A Castle Geared for Children…..but we loved it too!
We were sitting at dinner in Chinon, next to a group of tourists from New Zealand when one of them asked: Have you been to Sleeping Beauty’s Castle? Since neither Jim nor I had even heard of this castle and didn’t have it on our list of chateaux we planned to see, we didn’t think much more about it. In fact we secretly thought to ourselves that it wouldn’t be anything we would be interested in.
But we were very wrong about that! READ MORE & WATCH THE PHOTO-MONTAGE
Cave de Monplaisir is located on the Quay Pasteur which runs along the Vienne River and leads into Chinon and as we whizzed by it, Jim quickly said “do you want to stop there?” Naturally, a chance to taste wine in a wine cave was not to be missed, so we u-turned as soon as we could and headed back to the dark cave inside of the tufa cliffs. These caves are the remains of the old Tufa quarries which were mined for their stone. These stones were used to build the great chateaux and towns of the Loire. Centuries later, enterprising vintners decided to store their wine in the cold caves where the French oak casks could be kept at a perfect temperature for years until the wine was at the optimal time for bottling.
This cave is huge with extensive caverns running for hundreds of yards back into the hillside. The tunnels are lined with casks and some cave-rooms are filled with antique bottles of wine covered with mold and dust while others are filled with neat stacks of cases which contain much more recent wine. Most of the current wine is held from 6 months to 2 years. You can feel the decades of winemaking contained within this rocky cavern. As you walk far into the cave, the temperature drops until you are shivering in your summer clothes perfect for keeping wine, but a little chilly for humans.
This cold temperature finally pushes you back to the warm mouth of the cave where there is a long counter with a friendly person to answer all your questions about the wine of the region, pointing out the vineyard locations on a map conveniently spread out on the countertop. Cave de Monplaisir is owned by three Chinon wine estates: Domain de L’Abbey, Jean-Maurice Raffault and Domaine du Raffault. The region’s wines are based on the Cabernet Franc grape.
We tasted several red wines since we had only a very short drive up the hill to our hotel in Chinon. Be sure to stop by and taste what is considered some of the best wine in the Loire region.
Well, we finally decided to take a brake from Chateaux and after consulting our tourist map of sites, decided to check out Fontevraud Abbey. I love picking a point on the map and just driving to see what is there because you often run across gems you didn't expect to find. The burial place of Richard Lionheart and his famous mother Eleanore of Aquitaine was one of those amazing finds. And to think...... we just picked the abbey because we need a break from chateaux! If you love history, It is an experience you shouldn't miss.
The order of Fontevraud was founded in 1101, but the Abbey was not built until 18 years later. The beautiful and peaceful Abbey Cathedral is the spiritual heart of the monastery.
Interestingly, this French abbey is the resting place of one of the royal dynasties of England. Fifteen Plantagenet Royals are buried in the vaults, including three of the most famous; King Henry II, his queen Eleanor of Aquitaine and their son, Richard the Lionheart. Their effigies lie in the abbey nave facing the altar.
It was the custom for great lineages to pick a church as a necropolis. Since Henry was the Duke of Anjou and Eleanor brought all of South-west France to the Plantagenet dynasty with her dowry, it’s not surprising they would choose Fontrevaud as their resting place. Eleanor loved the abbey and endowed with many donations. She also lived the last five years of her life at the abbey and died there.
READ MORE & WATCH THE PHOTO-MONTAGE
Our second base location in the Loire Valley was the old royal city of Chinon which was added to the French Royal Estates in 1209, now known as a favorite stop on tourist wine-tours. There is a really good reason for this popularity. The town is full of history, whether it is the history of France and its famous citizen, Joan of Arc, or the history of wine and both can be explored easily from Chinon.
At our hotel, we ran into a group of bicyclists who were riding from town to town through the Loire visiting vineyards and chateaux along the way. While we truly admired their healthy mode of transportation and their incredible stamina, Jim and I both knew this would never be a tour we would consider doing. Too much work!
We liked the fact that our luxury car would convey us speedily along the countryside with ease accompanied by French music on the satellite radio, while allowing us to stop as we pleased whenever something caught our fancy. The only exercise we would be getting would be climbing the steep (and sometimes endless seeming) stone and wood steps of the ancient chateaux and wandering their formal gardens.
So if you are looking for biking tour info, stop here.
If like us, you like to tour in comfort, Chinon is a beautiful old city with several lovely hotels and most importantly, a few even have parking available for your car. We chose to stay at the Best Western Hotel de France, Chinon, which is one of the most charming hotels we have ever stayed in. Be sure to check out Jim’s review Charming Hotel in a Great Location in Chinon.
I know it sounds crazy, but Jim and I had a quest. VISIT AS MANY CHATEAUX AS HUMANLY POSSILBLE WHILE DRIVING THROUGH THE LOIRE VALLEY FOR A WEEK. Who in their right mind would want to do this? Well, it was actually my quest….. my birthday quest, and Jim graciously gave in and acted as chauffeur and logistics expert, for which I will be eternally grateful!
For an art history nut, finally visiting the French chateaux I had been reading about for decades was a dream come true, particularly because most of them were not busy at all since we were traveling just off of the main tourist season. Traveling off season is pure bliss! No crowds, no heat, and the poor beleaguered chateau staff had recovered from the stress of tourist hoards and were for the most part, friendly and helpful and even tolerated my atrocious French accent!
You are probably asking yourself….. What is so special about another European castle? READ MORE and SEE ALL THREE PHOTO MONTAGES...
Chambord Chenonceau Amboise
Photo Montage Photo Montage Photo Montage
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This provides a little more info on Blois and the Chateau
The royal city of Blois became the center of the French Royal world in 1498 when King Louis XII brought his court there. Royal patronage of the city brought along with it, the nobility, wealthy merchants and fine craftsmen and you can see this in what remains of the architecture from that time, half timbered merchant homes that now house restaurants and shops, the Baroque Churches Eglise St. Vincent, the Hotel d’Alluye built in 1508 for King Louis’ treasurer, the Gothic-style Cathedral St. Louis rebuilt in the late 17th century. The town is a charming collection of small streets, winding pedestrian alleys, centered by the lovely small but lovely garden of Jardin Augustine Thierry over which the Chateau Royal de Blois towers grandly from the hill above. READ MORE
Our first day out after picking up our rental car was an adventure in matching the pace of French traffic as we left the Paris outskirts and getting our feel for French “rules of the road” while trying to follow the stern but pleasant voiced directions from our Garmen GPS. We soon settled into the journey though, and after a couple hours, we finally arrived at the first of our home bases from which we would explore the Loire Valley, BLOIS. From Blois, we ventured out on day trips which I will be writing about in the following days. In the meantime, please enjoy the first photomontage while I work on writing about the first of these French journeys, The Royal Chateau du Blois.
Our wanderings on our second day in Paris, which was a Saturday, took us over to the Left Bank down the Boulevard St. Germain where we found an antique market in the Place St. Sulpice. The bright white tents shaded a wide variety of vintage French clothes, decorative items and an assortment of other fun and interesting objects to explore.
Naturally, my eye was caught by the tall cathedral of St. Sulpice towering over one side of the square and I couldn’t help myself as I begged Jim to take a minute from our exploration of the sunny hot market square to walk inside the calm cool interior of the church.
St. Sulpice is known as the “Cathedral of the Rive Gauche” Construction was begun in 1645 and it was mostly complete one hundred years later in 1745. The west front Baroque façade was designed by Florentine architect Giovanni Servadoni. It has a somewhat lopsided appearance due to the fact that the south tower was never finished and therefore the towers are different heights.
During the revolution, St. Sulpice was damaged and turned into the Temple of Victory, but in the 19th century, it was restored and redecorated with the help of the artist Eugene Delacroix. His paintings grace the “Chapel of Angels” on the right side of the entrance.
The church is also the location of a chapter in the book “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown, so you can look for the “Rose Line”, the “Obelisk” and other myths proposed by the book.
While these fictional stories are fun to follow, the church was the scene of real historical occasions, such as the baptism of the Marquis de Sade and the marriage of Victor Hugo. Also, the “Rose Line” is actually an 18th century astrological device. The sun's rays enter the church through a small opening in the south transept and rest on the line at various points throughout the year. On the winter solstice, the rays hit the obelisk; on the spring and autumn equinoxes, the bronze table. One of its uses was to calculate Easter each year.
Wandering on from the antique market and St. Sulpice, we soon found ourselves in the Luxemburg Gardens. These beautiful and peaceful gardens provide a place for university students and local residents to relax and enjoy the green lawns, graceful sculpture and bright flowerbeds placed artfully throughout the park under large leafy trees. We joined them when we found one area where chairs were placed around the green and people were reading, eating a snack or just talking in small groups with chairs pulled together to prop up legs or hold book bags.
The Jardin du Luxemburg is a combination of Italian, French and English garden styles. It was originally designed for Marie de Medici, widow of King Henry IV and regent for King Louis XIII in 1612 as part of the gardens for the Palace she built in 1611. The palace was to be a replica of the Pitti Palace in her native Florence and it still exists today along with her Italian Fountain, and the garden was designed to remind her of her beloved Florentine gardens. Marie de Medici planted 2000 Elm trees and later in 1630 purchased more land to expand the gardens in the new more formal style of Versailles.
The gardens were neglected by later royalty, but after the French revolution, the Directory restored the gardens for the people and later after the temporary restoration of the Monarchy in 1848 and through the 1880’s and 90’s, most of the statues were added as monuments to great artists and writers and the English Garden was added. It is a wonderful park. If you need a place to just rest and enjoy a quiet moment in Paris, head to the Jardin du Luxemburg.