Today one more photo of the Château de Cinq Mars. Here, our friend David sitting in the garden which was negotiated on lush grass paths which were punctuated by glorious clusters of wild cyclamen.
One of the wonderful moments of our visit to the Château de Cinq Mars, was that we were invited into their atelier, after I commented on all the artist's brushes in the window as we walked past. The owner, dressed in jeans, a dapper shirt and an orange bow tie, was in the middle of gardening when we arrived. But he was more than happy to show us his father's studio. Nicolas Untersteller, who originally bought the château in 1957, was a well-known fine artist in his day, wining the prestigious Prix de Rome when he was a student at the Beaux Arts in Paris. We were particularly taken with the etching press and he encouraged us to handle it.
Yesterday we went down to the Loire Valley with our friend David and had a wonderful day exploring an area where we have never spent much time, just below Tours. One of our favorite discoveries was a little château called Cinq Mars. There was a posted sign on the gate which said "Ring the bell loudly and wait for 2 minutes." We thought the season might be over, but a very friendly older woman opened the gate wide and invited us in. We were the only guests and she and her husband were extremely generous toward us, telling us many stories and inviting us to tour their extraordinary garden. The towers on the property were built right after the first crusade in the tenth century. We were able to walk up well worn stone steps to the top of one of them and have a marvelous view of the surrounding countryside.
I will post a few more photos of our lovely day as the week progresses.
We spent yesterday in Orleans with our friend David. There was a river boat festival there with many types of boats floating up and down the river.
Tomorrow I'll move on from Chenonceau and probably go back to the one photo a day format. For these last few days I just haven't been able to edit it down to a single image. Today I give you photos of flowers, as Chenonceau is known for its extravagant flora arrangements. The flowers are grown in a huge garden on the château grounds and dozens of bouquets are created twice a week all year round to adorn the rooms. I am showing you here a mere sampling of these arrangements.
Here some more photos of the Château de Chenonceau. The renaissance style leaded windows are a favorite feature of mine. From this window in the great hall, you see that the room is suspended over the river Cher. Boats can float underneath.
The great hall is more or less a covered bridge between the two banks. Nice room for a big party, don't you think?
A view of the suspended part of the castle.
One reason that Chenonceau is my favorite château in the Loire Valley is not only because it is completely furnished, as many are not, but very tastefully so.
The kitchen is exceptional with hundreds of beautiful copper pots and this great old wood-burning stove. The room is a floor below the great hall, just above the river, where food supplies were hauled up in baskets through windows.
Our first stop on our Loire Valley tour was in Chenonceau, to visit my favorite château. The day was perfect.
From this vantage, taken from the second floor balcony, you can see the approach to the castle down a long shady drive. The château itself spans the Cher River with the front door on one bank and the back door on the other. During the war the near bank was in Nazi occupied France and the far bank was not, so you can well imagine people escaping down the corridor and slipping through the back entrance.
One of my favorite features of this château is the ever-shrinking floor tiles in the great room. These Italian faience tiles, laid in the 1600s once covered the whole floor but over the years have all been worn off except at the very edges where no one walks. Even over the years we have been visiting, some more have disappeared.
We spent a lovely day in the Loire Valley with our friends. Over the next few days I will post some photos from our adventures.
The Château at Cheverney.
A street in Beaugency, Loire Valley
Yesterday we spent the day with our lovely friend Nelly, in Beaugency and surrounds where she lives part time in a beautiful old stone house. We had never visited this end of the Loire Valley before. We spent an extremely pleasant day full of sun, adventure and happy chatting. I will post a few more photos in the following days.
Rick took Wendy and Margot to the Château of Cheverny yesterday, where they have a famous pack of hunting dogs. They arrived just in time to see the pooches get served their dinner, which consisted of mounds of kibble topped with scores of raw chickens cut in half. As you can see from the photo, the chickens were the first to disappear.
When we took our day trip to the Western Loire Valley, we made a short detour a few minutes north of Angers where the Sarthe, Loir and Mayenne Rivers come together. I had heard that during spring there is a lot of bird activity in this region. I was not disappointed. We saw hundreds of birds, including an egret and this juvenile gray heron who was just off the partially flooded road.
One day recently we had a reprieve from guest dinner preparation – all our clients were checked in and had their own evening meal plans. It just happened to be a Friday night, so our favorite restaurant in Blois was open, recently back from their annual vacation, and had a table available.
It was already late afternoon, but still too early to go directly to dinner. We had a couple of hours to kill, so we decided to first stop by the gardens and château of Chaumont-sur-Loire.
This place has a lot to recommend it. The castle and associated royal stables are primary attractions, but the grounds are enormous and are our usual focus. The garden is divided into several parts. There is a park with a wide variety of spectacular tree specimens. Among them are tucked a number of striking organic sculptures.
This piece, newly created for the park this year, is a huge snaking construction made from old vines.
The variety of trees makes for a stunning contrast of size, shape, texture and color.
The afternoon was pleasant . Walking among trees is always relaxing for me.
It was, however, the annual flower borders that really made my eyes pop. This year's theme colors are soft lavender and cool blues, my favorite combination.
I can't imagine how many gardeners it takes to keep this place so pristine. In the several times we've visited here, I have never seen anyone fussing over a flower border, and at the same time never noticed anything remotely out of place or shaggy. Some kind of magic.
The park grounds stretch for acres around the château, and dotted throughout are these extravagant borders, which change with the season and year.
There is a lot of creative gardening done at Châmont-sur-Loire, not in the formal French style, but much more reminiscent of the English cottage garden.
I could not get enough of these flower combinations. The colors made my heart sing. Looking at harmonious colors, especially in nature, lifts my spirit.
The château park is enormous, yet it occupies only about 2/3 of the grounds. At the back there are two other distinct sections. On one side is the garden exposition space, where every year about 25-30 gardeners from around the world create little garden installations that reflect on a particular theme. On the other side is my very favorite space of all, the gardeners' experimental vegetable and ornamental working garden.
There are always some new ideas to discover in this place. It was here that the idea of the vertical garden was piloted.
There are quite a few trellises throughout, built of simple materials, which add dimension to the garden design.
Here too the plantings are perfectly maintained
The structures are ingeniously constructed and used to great effect to create separate garden rooms.
We took a hurried tour through the exposition gardens. The theme this year was The Seven Deadly Sins.
A huge wicker basket with herbaceous plants spilling out represented gluttony. It's hard to imagine a glutton being too interested in vegetables.
The one I found the most clever commented on the wastefulness of our consumer culture. The instillation consisted of tall tin cans which were planted and then arranged together to form an integrated garden space.
We were able to work up a good appetite after a pleasant interlude of garden wandering
We highly recommend Au Rendez-Vous des Pêcheurs. The chef, Christophe Cosme, makes a fabulous meal. We have always had a memorable dining experience there. If you want to see some photos of his food creations, be sure to follow the link to his restaurant.
The Loire river stretches east to west for about 1,012 kilometers, making it the longest river in France and the 170th in the world. I think of this majestic river, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean near St Nazaire, as the geographic division between northern and southern France. The Loire Valley during the Renaissance period was the seat of power and government. It is why there are so many châteaux along the banks of the river. Nowadays the Loire Valley is known as the garden of France, because of the vineyards, orchards and fields of vegetables which grow in abundance in its temperate climate.
We most often visit the more easterly towns of the Vallée de la Loire since we live a little north of Blois, Amboise and Orleans. That makes an easy day trip for us. In June, when we had friends from California visiting, we decided to go further west to a stretch of the valley we don't generally frequent. We discovered that it was no strain at all to get there, explore, have a leisurely lunch and dinner and still get back home just after dark. The autoroute makes the journey quite efficient.
It is a massive Château Fort, with a formal medieval strolling garden in the castle moat.
Made of schist and limestone, it was definitely conceived to withstand attack. Construction began in 1230 and it served as the fortress and residence of the Dukes of Anjou into the sixteenth century.
The astonishing Apocalypse Tapestry is housed at this Château. It is both the oldest tapestry in France and, at 100 meters in length, the longest in the world. It was produced in the twelfth century and depicts the story of The Book of Revelations. It is truly breathtaking. A few of the sections are lost to history, but most of it is well preserved and carefully restored.
We had a very satisfying lunch at the Monument Café, which is located in a pleasant garden on the château grounds and serves a buffet of charming little salads and small plates of savory concoctions.
The trip from Angers to Saumur, our next stop, was scenic. We drove along the river, going though small hamlets, sharing the road with many bikers. The Loire Valley is a favorite biking destination due to its relative flatness. On the way we stopped by Gennes to see the ruins of a Gallo-Roman amphitheater.
The Château of Saumur looks like a wedding cake sitting on top of the hill above the river and city. The views are spectacular. The town is grand.
We hadn't visited this castle before, so I was keen to go inside, but first we spent some time out-of-doors, first sipping a Perrier-Menthe at the café and then watching the exercising of some very beautiful horses. This is the headquarters of the National Horse-Riding School. They train horses and riders in classic dressage and jumping.
The château itself is not furnished, but as in so many of these historical locations, the details, like the tile floors, are stunning.
The architecture and interior elements are masterful.
We ended our day with dinner at a sidewalk café in Saumur named Brasserie de la Bourse. A thoroughly enjoyable and relaxing experience.
By the time we were leaving, the sun was golden over the western Loire.