The Loire Valley
Trip Start Apr 15, 2003
136Trip End Sep 01, 2011
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At the beginning of June we took a long weekend in the Loire Valley of France. This is a beautiful area with rivers and beautiful chateaus all along them. We started the weekend with a really great Eric Clapton concert in Rotterdam. We've seen several concerts in the Ahoy arena in Rotterdam and really like that venue. It's a smaller arena with good acoustics that we really enjoy. We spent the night in a small cabin at a campground on the edge of Rotterdam and then drove on to the Loire Valley the next day.
The first night was spent in Chenonceaux at a lovely hotel overflowing with flowering rose bushes. We had a lovely dinner at the hotel restaurant and then wandered the quiet streets before turning in for the night. We could walk to the Chenonceau chateau the next day. In the 15th century, the chateau was built for a mistress of Henry II. Upon his death, Henry's wife, Catherine de Medici, kicked out the mistress and moved in. There are now 2 gardens - one for each woman. The chateau sits, literally, on the Cher river. The original was built beside the river, but then a bridge was added off the back and a 3 story structure was added on top of that. During WWI the bridge was used as an army hospital. Injured soldiers would hang fishing lines with bells on them out the windows. When the bell rang, they had caught a fish.
In the afternoon, we drove to Villandry where the most amazing gardens are kept. We didn't tour the interior of the chateau but spent the whole time in the gardens. They are very formal gardens laid out in geometric designs. There is a huge sculpted vegetable garden, a herb garden, flower gardens, a water garden for meditation, and a maze.
That night we camped on an island in the middle of the Loire River with a view of the Amboise chateau.
We bought local cheese, bread, wine, fruit and pastries and had a really nice picnic beside the river. Some locals were out fishing with young kids so we enjoyed watching them as well.
The next day we drove to the granddaddy of them all - the chateau at Chambord. With 440 rooms and 365 fireplaces, it is HUGE! The most interesting parts were the video of the construction (it wasn't originally planned to be so big), the double-helix staircase designed by Leonardo da Vinci, exploring the passageways between the wings and appreciating the grandeur of the whole thing from the park on the other side of the moat. The interior is mostly empty and because it is so symmetrical we eventually got the feeling of "if you've seen one room you've seen them all". It is definitely impressive, though, and we enjoyed having a picnic lunch there as well.
The final chateau for us was the Chateau of Cheverny. This one is unique because it is still owned by the same family who built it in 1634 and family members still live on the third floor. In contrast to Chambord, the rooms at Cheverny are beautifully furnished. There are even recent wedding pictures and other family pictures in some of the rooms. The chateau itself seems small after Chambord, but in reality it's a huge place compared to any normal house. The owner likes to hunt and keeps a kennel of 70-100 hound dogs for this purpose. Man, do they STINK! The dogs are fed at 5:00 each day and there is a whole ritual of cleaning the kennel, laying out the food, bringing in the dogs, then allowing the dogs to eat. Seeing this is a highlight of a visit to Cheverny.
After two days of heavy chateau touring, we had a nice change when we found an exhibition of Vouvray wines in the nearby town of Vouvray. We discovered some really wonderful white wines including a sparkling wine that made us go "Wow!". It was better than any that we had in the Champagne region. We bought some wine and headed back to our campsite, where we spent another beautiful evening before leaving the next morning for the long drive back to Amsterdam.
All in all, a really beautiful, relaxing weekend.
Melanie and Chris
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Places we stayed:
Rotterdam: City Camping Rotterdam. We stayed in a little wood cabin. It was tiny with bunk beds, but perfectly fine for a place to sleep and (and not much else).
Chenonceaux: Hotel la Roseraie Beautiful rooms with aircon. The garden is luscious with roses everywhere (hence the hotel's name). The restaurant in the hotel has wonderful food and wine. And, it's walking distance to the chateau. We really enjoyed staying here.
Amboise: CAMP MUNICIPAL DE L'ILE D'OR. Large, quiet campground on an island in the Loire River. Beautiful views of the Amboise chateau from the campsite. Good facilities with clean showers and toilets.
Where I stayed
Hotel La Roseraie