December 30, 2013

Châteaux Hopper Passes,* Please

This post had the potential to be three - nay - NINE blog entries because we went to nine huge and amazing landmarks. But I'm choosing to overwhelm you with photos of all of them and the quickest versions I can muster of "what you need to know." Please, do enjoy our annual Christmas trip of our first (and definitely not last) venture into the châteaux of the Loire Valley.

*NOTE: There is no such thing as a Châteaux Hopper Pass. Feel free to ask and sound a bit ridiculous.

Château de Chambord

Welcome to our home?
Most incredible roof line I have seen in all of my European travels so far. Magnificent detailing on the windows, chimneys, stained glass, and cupolas! It was super muddy everywhere, but we still enjoyed our crazy photo shoot. We didn't go inside due to time constraints, but we heard later that an epic staircase awaits us. No harm in returning.

Jes' iPhone takes way better photos than our Apple products. Most of these photos are HERS.

Château Royal d'Amboise

Rain or shine: WE SMILE.
Actual castle/fortress overlooking the river. Most "castles" (châteaux) in France are just massive ornate mansions, so it was cool to go into what we Americans consider a real castle with a dungeon, turrets, crazy staircases, and archer vantage points. The weather was really bad here, so we didn't get to wander through the gardens which had some ancient ruins. We are planning on making the lovely town of Amboise our home base for our next Loire trip, whenever that will be!

The small chapel on the left is where Leonardo da Vinci is buried!

Clos Lucé

Who's that girl? It's Jes!
Leonardo da Vinci's final home was about a fifteen minute walk from the grand château in Amboise. The interior was very beautiful, and paid a wonderful homage to da Vinci's genius by displaying 3D models of his drawings. We were even more pleased to find those same mini-models in full life-size in the gardens! The grounds are like an engineer's amusement park dream come true. This château isn't always remembered on Loire trips, but if you have anyone in your group at all interested in inventions and how ahead of his time da Vinci was, this "da Vinci park" is a must see.

Leonardo's backyard has grand picnic potential.

Abbaye de Fontevraud

I'm getting really good at accidentally finding extremely famous historical figures' tombs (William the Conqueror was the first "stumble-upon"). All I knew about this abbey was "something about Eleanor of Aquitaine," which really is just a mental picture of Katharine Hepburn from The Lion in Winter. Turns out she is actually buried here (Eleanor, not Katharine), along with her husband, King Henry II of England, and her ultra famous crusading son (thanks to Robin Hood), Richard the Lionheart! It is truly a feat of history that the family's "graveyard" survived 800 years of religions, wars, and even the abbey's stint as a prison after the Revolution.

Château d'Azay-le-Rideau

We did not go inside this château because we really just wanted to see the outside, and extravagant château costs aren't really a part of our budget. But if you ever do want to go into the park, the castle sits on a man-made island in the river. On a calm day, the dammed up river reflects the château flawlessly, giving Azay its fame and tourists.

Château de Loches

We were desperate for bathrooms and refreshments at this stage of the journey, so Loches did not receive its due justice. Loches is the medieval city where Joan of Arc rode to meet with the hiding French dauphin (king-to-be) and to encourage him to take back the country. There are three great aspects to this attraction: the ancient keep, the church, and the lived-in castle. Must come back.

Château de Chenonceau

There should be more buildings built like this one. Clearly, if bridges can last for hundreds of years over rushing rivers, then bridges with rooms and hallways and windows built on top of them can be even more awesome. This is THE château. Come to France and let Chenonceau sweep you off your feet.

Why, yes, I do believe I would like to take my tea by the river today. In my room, of course!

Château de Blois

We found the keys to Blois!
We ate a delicious lunch in the fun-to-pronounce town of Blois (say bluh-wah, then laugh out loud) on our last day in the Loire. There were so many large and imposing castle-like buildings that it was difficult for us to distinguish between the churches, castles, and towers of tall stuff. So we just drove across the river and took pictures of ALL of it!

I can pick out at least five different château-ish buildings.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres

This is my most pious face.
The Chartres Cathedral was imposing enough just standing there. We walked in, and five minutes later, the most intense organ music ever started playing and set the tone for the rest of our walk through. It was a bit creepy to sneak around a church of that size with the haunting minor key melody blaring through our ears. Add the several headless statuettes decorating the choir behind the pulpit, and my full medieval experience was complete.

Et, Voilà!

It was a fantastic weekend together! The Loire has so many beautiful scenic roads; we saw more homes, barns, and wineries built into the cliffs than any of us had ever seen before. We bonded over being touristically [future word] cold and hungry, practicing our French and Hebrew, and posing as 24-year-old students to get into the sites cheaper. (And yes, it did work.) We enjoyed the freedom of driving around our little rental car, finding new places to experience, and making fun memories like we always do.

It's a good life to live in which we get to do what we do best.