Left Quimper on Sunday morning, June 11th and arrived in Amboise, in the Loire valley around 2:30, about 5 1/2 hours by car with a few stops. To pass the time, we connected Robin’s iPod to the radio so we could listen to music. I don’t mind most of Robin’s country music, but sometimes a little “honky” so often I push the “forward” button to the next song and he is okay with that. Well today a song comes on and following are the lyrics….”He said, I will love you till the cows come home and I could only wish that the cows go blind”…..well…..I was laughing so hard, I started crying!
First a little history on the Loire region. The Loire River is France’s longest river…both Robin and I thought it might be the Seine. Still learning things, that is why I like researching where we are and where we are going. The Loire was the region’s principal means of transportation as well as an effective barrier against invading armies. The Loire also divides France in two, both geographically and climate wise. To the north is the moist, temperate climate of northern Europe and southward lies the drier climate of the mediterranean.
When we think of “The Loire Region” one thinks of chateaux and wine. The wine production includes several regions situated along the river from the Muscadet region on the Atlantic coast to the regions of Sancerre and Pouilly Fume in north central France. Loire wines tend to exhibit a characteristic fruitiness with fresh, crisp flavours. My friend Susan who is very knowledgeable on wines might correct me on the above, so I referred to Dr. Google for some information on the wines in the Loire.
As far as “Les Chateaux are concerned there are some 300+ in the Loire Valley. They started as fortifications in the 10th century to the splendour of those built half a millennium later. When the French kings began constructing their huge châteaux here, the nobility followed suit. Their presence in the lush, fertile valley began attracting the very best landscape designers. Numerous chateaux have magnificent gardens, and in all honesty, I look forward to visiting these probably more than the chateaux!
Our first apartment in the Loire is in the small town of Amboise, population about 15,000. Amboise is known for Chateau Amboise and Chateau du Clos Luce.
Chateau Amboise was first built in the 9th century and it expanded over time. This is the part I like….In 1434 it was seized by Charles Vll from its owner, Louis d’Amboise. He was convicted of plotting against Louis X1 and condemned to be executed in 1431. However, the king pardoned him but took his château at Amboise. Once in royal hands, the château became a favourite of French kings. And I say to myself…and their was a revolution why!!!!
The Chateau du Clos Luce is very near the chateau and was built in 1471. It was a summer residence for the royalty. Leonardo da Vinci was invited to spend time at the Clos de Luce by King Francois and he settled here in 1516, and lived here for the last three years of his life. It is said that the King fgave da Vinci an allowance as well as financing his works.
Met our landlady, Pascale at the apartment which is located in the “Vielle Ville” of Amboise.
The apartment we are in is called ” La Maisons des Cochers” (The Coachmen’s House). In the eighteenth century, the stage coaches for Tours and points beyond left from the house next door and this house was the lay-over accommodations for the coachmen. The livery for horses and coaches was a bit farther down the street. A very confortable modern apartment with great funky artwork.
We get settled in and take a walk to the banks of the Loire River, only 2 blocks away, then into the old town to view the castle. We will definitely visit the castle while here. We decide to stop at a cafe for a glass of wine as is late afternoon and very hot. It was 30 degrees when we arrived, quite a difference from the past couple of weeks in Brittany where we have had cool weather +18C. A french couple from Paris are sitting next to us and we strike up a conversation. They were away for a long weekend in Bordeaux to celebrate their son’s birthday and they were taking their time getting back to Paris using the secondary roads. As they were leaving,they warned us to be very careful in Paris regarding the pickpockets. Yes, we said, we are very aware of the pickpockets and the different ruses they use, a good laugh recounting some of these stories. This is the second couple from Paris that we meet in our travels this year, that tell us that once they are retired, they will move out of Paris. Everyone says too big, too much pollution and too much crime. Our landlady here in Amboise told us she and her family moved here from Paris some eighteen years ago as it was no place to raise children. We still love Paris for a few days at a time, but certainly understand their perspectives.
Lots of tourists in town this afternoon. Amboise is known for its Sunday market and we are told people come from all over to attend the market. Although we missed it, we are hoping to come next Sunday. We will be in Tours by then, but told it is worth coming back to see.
Monday morning arrives and we head off to grocery store to get our provisions for the next few days. We had bought enough food in Quimper before we left on Sunday as we are aware that most grocery stores closed on Sundays. Good call on our part. Head off by 10 am with our rental bikes and bike along the Loire for a little ways, then the trail winds through the local farmland, vineyards and small towns. About 18 degrees when we head off and by the time we get back four hours later about 30 degrees. A couple of nice encounters along the way.
We pass by a huge garden and there is an elderly gentleman (probably 80+) and he is weeding in his garden. We stop and I tell him that he has a very big beautiful garden and I ask if he eats what he produces. He smiles and says yes. He then tells us that he has another garden on the other side of the house that is about the same size. My friend Theresa would love working in this garden…a beautiful setting.
Later we stop in one of the small towns along the way for a coffee/tea. In these small towns the local bars are coffee houses early in the day and one goes in to order. I pass by a group of older gentleman having their coffee. Of course, I say “Boujour Messieurs”, smiles all around. So I ask them “Ca va?” ( How is it going?) one of them replies “C’est tres difficile”….(It’s very hard) and he laughs. I just love these encounters, makes the day that much better. Everyday life!
As we headed off on our bike ride today and throughout the day, we came across several people, alone and in groups, who had large backpacks and were travelling along the path. I noticed that hanging off the back of their packs they had large scallop shells. Dawned on us that they were on the Compostela de Santiago. Winn, thought of you today…..this is a friend of ours who did part of the Compostela in Spain last year.
We cycled 42 kms today cycling through the towns of Lussault sur Loire, Montlouis sur Loire and ended up at La Villes aux Dames, just 6 kms from Tours. Back along the same route.
Tuesday morning and I decide to get a cappuccino from a small coffee shop right across the street from our apartment. It was closed on Sunday when we arrived and yesterday as well. This coffee shop is unique for France. The young man who owns it grinds the coffee beans as you order, not done before as in most shops. He even asked me if I wanted a single or double shot. I told him not many places in France ask you that. A young lady with her dog in the shop so we speak for a few minutes. She told me she spent fifteen years in Canada and thought my accent was a bit different then what she was used to. She had lived in Quebec and was used to their accent.
As I was leaving the coffee shop, two elderly gentleman on the street were speaking, so of course I say “Bonjour Messieurs”, they both reply. As I walk by, they are saying goodbye and one says to the other, “Have a nice day” the other man replies “I will try”. So I say to the man that is walking along side me now “He will try to have a nice day” and he tells me that the man he just spoke to is “very poor and struggles in life”. Oh my, one goes along merrily and then the reality that not everyone has things easy in life is indeed the truth. One should never judge others as we do not know what they are going through in life. Once again I am reminded of how fortunate Robin and I truly are!
Off to the bike rental shop and today we are trying electric bikes. We are cycling “La voie royale”….(The royal route). We leave around 9:30 and still cool enough that we needed light jackets. Left Amboise along the Loire, then up through the countryside passing some lovely homes. Through the Foret d’Amboise then arrive in the small town of Blere where we stop for coffee/tea. We are now cycling along the Cher River, which in all honesty seems to be larger than the Loire. A couple of locks along the river, but a local told me that their aren’t any boats along the river. Just some tourist boats near Chenonceaux.
As we were riding through the forest, we came across some people who were cutting and gathering fire wood. There were also piles of stacked firewood throughout the clearing and they were all numbered or had initial painted on the sides. My guess is this signifies who the wood belongs to. There must still be a lot of the older homes that use wood for heating, as in our travels we have seen lots of wood piles.
Continue on our way and make it to Chenonceaux where we stop for lunch. Do not visit the chateau as we will be visiting next week with Rich and Lisa. We are doing a circuit and cycling back to Amboise and there are lots of uphill sections…..great to have the ebikes and we kick in the electric feature going up the hills. Well I think both Robin and I are converts when it comes to the ebikes. Will definitely have to look into converting our city bikes when we get back home. Another great day of riding, gone about 5 hours today. Great day for riding as was not too hot and nice coolness when riding through the forest..
Rillettes — a new favourite over pate. The preparation of meat similar to pate. The meat is cubed or chopped, salted heavily and cooked slowly in fat until it is tender enough to be easily shredded, and then cooled with enough of the fat to form a paste. They are normally used as spread on bread or toast and served at room temperature.
We decide we want to go to Saumur, but realize when we put the location into the GPS in the car, that it would take 1 1/2 hours and we decide to pass, don’t want to spend three hours in a car today. So we look at our map and decide to go to Loches instead. Wow, talk about a lucky choice. When we get to Loches, which is only some 30 minutes from Amboise, the weekly market is happening. Mind you when this is happening, it’s always hard to find parking, just need persistence…follow someone walking toward the car park!
Stop by one of the meat/cheese vendors and he gives us a taste of some of his products. Asks us where we are from , when we say Canada, he asks if from Montreal. I tell him we are from the west, so he asks if from Salt Lake City or Vancouver. I politely inform him that Salt Lake City is in the United States. He says, very close to the border though, right! No, we advise him about 1,500 kms from Canada. A good laugh!
Quite a nice market here and a very lovely town. The town is set above the Indre Valley on a rocky outcrop and is known as a “Cite Royale”. Charles Vll lived here with his amour, Agnes Sorel. Beautiful medieval and Renaissance era structures throughout the town. The Royal City is surrounded by a “donjon”. Had to look up the meaning of the french word “donjon” which came up as “keep”. A “keep” refers to large towers in castles that were fortified residences, used as a refuge of last resort should the rest of the castle fall to an adversary. Joan of Arc and Anne of Brittany also spent time in this town.
Came across some very different and interesting art work. The town is having an art exposition throughout various venues, showing the art of a Russian artist Mihail Chemiakin.
We walk up to the Collegiale St-Ours church and go in to spend some quiet contemplation time. In the entrance of the church was part of an old tree stump that was full of thumb tacks. Had never seen this before, but was a fund raiser for a catholic organization to help the poor. Pay one Euro and you can nail a thumb tack into the log. I know, different that is for sure, but I donated my Euro and nailed in my thumb tack.
Walk around a corner to a small garden overlooking the valley and we come across a plaque on a wall, which indicated that Jean Chretien (previous Prime Minister of Canada) visited Loches and unveiled this plaque which commemorates his ancestors who lived here and immigrated to New France in 1656. Found this so interesting, what a small world.
Have a wonderful lunch at a small restaurant overlooking the valley. I get into a conversation with the waiter and when he finds out we are from Canada, he told us that as a young boy he dreamt of moving to Canada to build a log cabin in the woods! A little later a police woman comes into the restaurant to speak to the owner. Our waiter comes back and I say to him “What did you do wrong, the police are here?” His quick response back to me…”They are looking for two Canadians!”. Had an aperitif for lunch today…a sparkling white Vouvray with a bit of cassis…..yum, similar to a Kir Royale, but using a local sparkling wine.
Back to Amboise to meet up with Robin’s sister, Suzanne, her husband Colin and their son James who will be here in Amboise for the next couple of days. They live in England, so quite easy for them to come over, glad they have, we do not see them enough.
Lovely spending the evening with Suzanne, Colin and James catching up. We will spend the next couple of days with them.
Thursday we head off to Chinon, which is about one hour by car from Amboise, taking the country roads. Love the scenery on the wonderful windy roads….the farmland, the rolling hills, the vineyards and the small towns dotting the hills.
Arrive in Chinon and the market is happening today, so always a challenge to find parking. Walk around a bit through the market, stop for a quick coffee, then onto the very small town of Crissay sur Manse.
This town is classified as one of France’s most beautiful towns. Not much to the town, but we spot at the local restaurant for our lunch, a spectacular setting overlooking the fields and vineyards. A little walk around, then back to Amboise, once again taking the back country roads.
Out to a nice dinner tonight at an outdoor restaurant to celebrate Suzanne’s birthday.
One thing that I keep meaning to mention, are the local police or tax assesors attending the markets and collecting a fee from all the vendors. At one market even noticed that the police officer was pacing off the size of the booth. Not sure what the tariff is based on,might have to ask a merchant…my curiosity always gets the best of me; I just have to find out!
Friday finds us starting off our day with Suzanne, Colin and James, visiting the Chateau du Clos Luce and the Parc Leonardo da Vinci located here in Amboise. The chateau was built in 1471 and is very near Chateau Amboise. The Clos was bought in 1490 by by Charles Vlll and for two hundred years was a royal summer residence of the Kings of France. Leonardo da Vinci settled here in 1516 after being invited by King Francois l. He was appointed “first painter, architect and engineer” of the King. Da Vinci was free to work on his many dreams here and lived in this residence for the last three years of his life.
We toured the Clos, but in all honesty, the part I liked the best was his workshop and the model room in the basement. Also a beautiful extensive garden where some of Da Vinci’s works are replicated; not only some of his inventions, but paintings as well. It is said that Da VInci got a lot of his inspiration from nature, specifically plants, trees and water. His workshop included many of his sketches for some of his ideas which were very interesting.
Head for Chenonceaux for the afternoon. Colin wanted to take the boat which goes for a tour in front of Chenonceaux Chateau on the Cher river. A different perspective in which to see the castle. Robin and I will visit the chateau this coming week with Lisa and Rich.
Our few days with Suzanne, Colin and James have come to an end. We are so grateful that they made the effort to come over from England to meet up with us for a few days. Off to Tours tomorrow to meet up with our son. R ich and daughter in law Lisa…we can harldy wait!