West Virginia University in Vendée, France


Ravishing Renaissance

27 juin 2011



Rested and refreshed, we begin our visit of Amboise, the favorite place of residence of the kings of France during the Renaissance.  Once an expansive complex of buildings, only these two "small" structures have been preserved,


... along with Charles VIII and Anne de Bretagne's chapel, a beautiful example of the the late Middle-Ages twist on gothic architecture, known as flamboyant gothic.


Catherine will guide our visit today, as she has in the past.  Students always enjoy her clarity and her passion.  Jenney is not about to let one piece of information go unrecorded!


Don't they look sweet?


Catherine's commentary helps us understand the importance of the trunk for the ruling class, who spent  life castle-hopping, so as to check on their various landholdings.  Here we have a good example of a late Middle-Aged piece dating from Charles VIII's reign, with flamboyant design.


The Three Graces and their Cameras.


The king's room, quite royal don't you think?


Unlike Langeais, Amboise's history is linked to a very dark time of French history, the Wars of Religion, a struggle between Catholics and Protestants that lasted over sixty years and left France torn, impoverished and in ruins.  Here at Amboise, King François II and his mother, Catherine de Medicis, widow of the great Henri II, captured many great Protestants leaders and killed them.  They hanged their bodies for everyone to see from the wrought-iron railings installed by their ancestor, Charles VIII.


We chase these dark events from our mind... so we can pose for yet another group picture!


Standing 40 meters high (over 130 feet) above the Loire, the view from the towers of the castle makes it easy to understand why Amboise was such a favorite residence.


A view from the back of the garden.


Our Vendéens now pose in front of the statue of Amboise's most famous resident (yes, more famous than an Italian French queen)--Leonardo da Vinci.  The Renaissance man spent the last three years of his life at Amboise, working for his friend François Ier.  The statue marks the place of his original burial place, located in a church destroyed in the early XIXth century.  His remains now lay in the chapel we mentioned earlier.


One last view of the castle from the river.  This view is the one visitors would have when they first arrived in Amboise.  Quite impressive, to say the least...


This picture cannot communicate how hot we actually are.  It is now close to 1000F, and the Lastingkoffs wished they had known this when they were planning the menu.  No chilled soup for us!


Hot, but pleasant.


We start with a green salad with (warm) rillons de touraine.


Then, a (piping hot) rôti de boeuf forestière.  Although the meat is delicious, it is difficult to enjoy on such a hot day.  Brittany, not a fan of fish, doesn't mind the heat, as long as she can at last enjoy her food!


And for dessert, a delicious (warm) tarte tatin. I have to say we all go for the gooseberries, the slice of orange and the mint before we go for the apple pie.


Our last visit is to the Chenonceau castle, a jewel of Renaissance splendor.  I cannot tell you how good it feels to be in the shade of a majestic bridle path, lined with century-old plane-trees. 


Set on the Cher river, this beautiful castle became the symbol of the rivalry between Catherine de Medicis and her husband Henri II's mistress.  While the king gifted Chenonceau to Diane de Poitiers, within instants of the king's death, Catherine seized it for her own use. 


Sam, Shannon, Miranda and Holly are not fighting about anything (it's too hot to fight).


This gallery across the Cher is what makes this castle so unique and so, so romantic.  Jenney pulls her measuring tape at every corner, as she is planning a destination wedding at Chenonceau.  She doesn't have any particular young man in mind yet, but of course, that is quite secondary.  Location, location, location!


A view from what is now called Catherine's garden.


At the end of the gallery, the doors at the very back open to what was Free France during World War II.  Many try to escape through these doors.


Resting a bit.


It is important to walk leisurely in a castle built for enjoying life.


The kitchen makes the Lastingkoffs sigh...  Think of what they could cook up in here.  The rope across the window to the right is helpful to haul groceries up from the river that runs below, under it.  Of course, it is also convenient to toss out mishaps and leftovers...


Diane's garden is twice as big as Catherine's.


We have left our royal surroundings and we stop at rest area to feast on the royal ham and cheese sandwiches prepared for us by the staff at the Campanile this morning.  Don't worry, the vegetarians have not been forgotten...


It is late, and we are back in Les Sables, posing with Fabrice, our driver, who has been one of the most pleasant and helpful drivers we have encountered.  Bien joué, Fabrice, et merci!


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