Today we awoke to something we haven’t yet seen on this trip, at least not since leaving London – a grey sky. Unperturbed we headed off in the car in search of the ‘Maid of Orleans’ (aka Jeanne D’Arc, aka Joan of Arc), a monicker that stuck and has given rise to countless statues and memorials all over town even though young Joan only spent 2 months of her life in Orleans. We were in search of the biggest and best of these in the main square. With all the road works and closures, the closest parking spot we could find ended up being further away than our hotel, luckily it’s a pretty small city and the walk there took us passed all the major landmarks.
Obviously Joan of Arc is an important figure in French history but she also played a significant role in my own family insofar as my parents met each other at the Jeanne D’Arc – 21 and Over Club in Lidcombe many moons ago – without her, I might not exist! In honour of all of this, we had a coffee in her magnificent shadow and then headed out of town…
…and into the Loire Valley, famed for it’s natural beauty and Chateaus. The first on our hit-list was Chambord, thought by many to be the grandest of all and thought by me to be the namesake of one my favourite liqueurs. It had never occurred to me that the bottle in the shape of a regal orb had anything to do with anything so it was nice to find an explanation even though I’d never sought one. Set in the French equivalent of a national park, the chateau is indeed grandiose with a mini-city of turrets and spires atop several stories of unrivalled splendour. At it’s centre is a double-helix staircase thought to be the handy work of one Leonardo da Vinci.
Our next chateau was in the heart of the village Blois. It is so ensconced in the thick of it all that it was impossible to find parking so we satisfied ourselves with a drive by knowing that chateau sitings are a dime a dozen in these here parts and we had greener pastures to graze.
Greener than most is Amboise. We criss-crossed the Loire river once again to be greeted by a fairytale view of a castle perched high on a hill with the town sprawled out below. We pulled in alongside the chateau’s impossibly high fortification walls but rather than explore it’s interior, we left it in our wake and headed up the road to an altogether more impressive dwelling – Clos Luce – the home and garden of aforementioned Leonardo da Vinci who spent the last three years of his life in Amboise at the behest of King Francois I.
The restored upstairs rooms were impressive but it was the ground floor that really made the visit worthwhile with it’s display of over 40 models of da Vinci’s inventions including a car, ball bearings, printing press, propeller, various bridges and an alarming amount of weaponry. Tucked away in the extensive ground beyond the house were several full size, working models (sans artillery) of some of these inventions and over-size art works hanging in the trees reminding visitors that da Vinci truly was the definition of a Renaissance man (and incidentally, a vegetarian).
We stayed as long as we could before having to make tracks to our next port of call, Saumur, where we’ll be spending the next two nights. In preparing this trip (or perhaps in my lack of preparation) I have looked at a lot of accommodation sites, more than I otherwise would in order to find the best possible places within our budget to make this trip special and memorable for Mum. Consequently, my head has been so full of what’s been booked and what remains to be booked that I really couldn’t remember where we were staying beyond the address I punched into the GPS. As we drove by another extraordinary chateau picturesquely perched by the Loire, Caron announced that in 2km’s we would be reaching our destination. We turned as instructed and then it all came back to me… ah yes, our own chateau (well, not all our own but a room in one)!
As we drove up the driveway, we were both overwhelmed by the grandeur that it revealed. More an 18th century mansion than a castle, the interior was even more sumptuous that the grand facade. We were greeted by our host Mary in a fine Irish accent and shown to the suite she had upgraded us to! Not only were we staying in chateau but in the master suite with a bedroom each! We managed to maintain some semblance of decorum purely by being stunned into relative silence.
Not surprisingly, we decided to spend the night in feasting on the last of our groceries in the back garden before racing back upstairs to our boudoir which definitely brings to life the splendour and elegance of a bygone era. For the next two nights, we’ll live (and bathe – the bathroom is massive and purpose built for luxuriating!) like Queens!
A few years ago I was involved in starting a 21 and over club which we decided to call the Jeanne D’Arc Club. This is where I met Richard and fell in love. So it’s amazing to actually be in the place that inspired the club that ultimately led to our marriage and family of six beautiful women who embody the strength and courage of Jeanne D’Arc – I am so blessed with our family.
It was one of the highlights of this trip to actually see the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci in the place where he spent his last three years. It was one of those moments of absolute awe to see these inventions still in use today, 7 centuries later.
Arriving at our own chateau, we dined in elegance on the patio with stale croissants, speculaas cereal and macadamia nuts.
What made me smile today: Whilst visiting Chambord Chateau, we also visited the various market/souvenir shops on the grounds where we abused the free samples of bickies (along with other patrons with five-finger-discount tendancies). Love to all.