Blois, France May 2018

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In celebration of a speeding ticket we got going from Tours to Blois (the second we got via mail from the French highway system a month after our return) I thought I would post about our visit to Blois which caused this infraction. * (A note about the French Highway system- the roads are very smooth and immaculately maintained.  However, they have a challenging ticketing booths on the road, and if you ever need to pull off- to, say, use the facilities, they charge a fee.  There are no rest areas like we have here in the US. Also, there seems to be an elaborate way of monitoring speeding, whereby you are not pulled over, but your speed is periodically checked. If speeding they then find you and send you a ticket.  A waring to lead-foot drivers traveling to France! BE CAREFUL.  Figuring out how to pay these French tickets is almost more painful and difficult than actually the fee itself.

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Blois itself is another royal residence of our friend, Catherine De Medici.  For a time, this was the center of French government. The staircases you can see, were copied by the the Vanderbilt estate, the Biltmore in North Carolina.

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The castle is full of history and peculiar paintings…. The one on the right is of a person with hypertrichosis who was under the protection of the royal house hold at one point.

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Château de Langeais, France, May 2018

Hello, I wanted to share with you another marvelous Chateau we visited while on our trip to the Loire Valley: Langeais!

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The weather was perfect and we had quite an interesting visit.  This 15th century chateau was most famous for the secret wedding between Anne of Brittany and Charles VIII which took place here on December 6, 1491- infamously at dawn.

The oldest part of the castle complex is the “keep” which was built in the 10th century.  (According to my wikipedia research, this makes it the second oldest castle in France.)

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The interior of the castle was quite interesting itself- there is a wax model of this secret wedding, complete with a narrated video of the events surrounding it. (Strangely enough, this was in English- perhaps to accommodate the number of pesky English speaking tourists.)  I have a link to an image of the tableau, as I  was so distracted by the impossibly small size of the figures that I neglected to take a picture.

I am not sure if these figures were made to scale, but they all appeared to be no more than 4 and a half feet in height.  Considering the small size of the doorways- I had to stoop and I am 5’7″- this might be the case.  Although, I find it hard to believe.  The rooms all featured heavy wooden beams and intricate tapestries.  The floors were tiled in a color we came to know as “blush apricot” which seems to be quite popular in France- many of the chateaus and buildings we visited featured this type of tile.  IMG_8606

(Please disregard the Americans featured above- those are my parents who are clearly fascinated by something on the wall opposite).

Langleais also features an extensive turret walk: it allows the visitor to traverse through an enclosed walk way on the upper level.  This seems to have been part of the castle’s defenses, as you have a good view of anything happening beneath.

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Thankfully, the wiring was in place to prevent any overly curious tourists from falling in the moat while trying to retrieve a dropped iPhone.

We ended our visit with a great lunch in the village. It was perfect- there was only one item left on the menu- jambon et fromage,  so the amount of challenging translating when ordering was, blissfully,  kept to a minimum.

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Villandry, France May 2018

While in the Loire Valley, we decided, rather late in the afternoon, to visit Villandry. It was such an unexpected joy to find this to be another gem in the Loire. Similar to Azay -le- Rideau , we had not planned on visiting here and therefore I had no historical context- which is challenging for me as I like to imagine the what has happened before my time at the places we visit. However, this experience was profound.  The Surreal gardens were so evocative of Alice in Wonderland – felt otherworldy.

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As we arrived late in the day, we only had a little time to rush through the Chateau itself which was spectacular.  It was again, a palace which one (or at least I) could envision living in. Large elegant rooms with painted wood paneling and high ceilings.   It was surrounded by channeled water which was home to many and overfed catfish who responded to shadows of tourists overhead by opening their mouths in anticipation of food.

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We did have a chance to climb up to the tower however, (the turret in the back of the chateau pictured above) which commanded an unbelievable view of the gardens.

IMG_8624 These boxed hedges contained lettuces which have been historically grown by monks. It is worth noting that from every window of the chateau the view is of these gardens, which actually has a great influence on the feel interior spaces as well.  It brings a great deal of elegance and distance.

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The gardens were broken up into rooms, similar to those in the English garden we visited, Rousham, but on a totally different scale and were created to have a very different feel.  The French Renaissance style seems to be all about conquering and dominating nature, while the English style was about working with the natural landscape.  (what Capability Brown was famous for.)

Even the trees had been tampered with- they were pollarded which is a process in which the new branches are continuously trimmed back and shaped every year.

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The lake was majestic- there was even a perfect pair of white swans floating in it.

This garden was truly a testament to human’s ability to shape and form the natural landscape to its will. While I loved it and was so glad to visit, I am not sure I would be so presumptuous to assume that nature could be so easily tamed as this garden appears to do.  There is always rain…

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Château d’Azay-le-Rideau, France May 2018

Truly a floating palace (almost)

We decided to visit Chateau d’ Azay -le- Rideau on our second day in the Loire Valley. During my extensive research (i.e. looking at wikipedia pages) I saw this chateau and while it looked interesting, I had planned on visiting a different chateau this day.   I have no historical knowledge of d’ Azay-le-Rideau, so I was going in without any frame of reference.  It turned out, that this is by far, one of the true jewels of the Loire Valley.  The weather was perfect, which helped, but I can safely say that even if it had been cold and rainy it would have been well worth it.  The chateau is surrounded by a lovely little village which is very quant and mid-evil feeling.   I was accustomed to English estates, where the stately home is usually some distance from the village (such as Blenheim). The approach to the chateau through the village made it seem so much more accessible and welcoming.

 

This Chateau is surrounded by the Indre River, although it has been channelled and controlled so that it appears to be more like a lake. I have since learned that it was originally constructed on a muddy island which caused no end of challenges for the builders.  It was designed so that the chateau appears to be floating and the reflection on the water magnifies its beauty.

The gardens were lovely and far more like the English style I love and am accustomed to.  There were no bordered flower beds and you do not get the sense that humans are trying to dominate nature you seem to find elsewhere (more on that in another post).

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The interior was equally beautiful and, odd as it is to say given the size and scale of the chateau, comfortable.  The rooms had a nice flow, and while this was never a royal house to my knowledge, it is both as elegant as a palace, yet also felt intimate and cosy.  One of my favorite rooms had rattan wall coverings and charming exposed beam ceilings. It felt very contemporary, which is a perhaps due to the to the popularity of the French chateau style currently.  IMG_8588

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It seems clear to me that this chateau has been an inspiration for architects all over the world seeking to design in the French Renaissance style. This staircase is magnificent.

The one most interesting aspects of d’Azay- le- Rideau is the attic.  It is 2 stories high, with windows on either side, held up by ancient Oak beams which date from the 16th century. (I believe that the original owner was given special permission to cut virgin Oaks for these beams).  Below is a picture of the chimney with a little ladder to climb up it.

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This visit was fantastic. As a fan of Louis XIV, I was pleased to learn that he stayed here once.  I loved this chateau, and have since returning home started to learn more about its history, which is littered with royal connections.  A governess to Louis XIV, Françoise de Souvre, lived here in the late 16th century.

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The drive away from the Chateau into the village.

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My dad, me and my boyfriend, Matt.

Chenonceau, France May 2018

Beautiful Chateau, shaped by powerful women

During my trip to the Loire Valley a few weeks ago, we had the great fortune to spend a day visiting Chenonceau, one of the loveliest architectural masterpieces I have ever seen.  The Chateau was home to some powerful women- Diane de Poitiers, and Catherine De Medici. While the chateau itself is stunning, and the situation is majestic (it spans the river Cher) what made this Chateau so special to me was the relationship between Diane and Catherine.  I had read a book by Leonie Frieda about Catherine DeMedici which gave me some insight into her life and what her marriage with Henri the Second was like.  Fundamental to this relationship was Diane de Poitiers relationship with the king.  Diane was his mistress.  I found it fascinating that this woman, 20 years his senior, could maintain such control over him and command such fascination and amorous desire.  Thinking that she must have been truly beautiful or full of charm, it was eye opening to discover that in reality, she was a cold fish who was generally disliked by everyone.  (The only nice thing that was said about her was that she was a thrifty house keeper.)

At Chenonceau there are two gardens, symbolizing the two women: The Catherine garden, and the Diane garden. They are on opposing sides of the chateau and create totally opposite feelings in the visitor.  the Diane garden, which is much larger, was  stark and austere.  The sun beat down and  there were no trees only copious gravel pathways.  All the plants and flowers were so constrained; it was difficult to get a sense of beauty when walking in it.  Only when seen from above, inside the chateau, does the visitor get a sense of what it actually looks like.  From the ground it felt large, flat and hot. (Below) Perhaps similar to the character of Diane, beautiful, remote, distant and austere.  Like I think Diane would have, this garden left me feeling cold and unwelcome.

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The Catherine garden, by contrast, had an entirely different effect.  It was surrounded by tall trees and woodlands.  the river felt closer, even though both gardens adjacent to it. I was full of wide expanses of grass and lovely little trees and plants.  The lawns were inviting, there were benches in the shade, encouraging people to sit and relax.  While smaller is scale and size, this garden felt like it was naturally part of the landscape.  The feeling is almost maternal, as if you are being taken care of and accepted.  Which, given that Catherine had 10 children, makes sense. IMG_8468

These two very different experiences in the gardens made me wonder if they were a reflection on the  characters of the two women? It seems like it might be so.

The crowning glory of Chenonceau was the grand hall.  This ground floor hall runs the expanse of the river.  It began as a bridge during Diane’s time, but Catherine when she took ownership of the chateau, had it enclosed and turned into this majestic space.  Catherine used this hall to hold a grand party for her son upon his succession to power.  Being there, you can picture the dancing revelry which took place.  (Also of note, the black ans white floors- Diane famously only ever wore black and white clothing for the majority of her life. Could this floor be an homage to her time at Chenonceau?)

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One of the unexpected joys we discovered was the village area next to the chateau which housed, presumably, the workers of the estate. This is a lovely enclosed little community, full of beautiful houses, a duck pond and carriage house.  The houses are surround lovely grassy common area.  It felt cosy and comfortable, as opposed to the grandeur of the chateau itself.  Being there, it was easy to picture what it might have been like when the estate was working- full of chickens, children and people bustling around.  Today the area is immaculately kept with matching buildings crawling with Wisteria bushes.

Finally, the drive up to and away from the Chateau is worth showing.  the elegant tree lined road really illustrates that this is a royal residence. There is no ambiguity of the power of the resident one is visiting. (There is even a guard cat today in residence!)

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“Un Chat de garde!” I believe his/ her name is Noisette. Well worth the visit.

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