If and when you get tired of cosmopolitan Paris, the more laid back Loire Valley is just a hop and a skip away.
POSTED BY JENNIE
Once the summer getaway of French royals and aristocrats, the Loire Valley or Val De Loire is now an enormous Unesco World Heritage Site. Spanning over 280 kilometres, it is a fertile river valley with castles or chateaus of varying degrees of opulence. With their towers and cupolas, bridges and moats plus the villages and the vineyards that surround them, the chateaus may belong to the past, but they still bring as much pleasure to tourists like me today as they did to the queens of yesterday.
We chose Tours as our base, a charming town with many of its medieval buildings still intact. It is a quick 75 minute train ride from Paris. The Cathedrale Saint-Gatien is its most prominent structure. Built in Gothic style architecture, it is a slender and elegant work of art. Sunday mass, although entirely in French is an experience in itself.
If you don’t have your own car the best way to go around and see the castles is to join a tour. The Tourist Center is right across the train station. This is where you can book private or shared tours. Our time was limited to just a whole day of castle hopping so we chose to see Chateau Amboise, Chateau du Clos Luce and Chateau de Chenonceau.
Our driver and tour guide was the jovial Pierre. We shared the tour with 3 Americans who were surprised we spoke English!? What Pierre lacked in hygiene he more than made up in congeniality.
Our first stop was Chateau Amboise. The property is very well maintained and is open every day of the year except January 1 and December 25. From royal sitting rooms, to bedrooms, and even the kitchens, the Chateau has original furniture and tapestry dating back hundreds of years. The great Leonardo da Vinci is also buried here in Saint-Hubert’s Chapel located in the castle grounds.
After paying a visit to the tomb of Leonardo da Vinci, we visited Chateau Clos du Luce which is practically next door. In fact there is an underground tunnel that connects these 2 castles. This is where Leonardo da Vinci lived for the last 3 years of his life as a guest of Francois I. He devoted his time here to perfecting his inventions. There is an entire wing that displays his ingenious creations as well as some that can be used in the park in front. Roses are abundant and there is even a resident peacock.
The last and grandest castle that we visited was Chateau Chenonceau. Story goes that this castle was loved, protected and administered by women who were all extraordinary. Spanning the River Cher, the castle is stunning and a marvel of architecture then and now. Perhaps its most famous resident was Catherine de Medici who created the “garden of wonders” with a giant maze and over 130,000 flower plants.
The castles are popular tourist destinations so be prepared to jostle for space, especially in tight corridors, but the gardens are vast so there’s lots of personal space when you need it. Entrance fees are about E11 per person per castle.
We chose Hotel l’adrese in Tours in the old town which is just off Place Plumereau. Rooms are cozy, clean and open out to the street and restaurants below. It’s quite charming but can be noisy at night.