably later by the time we left. On the way, we saw a sign for another “vide-grenier” at Maslives so I insisted we stop.
It was very much a local edition, where most of the people obviously knew each other. We wandered around in the wet grass, delighted that we had had the foresight to change into our walking boots. I saw the most amazing child’s tricycle with long handlebars to turn to make it go. Relationnel spied out a lampshade made of pig’s bladder on top of the most hideous lamp stand imagineable so we paid the full price and left the lamp explaining to the vendor that we wouldn’t be able to use it. He commisserated saying that he had inherited it from his mother and didn’t have room either – but didn’t bring the price down!
We continued on to Chambord. You could tell from the gendarmes everywhere that it was not on the same scale. We parked, as directed, in a large field and were thankful, once again, that we were wearing our boots. By then, the sun had come out for the first time in 4 days, and we had a lovely time exploring the endless rows of stalls with the majestic Château de Chambord as a backdrop. The prices, however, were much higher, and we didn’t find anything to our liking.
At about 2.30, we decided to have lunch at one of the two restaurants in the castle grounds – Le Saint-Louis – which had both reasonable prices (about 12 euros for a salad) and friendly service. We’d done enough brocanting by then and went home to change into our cycling gear. It was great to be able to ride out the gate and down our country road. Not exactly possible in Paris!
After cycling along a dirt road and through a few puddles, we reached bitumen again, to my relief. We then rode up a very manageable slope to the highest point of Blois which means we’ll be able to cycle into the city centre in the future without too much effort. On the way, my chain came off and I thought I should learn how to put it back on by myself for when I go cycling without Relationnel. Newfound independence!
When we got home, we attacked the expresso machine again and finally made our first cappuccino! It was excellent (the coffee came from Verlet, I might add, and was accompanied by chocolates from Anglina’s). And despite the fast-descending temperature, we decided to dine al fresco for the very first time in Blois!