France Part III: The Loire Valley

22 January 2015

Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better…..

It’s as if all of France was folded up on its sides and all the juicy goodness France has to offer puddled in The Loire Valley. It is called the Cradle of the French and the Garden of France, after all.

If you’ve been following our epic French adventure along, you’ll know this is part three of five in an ongoing series. We started in Paris then headed to Normandy & Honfluer, after the Loire Valley we’ll head south to Provence + then The French Riviera.

Part III: The Loire Valley

After Normandy we were escorted by a wonderful local tour guide named Valerie to our next destination: The Loire Valley. Valerie ticked all the boxes of an excellent tour guide: knowledgeable, interesting, well organized but with one fatal flaw: her driving. I know, pot calling the kettle black (I’m a horrific driver) but it takes one to know one. I kept looking out the back window to see if someone might be chasing us, but we were only racing ourselves. I bring this minor detail up because I do believe the carsickness impacted a pit stop we made on our way at Mount Saint Michel. Mount Saint Michel is one of France’s most recognizable landmarks — a sky high ancient city perched atop a mountain sitting on an island. Picture that! But at high noon walking across the barren bay that surrounds Mount St. Michel to be greeted by a gaggle of tourists, I was unable to rally from my wooziness. Did I marvel at the dedication that went into building Mount St. Michel by hand? Absolutely. Was it awe-inspiring? Sure. Would I go back? No. They did however get a very design-y new bridge but no elevators anytime soon.

view from the top

After scaling the abbey, the view was quite rewarding.

mont saint michel

A photo describes Mt. St. Michel far better than I ever could. If you have an extra day, go. If you’re squeezing it in, skip it. For another point of view: Steph seemed to really enjoy herself and the salmon crepes.

Finally feeling better, feeling great. The highlights of The Loire:

The Loire Valley has 100+ castles or chateaus ranging in size from enormous to slightly more enormous with each having their own claim to fame. Depending on your interests: period furniture, architecture, gardens, history, one may be more suited to your tastes over another. It’s best to do some research, or ask a guide to direct you to make the time spent worthwhile. #castleproblems. After a little research and consulting with our trusty tour guide, Valerie, we picked Villandry for its gardens and Chenonceau for the history.

Château de Villandry: We arrived early in the morning just as the dew settled into the gardens. We didn’t even bother going into the actual castle because we read it takes nearly two hours to fully embrace the extensive gardens, which were our reasoning for visiting. Villandry is the most famous of the castles for its extensive gardens filled with completely manicured lime trees, ornamental vines, medicinal herb garden, vegetables and beautiful fountains.

Château de Villandry

If you’re wondering if I planned my outfit to the garden… of course I did.

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heads of beautiful cabbage.

Villandry

The Garden of Love at Villandry was by far my favorite part. I’ve never seen so much symbolism in the form of boxwood! This section of the garden is divided into four sections: Tender, Passionate, Fickle and Tragic. Pictured above is Tragic and Passionate. Don’t read too  much into this shot, I was just trying to get a symmetrical photo.

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In the afternoon we drove to the second most popular castle in the region: Chateau de Chenonceau, nicknamed the “Château of the Ladies.”  This is a love story far too long to tell in one post, but a tale it is. Different than any of the other castles, Chenonceau was the first built for pleasure only (unlike others who were built as fortresses during war). In 1547, King Henry II gave Chenonceau to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, until his death. Then Diane was kicked out by the King’s wife, Catherine de Medicis. Diane may have been the mistress, but she had Henry’s heart. During their long relationship and ‘against-all-odds’ love, Henry and Diane created a love symbol that would be engraved all over Paris. Their symbol contained two interwoven D’s with a line through the middle, forming an H. She was a savvy businesswoman, intelligent and incredibly beautiful.

Chateau de Chenonceau on the Cher River

Chateau de Chenonceau on the Cher River

I can see why Catherine wanted it back.

Now you see why Catherine wanted it back.

Stay: Chateau De Noizay. A 16th-century castle turned hotel situated on nearly 60 acres in the middle of two of the largest towns in the The Loire Valley, Ambroise and Tours. The restaurant serves gourmet regional cuisine and local wines. There is also a terrace and a lounge for enjoying an aperitif before dinner. It’s here we sat next to Danish model Freja Beha, who I promptly pretended I had no idea who she was ensuring absolute aloofness. I will tell you though, she’s a mega babe and ate a load of carbs.

new meets old

new meets old

chateau noizay

Chateau Noizay was completely decked out in period furniture. Including our room which was toile‘d to the Nth degree showing serious commitment. Assuming the pillow arranging was made by a playful housekeeper.

Visit nearby city of Tours: A food bonanza!  I loved Halles de Tours  a gourmet food market where food was so beautifully presented and robust it almost looks like you’re looking at a wax fruit bowl or a really authentic fake houseplant that you pinch to see if it wilts. (Just me?) I found myself forking over a few Euros just to make sure it the food was real (chocolate, berries, candied almonds, cheese, bread dipped in olive oil) and proceeding to eat it by the fist full. This is the point in the trip where I believe my pants unzipped themselves. I don’t have many pictures because I ate everything.

but here's how I washed it down.

but here’s how I washed it down.

I’d eat here again: L’Atelier Gourmand. Valerie, our lead footed tour guide, redeemed herself by recommending we have a bite while cruising Tours.  I found the ultra modern decor paired with trippy French cartoons playing on enormous televisions slightly confusing/distracting, but once the food arrived my eyes stopped wandering. Good thing because it was one of the best meals we had on the trip. It was relatively priced, attentive service and beautifully prepared food.  I highly recommend.

Last but not least, the wine.

A few minutes away from Amboise (everything is relatively close when Valerie is driving) we visited the 500-year-old winery of Plou & Fils.  Plou & Flis began in 1508 and has been passed down from generation to generation ever since.  One of the Plou boys gave us a tour and walked us through Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Grolleau and my personal favorite, Gamay.

Pop!

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all of my rosé dreams coming true.

Just a pointer in case you skipped a few rounds on your DuoLingo app: Fils means “sons” in French. I actually asked “who is Fils,” wondering if there was another family involved. Don’t make that mistake, OK?  You’ll embarrass yourself, drink more wine, buy more wine that you can’t pack, it’s a downward spiral.

The featured image of the red door is the entrance of The Orangerie restaurant found on the grounds at Chenonceau. There are plenty more photos of the trip on instagram @theoceanviolet. Stay tuned for part IV: Provence.

 

Categories: Art, Lifestyle, travel | 2 Comments
  • http://www.enjoyfrancetours.com/ France Tours

    Amazing scenes really loved them all. would like to visit once for sure.

  • tim

    very, very nice. treats for the senses