Saturday, October 5, 2013

Paris (Day 4) - The Loire Valley

Jim and I at Chambord
The weather in Paris was not optimal during our trip, but it wasn't bad. Just cloudy, with a tendency to be cool. However, we got one absolutely sunny day and it was fortunately the day we took a day trip to the Loire Valley. The cloudless sky and plentiful sun were an asset to seeing the sights here. Plus we had a great tour guide named David who was able to give us a primer/refresher of the history and key characters: da Vinci, Francis I, Henry II, Catherine de Medici, and Diane de Poitiers. We stopped at three of the Loire chateaux: Chambord, Amboise, and Chenonceau.

While the drive to and through the Loire Valley is easy, I'm glad we did a tour. After walking all day, I was quite happy not have to deal with the crazy Paris traffic when we returned. Better to doze off and let someone else manage it!

We started with Chambord, which was less a chateau and more what I imagine a castle to be like: courtyards, huge stone staircases, and towers slicing like needles into the air. While much of Chambord is not decorated, I could feel what it must have been like when it was occupied by Francis I in the 1500s. I loved the hunting-lodge-on-steroids vibe: thick wood doors, imposing stonework, and the impressive scale. The best part was the terraces. They run all along the top perimeter of the castle, and we walked among the spires to enjoy the fantastic views.

The Loire and town of Amboise from the terrace
Next was Amboise. While Chambord was set in a forest (and apparently is home to a considerable population of wildlife), Amboise was located within a town that brings the word "quaint" to mind. While Amboise is an impressive building also offering fantastic views of the valley from its terrace, it is much closer to a home than Chambord. My favorite room was Henri II's bedchamber, which had a very masculine feeling for a room steeped in such ornate decor. Lots of wood and rich but uncluttered furnishings. The chateau is also the burial place of Leonardo da Vinci.

Finally, we stopped at Chenonceau, which is the most palatial of the three chateaux. It was here that the most detail seems to have survived (or at least has been restored/added). Beyond the chambers the royals used, there were many rooms - such as a kitchen - where servants would have worked. Catherine de Medici's bedroom was evocative for me, especially having read Alexandre Dumas' Queen Margot. In fact, dozens of famous royals lived here at one time or another, and the related stories are fun to know before going in (another reason I'm glad we had a guide). 

For example, the competition between Catherine de Medici and her husband's mistress, Diane de Poitiers, permeates the place. Mary Queen of Scots lived here. Henri III's queen retired to a room here after he was assassinated, and which she apparently set up as an over the top 'shrine' to her late husband (perhaps putting her in the running to be the first fag hag). There were huge bouquets of lilies in this room, which gave off an intoxicating, sweet fragrance. On top of the fantastic interiors, the grounds were also like something out of a fairytale. 

I'm sure there are plenty of other castles and places to visit in the Loire Valley, and I feel like we got a good sampling of a variety of buildings given that we only had the one day in the Valley. It was good to get out of Paris for a day, and this was a trip highlight for sure!

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