Spring is in the air! The Vernal Equinox is just two days away, and the weather across Tennessee – and elsewhere in the U.S. as well – has been positively spring-like. A few days ago, temps crept into the lower 80’s, and I was able to sleep with my windows wide open!
Despite the continent being more northerly in latitude, the weather in Western Europe is generally milder than here in the U.S. This was definitely the case in 2011, when I spent several sunny, shorts-wearing spring days in France, exploring Paris for the umpteenth time and making my first trip to French château country, aka the Loire Valley.
The most famous attraction in this land of palaces and manors, just a few hours south of Paris, is the castle-like Chambord Château.
The dizzying roof comb of Chambord Château is like something out of a fairy tale, or a J.K. Rowling novel, perhaps.
The château was originally built as a hunting lodge for King Francis I of France, as evidenced above. Artwork from the Louvre was stored here during WWII.
The unique, double-helix staircase may or may not have been designed by Leonardo da Vinci, and helped grant UNESCO World Heritage status to Chambord.
The grounds are enormous, and include this canal and waterside walking/cycling path. Rowboats are available for hire.
The hilly town of Blois (pronounced “blue-wah”), two hours south of Paris by train, is the gateway to Chambord Château, and a nice place to while away an afternoon. The Cathédrale Saint-Louis sits atop a bluff in Blois, overlooking the Loire River.
Blois plays host to its own château, which towers over the rest of the town. This château was also built for François Ier.
A curious nighttime diversion at Château du Blois is the striking sound-and-light show, which is performed in the main courtyard.
Another famous attraction, this one literally straddling the River Cher, is Chenonceau Château. Although the picture above was taken by yours truly, you may have seen this likeness on calendars and postcards of France.
The interior of Chambord was quite sparse. (It was “merely” a hunting lodge, after all.) The interior of Chenonceau, by comparison, is French baroque. The salon pictured above belonged to Catherine de’ Medici, the widow of King Henry II.
One highlight of my visit to Chenonceau Château was touring the well-tended gardens. After several days of unseasonably warm weather, the skies turned overcast, which helped bring out the colors of the flowers and prolong the seasonal bloom of the tulips.
An exercise in depth-of-field, part one (above).
An exercise in depth-of-field, part two (above).
A series of gravel walking trails led from the château, guarded by sphinxes, and into the woods…
…and led to a working farm, adjacent to the château’s grounds and like something from a dream. Grass-eating donkeys roamed free and assured that the groundskeepers would seldom need to mow.
I found something peaceful in this image of a French woman reading the newspaper while waiting for the train into town.
The “town,” in this case, is the lively university city of Tours, 25 minutes by regional train from Chenonceau Château. This pedestrian mall is one of the longest in Europe, and its restaurants were largely Middle Eastern in flare. Fine by moi. 🙂
It should be mentioned that Tours (the “s” is silent) has its own château as well, the aptly-named Château du Tours, above. The original furnishings are gone and the château currently houses a rotating collection of photographic art.
The Loire Valley, with its wide rivers, dense greenery, lively towns, and centuries-old châteaus, is one of the gems of Western Europe, and a high point of any visit to France.
All pictures were taken with a Nikon DSLR camera. All images are the property of GringoPotpourri unless credited otherwise, and should be used with permission only.