West Virginia University in Vendée, France


Châteaux de la Loire:

Amboise et Chenonceau

28 juin 2010


After a refreshing night in the Campanile Hotel (with luxurious accommodations--comfortable beds and air conditioning), we start the day at the bottom of the royal castle of Amboise, on the Loire river.


First, we meet our guide, Catherine. She will demonstrate her patience and knowledge, two skills our Vendéens value most in a tour guide.  Rachael, lost in her thoughts, imagines the day when she as well will be guiding students thirsty for knowledge!


The chapel bears the traces of the many celebrities who came here to pray. 


On the top of the lintel (above the door), we admire two statues: those of Charles VIIIth and Anne de Bretagne.  The royal couple built the castle of Amboise.  Below the traditional legends of Saint Hubert and Saint Christophe are depicted as well.


This chapel exemplifies the term "gothique flamboyant" (literally, flamboyant gothic), also known as high gothic.


Another famous visitor of the chapel, and now permanent resident, is no other than Leonardo da Vinci.  When King François Ier went to conquer Italy, he brought Leonardo back to France with him in 1516.  The Italian genius spent the last years of his life at Amboise, until his death in 1519 at the age of  67.


The flame was a dominant motif in the last years of the high gothic period.  Overly adorned, the high gothic soon gave way to the Renaissance, with its revival of the pure lines of the Antiquity.


The two remaining wings of Amboise give us a good idea of the two main architectural styles that coexisted for many years.  To the left, the top windows reflect the gothic style, whereas the windows on the right wing become less adorned, illustrating the "new" style of the renaissance.


The pointed arches above the top windows reflect the gothic period.


The double columns on the side of the upper windows exemplify the Renaissance.


You can note another example of the use of the flame motif on this gothic chest.


In this beautifully restored room, the pillars are carved with the emblems of the royal fleur-de-lys, for Charles VIII, and of the ermine tail, emblematic of the Duchy of Brittany.


Our guide tour ends on the top of one of the tower of the castle.  From there, not only can you admire our beautiful group, but you can also enjoy the view and understand why this part of France is said to represent the douceur de vivre, the sweetness of life.


Sweetness indeed...


The slated roofs are also a staple of the Loire valley landscape.


This picture illustrates how castles were originally built as the integral part of town, provide its defense and serving as a sanctuary for the townspeople.


The emblematic flags of the houses of  Bretagne and France fly high on the rempart.


The tower on the top of which we stood a few minutes ago is known as a tour cavalière, a tower made to be climbed on horseback.


In the garden of Amboise, once again, a few picture hunters.


Here, I have to mention Dr. Orlikoff's patience and dedication.  We waited for about 15 minutes for all the tourists to disappear from the castle so that she could take this beautiful view.  Très bien fait, Dr. O. (don't worry, all the tourists walked away safe and sound...)


Again, hats off to the photographer.


We have time for a leisurely walk in the castle's garden before we leave.


A view of the castle from town.


And another one from across the river.


As we walk through town, we meet a few starving Vendéennes, who still manage to keep a smile on their faces... except one.  Tory is about to expire on the spot.


Across the street, the rest of the group also waits in the sunshine.


Tory seems to be revived.  They will be bringing the bread any minute now!


Some of the young ladies entertain Fred, our chauffeur, at their table.  Don't worry the table in the far back corner is not punished.  We'll get to eat just as they will.


Our first course, a terrine de lapin aux pruneaux et son chutney, (a rabbit pate with prunes and chutney) provides much discussion about becoming vegetarian.


No philosophical worries at this table!


Our second course meets everyone's approval.  Perche poêlée sur julienne de légumes, purée de vitelotte aux fines herbes.  A sauteed perch with vegetables and mashed purple potatoes with herbs.


Our dessert is also enjoyed by all: tarte fondante au chocolat mi-amer, beurre de caramel salé.  A fondant of bitter-sweet chocolate with a caramel sauce.  Yum!


Our last excursion in the Loire valley is a stop at the chateau of Chenonceau.  The main alley leading up to the chateau is meant for elegant knights on horseback rather than the hords of tourists we will meet today.


Talking about elegant knights and damsels... (Where are their horses though?)


France has much pride in its national treasures and as tourists, we must bear with the never ending renovations and maintenance of the sites we enjoy so.


This castle was built by Henri II for his mistress, Diane de Poitiers.  While his wife, Catherine de Medicis, and their 10 children resided at Amboise, he frequently visited Chenonceau and Diane.  Although Diane had been his father's mistress as well, her legendary beauty had not faded by the time she and Henri became lovers.


This  symbol of Henri II and Catherine de Medicis--an intertwined H and C, is also none-too-subtle symbol of Henri's other interest: the reversed C of Catherine, resting on the first stroke of the H works quite nicely as a D... for Diane, bien sûr!


This gallery is the room that makes Chenonceau so special.  Built as a bridge upon the river Cher, it provides a magical space in which to give enchanted parties for the kings and queens.  Emily Orlikoff might just hold her wedding reception here (the hall is available for private parties), but she is not quite decided yet...  We'll keep you posted.


The visit of the kitchens is always a most enjoyable moment, bringing us back to the fundamental needs we all share, across social classes and across the centuries--food.  This is the vegetable kitchen  (my house doesn't have one yet...).


The contrast between the stone and the polished copper pots has caught the artistic eye of Dr. You-Know-Who.  The fragrance of the wheat bouquet on the table is remarkable.


The couronne de cuisinier was used to hang fowl and other poultry so that it could cure for a few days before it was prepared.


When visiting a castle, your eyes should be alert in all directions.  Raise not your heads and you might miss this beautifully decorated ceiling.


Above a chimney, the salamander, emblem of François Ier, and the ermine, emblem of Claude de France, his queen.


The castle of Chenonceau is often called the Chateau des Dames, as it was the house of many queens and princesses.  Here, we are in the chambre des cinq reines, the bedchamber of five queens, including Catherine de Medicis' two daughters, and three of her daughters-in-law.


Given Henri II's lack of discretion about his liaison with Diane de Poitiers, Catherine de Medicis lost no time in reclaiming Chenonceau upon his death.  Here, we can imagine her in her favorite study, worrying about the future of her sons.


On either side of the castle are two beautiful gardens showing the rivalry between Catherine and Diane.  Today, Catherine's garden is magnificent with its blooming roses.


Diane's garden here is also impressive, although it holds no flowering plants at the moment.


A bridge over troubled  waters...  Chenoneau spans over the river that delimited Occupied France from the Vichy France during the Second World War.  It was often used as a crossing point for those trying to escape Nazi occupation in the north.


Another view.




After so much beauty and delicacy, we eat our picnic dinner on the way home, in a rest area on the side of the road. We feast on a sandwich, a bag of chips and an apple.


Our good people seem satisfied.  Tomorrow is a day of rest, as you can imagine.

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