Châteaux & Castles
The Loire Valley is referred to as the Garden of France, due to the abundance of vineyards, orchards and vegetables grown along the banks of the river. It is also know for its historic towns (unusual in France – not) and architecture.
I found a gorgeous B&B through a newly discovered website: Chambres d’hotes; Corinne & Marc run Le Clos du Haut Villiers, it’s a charming french home set in beautiful gardens. It was a pity we only had time to stay one night.
On Corinne’s advice we had dinner in nearby Montrichard, sitting outside in the medieval square that dates back to the 11th century. It’s moments like this, that reminded us of how lucky we are.
There are numerous châteaux adorning the Loire River and its tributaries. We know we can’t visit the all, it’s a bit like wine tasting, you can only do so many in one day without them all starting to look the same.
We start with Chenonceau, one of the most impressive châteaux in France, stretching across the river Cher. The current structure commenced in 1513 and has a unique history, being that most of it was in the hands of Women.
The construction of what is known today as Chenonceau, began in 1515 and was overseen by Katherine Briçonnet, but the property was seized by the crown for outstanding debts and became the home of Diane de Poitiers, mistress to King Henry II.
Diane embellished the property with extensive gardens she also commissioned the bridge from the château across to the opposite bank.
Upon the death of Henry in 1559, his wife; Catherine de Medici forced Diane out and took up residence at the château. Catherine added the grand gallery over the bridge and extended the already lavish gardens.
During the french revolution Chenonceau was in the hands of Louise Dupin, she is attributed to saving the château from destruction during the French revolution
Château Villandry was a ‘sight-seen’ visit, as we stopped off for a coffee and peered through the fence. Impressive, but we decided to keep going before parting with our euros for an inside look.
Probably our favourite château was Azay-Le-Rideau. An original castle had stood on the site in the 1200’s, burnt to the ground in 1418. The land was acquired 100 years later by the King’s Treasurer, Gilles Berthelot. The château designe was strongly influenced by the architecture of the Italian renaissance.
In 1527, Berthelot went into exile, fearing being caught for having his finger in the till! The château was later confiscated by the crown.
Rising out of flat coastal marshlands along the Normandy coast is a single rocky outcrop, at it’s peak sits the Abbey of Le-Mont-St-Michel. It has to be one of France’s most iconic landmarks. Technically, it’s neither a Castle or Château, but its been on my ‘bucket list’ for a long time.
The story goes, that in 708, the Archangel Michael appeared to the Bishop of Avranches, commanding him to build a church on the rocky islet. As a result, the Bishop consecrated a small church on the rock in 709.
Between the 11th and 16th centuries the Benedictine Abbey was built and a village grew under its shadow during the middle ages. Military defenses were added in the wake of the 100 year war, enabling it to survive a siege of 30 years.
Over 3 million people visit the rock either as pilgrims or tourists. We arrive late in the afternoon so the tourist buses seem to have already departed. We make our way through the narrow alleys to the top, unfortunately the Abbey is already closed. The views are still worth it!
It’s been a busy day: we’ve covered over 300km, took in three châteaux, an Abbey and numerous quaint/pretty/lovely historic towns along the way. Out of ‘puff’ we find a Chambres d’hote on the side of the road to bed down in for the night, it’s basic, clean and cheap (€35). Surprised to find something so reasonable near Mont-St-Michel. A bistro across the road provides an adequate dinner, lights are out not long after.