Tours and the Loire Valley – June 2017

 I am always interested in what drives the economy of the area we are visiting. The economy here in the Central part of France is mainly agricultural. The main crops are composed of grains (mainly wheat and corn) and grapes. Sugar beet,canola, and sunflowers are also cultivated in the region.

The industrial sector is getting more and more developed, benefiting from the decentralization of Parisian industries. The main manufacturing relates to the vehicle industry, with large tire, parts, and plastics plants.

Orléans, about one hour from Tours, represents a key transport and commercial centre, with production of  chemicals, processed foods, textiles, and machinery. The region is a major provider of nuclear energy. Tourism is also an important aspect of the economy.. 

I am sure that most of you are aware of the recent elections in France where Mr. Macron came into power. On the past two Sundays, the citizens of France have voted for their legislative representatives and Macron received an overwelming majority. Will be interesting to see what happens over  the next few months in France. 

Saturday the 17th of June, we left Amboise and drove to Tours, only 30 minutes by car. We will be staying in Tours for the next 6 days with our son Rich and our daughter in law Lisa. Always a little tense getting to a new city and trying to find your new digs; and today the market was happening in Tours and our apartment is in the old town. Fortunately I had gotten in touch with our landlord and asked him the best place to park so that we could drop off our luggage, as the apartment is located in a pedestrian zone. His instructions were perfect…..parked on a side street, on the sidewalk where construction was taking place! Fortunately it is Saturday and no road work happening, otherwise we would have been towed away! 

The landlord shows us around the apartment. It also has a lovely courtyard for our use. We head off to the local train station to pick up Rich and Lisa. They arrive right on time (Trains in France always seem to run on time…except if they are on strike!). We head back to the old town, but cannot take possession of the apartment until 2:30 pm as it is being cleaned. Actually not an issue, as we are all hungry so we stop for lunch. Then walk toward the Loire river and walk around a bit, then pick up Lisa and Rich’s luggage and head to the apartment. We are parked in a car park, just a few minutes walk from the apartment. 

We need to keep going as Lisa and Rich somewhat jet lagged and from experience we all know you need to adjust to the local time as quickly as possible. The market is over, they normally close up around 1 pm, so we missed picking something up there. We head over to “Les Halles”, which here in Tours is open every day. We decide to eat in tonight and we simply pick up some prepared foods. Stop by the local “Carrefour” and pick up additional groceries and some wine….of course! Very hot outside +31.

Everyone freshens up and we enjoy a nice supper and evening in our outdoor courtyard, very pleasant and great to have Rich and Lisa with us for our time here in Tours. 

Sunday is Father’s day and so great to have Rich with us, not often that Robin is able to spend Father’s day with one of his children as they both live in Toronto. Very lucky!

We head off to Amboise, where we have spent the last five days, as we know the Sunday market is happening. The town is very busy, but we just wanted Rich and Lisa to see it, as it really is quite charming. 

We then drive onto our destination for the day, Chateau de Chenonceau, which is about an additional twenty minute drive from Amboise. 

The chateau was built in the 16th century along the river Cher by Thomas Bohier and Katherine Briconnet by demolishing a fortified castle and mill that stood on the site. They went bankrupt, it passed to Francois l. Later Henri ll gave it to his mistress Diane de Poitiers. After Henri died, his not so understanding widow, Catherine de’Medici expelled Diane and took back the chateau. Well…I can certainly understand that!

Approaching Chateau Chenonceau
The most unusual part of this castle is that it is built upon a bridge, although the bridge does not quite reach the other side of the river. There are two stories constructed over the bridge (plans inspired by the Ponte Vecchio in Venice) with a gallery that runs the entirety of the chateau. There were plans, at one time, to finish the bridge and extend the chateau to the other side, but that never transpired. 

We opted to get audio guides, which I quite enjoyed. We walked through 20 of the rooms. Wonderful floral displays in each of the rooms; the tapestries, the furniture, the fireplaces and the woodwork all in wonderful condition. When visiting these chateaux, one must always to remember to look up and look at the ceilings…..either paintings or beautiful woodwork, sometimes painted as well. Spectacular gardens on either side of the castle…..Catherine’s garden on one side and Diane’s garden on the other. The gardens are built on raised terraces to protect them from flooding from the Cher river.

I loved all the floral decorations in each of the room; stunning!

The beautiful floral arrangements at Chateau Chenonceau

During WWl, Simone Menier (Menier chocolate factory family), transformed the chateau’s two galleries to look after the war wounded. They say that her bravery led to actions on behalf of the resistance during the second World War as well. 
During WWll, parts of the chapel were destroyed which included all the stained glass, so the windows are from the 20th century. The chateau was on the demarcation line in the Second World War…the entrance was on the occupied zone on the right bank and the south door of the gallery gave access to the left bank, so it made it possible for the resistance to pass a large number of people into the free zone. I do have a fascination with everything WWl and WWll related. 

I also enjoyed touring the kitchens, located in the basement of the castle. Not sure I would have wanted to cook during these times, but everything looks interesting. You could even see how worn the wooden cutting boards and can only imagine the knives and cleavers working away on these surfaces, similar to the worn treads of the staircases due to the feet going up and down over the centuries. 

The kitchens of Chateau Chenonceau

Had lunch on the grounds, lovely to sit outside. Very hot today 32C, but fortunate to have a lovely breeze.

We head back to our apartment in Tours so we can freshen up. Lovely dinner out tonight to celebrate Father’s Day, thank you to Rich and Lisa for a wonderful day and dinner!

Father’s Day Dinner at L’Embellie in Tours

When walking home after dinner out the other night, couldn’t help but notice this display in a window. Look more closely and it looks like an ATM. Well, as it turns out you place an order for a pizza, then you come back and pick up your pizza.Not sure how the whole process works, but certainly an interesting concept!

Monday arrives and we head out by car to the local tourist office where we were to meet our guide for a walking tour of the city of Tours. As we find a parking spot, we veer to take it, but unfortunately did not see a small truck and “smash” ; we hit him. The good news is that nobody was hurt. We told Lisa and Rich to go ahead as we would deal with the situation. Well, 6 hours later, many phone calls, a tow truck (we smashed the front panel and bumper of our car and a flat tire so unable to drive) two different car rental agencies and we have a replacement car for the next 3 days. Must say that the people that we dealt with today have been very helpful.

That is the reality of travelling, sometimes these small things happen, but you can’t get mad….go with the flow!

Got back to our apartment around 4 pm and Rich and Lisa had just gotten back. Fortunately they were able to go about their day. It was 37C here today….very hot. A heat wave has struck most of France. 

As we are relaxing later this afternoon, I can’t help but notice Robin and Rich…like father like son….both watching a soccer game while on their computers!

Out for dinner tonight at a restaurant in Place Plumereau, one of the liveliest square’s in Tours.  Walk around a little after dinner, great to see other parts of the town. Always lots of people out having drinks and dinner.  Place Plumereau is a medieval quarter with quaint streets and several wood beam houses.

Chateaux are what is thought of when one mentions the Loire Valley. There are chateaux in other parts of France, but not as concentrated as here in the Loire. There are several reasons for this. 

1) By the early Middle Ages some towns had become prosperous due to trade as they were strategically placed along the Loire. So, for defensive purposes, fortresses were built to protect their territory.

2) Also, the rich fertile land was much desired. 

I read that the King owned a great deal of the land, so the nobility began to build chateaux so they could watch over the King’s land and also to defend themselves against invaders. Interesting fact that even the furniture was built with the notion of defence as well…high back chairs to protect the sitter from being stabbed from behind. Also it is said that the credenza was a table used by the nobility’s official taster to test for poison in the food. Not sure I would like that job….short tenure perhaps!

By the 15th century the Loire was effectively functioning as the country’s capital. When the 100 year war came to an end, King Francois 1, went to Italy and came back with the Renaissance movement. As mentioned earlier, he also convinced Leonardo da Vinci to come to the Loire Valley to continue his work. Due to the influence of the Renaissance movement, the chateaux became more ornate as did the gardens. A great deal of the chateaux are built with a chalky local stone called “tuffeau” (tufa). 

Tuesday find the four of us piling into our new rental car, a fiat 500, very cozy! This was the last available car in Tours yesterday, so really no choice. Also, a basic model so no GPS. I am driving so I solicit Lisa to be the navigator. She does a great job!!

We are on our way to the town of Villandry to visit the Chateau of Villandry, built near the Cher River, some 25 minutes from Tours. It is said to be one of the best examples of the Renaissance era. The chateau was built in 1536 by Jean Le Breton, the Minister of Finance for Francois l. There was a medieval castle that was destroyed to make room for the new chateau. Only one keep (tower) was kept from the medieval structure. In 1754 it became the property of the Marquis de Castellane (from Provence) who built the outbuildings and redesigned the inside of the chateau to bring it up to 18th century standards of comfort. The traditional gardens were taken out in the 19th century to create an English style park around the chateau. In 1906 the castle was bought by Joachim Carvallo and remains in this family today. Carvallo restored the castle and then brought back the Renaissance gardens. 

Villandry, the Chateau and outer buildings

We decide to see the gardens when we arrive, it is already 25+ degrees. There are several different gardens

1) The Ornamental Garden – low boxwood hedge designs with floral centres

2) The Water Garden 

3) The Sun Garden 

4) The Maze – no dead ends, can’t get lost!

5) The Herb Garden

6) The Vegetable Garden

7) The Woods – did not go into the woods

The Group – Robin did not get lost in the maze!
Not sure how many gardeners they have on staff, but there were certainly a great number of them working while we were touring. In one section they were in the midst of taking out bean plants and lettuce. I stopped a young gardener and asked what they did with the plants they pulled out, were they given to the poor? He told me that due to government rules and health regulations, they were unable to do so; a real pity. They are now using modern organic growing methods, even to the point of introducing certain insects to reduce or negate the use of chemical plant treatments. 

Each year, in March and again in June, the planting schemes are changed. The crops are rotated every three years to ensure the quality of the soil is not depleted. Colours of plants are taken into consideration when planning out the gardens. All the water on the grounds is recycled through the various canals and fountains. The gardens are bordered by pear trees; quite a few pears on the trees. All the plants in the vegetable, herb and ornamental gardens are all marked so that one knows what is growing.

The garden plot plans and names of plants used in each area.

We then walk through the rooms of the castle which are furnished. Lovely tapestries and art work. I was especially taken with a wooden ceiling in the Drawing Room. I read later that the ceiling came from a ducal palace which was built in the 15th century in Toledo, and when it was dismantled, it was bought by Carvallo and brought back to Villandry. 
Some interior shots of Chateau VIllandry
The wooden ceiling

So……my thoughts on Chenonceau vs. Villandry…….Chenonceau is a killer chateau in a beautiful setting and Villandry has unbelievable gardens! There it is in a nutshell! In all honesty, these two chateaux are well worth visiting! Enjoyed them both.

We stop for a light lunch in the tiny village of Villandry…..a typical french lunch…a potagier salad for Lisa, a croque Monsieur for Rich and a salad of tomatoes and chevre cheese for me….yummy! It is sooooooo hot; I think around 37C!

We then drive on to the little village of Langeais, which I had wanted to visit; really can’t remember why, but glad we saw it. A sleepy little town with the centrepiece being the Chateau de Langeais and the local church. The buildings in the town looked like they have all been recently cleaned. This little town is so pretty with its flowers on the bridges, a stream running through the town and its winding streets. Funny thing is that it almost looks deserted. We peek into the courtyard of the chateau, but decide enough chateaux for the day. Walk on to the church, not sure of the name, so I try to look it up only to find out there are two churches in this small town….of course there is!

The small village of Langeais
Chateau Langeais

So it was either the Church of Saint John the Baptist or the Church of Saint-Laurent. Inside the church was a banner celebrating the 700th year of the birth of Saint Martin, which took place last year in 2016. Around Tours and the area a lot of mention of Saint Martin, also silver markers in some of the sidewalks in Tours and signposts in the countryside referring to the route of “Saint Martin of Tours” , reminiscent of the markers one sees for the Camino Compostela of Santiago. Saint Martin was a soldier in his earlier life and then became a cleric. When you see the posters or pictures of him, it shows his cloak torn in half. It is said that he once cut his cloak in half with his sword to give to a beggar. Also, Tours was a stop along the Camino of Santiago. In my reading I found out that the Path of Saint Martin is a pilgrimage walk for the towns that Saint Martin had visited. 
The church in Langeais

Back to apartment to cool down and relax prior to dinner. Out to “Mamie Bigoude” for a dinner of galettes and crepe deserts. We opt to eat inside the restaurant as is simply too hot to sit outside. The decor in this restaurant is hard to describe. Seems to be a green and pink theme. One wall is covered with needlepoint pictures and Rich pointed out that on another wall was a needlepoint of a naked woman laying on a sofa. Cuckoo clocks on the wall, light fixtures will balls of wools hanging off of them (not sure why they don’t catch on fire!), an elk head covered with plaid material as is a bike!

After dinner we take a walk to the “Cathedral of Saint Gatien” very imposing, unfortunately it is closed for the evening. Lisa and Rich visited it the following day and said their was was very impressive stained glass windows. 

Cathedral of Saint Gatien, Tours

We continue our walk through a part of town we have not yet seen, another old sector full of restaurants. Everyone is out enjoying drinks, probably trying to escape hot apartments. We saw a couple walking down the street with two fans and the next day came across recycling boxes…all discarded boxes which were at one time holding fans. It is hot, hot , hot!!
Once again, very glad that our apartment here in Tours is air conditioned, able to sleep at night. I know I have already said that; but really… is HOT!

Wednesday we head off early to the city of Le Mans, abut one hour by car on the motorway. We find parking, then the tourist office and we decide to separate. Rich and Lisa head off on their own as do Robin and I. We meet a couple of hours later for lunch. The local market is going on so we opt for some baked goods, then stop for a coffee/tea….in the shade. Walk up to Saint Julien Cathedral and go inside for some contemplation and prayer. It is undergoing some restoration work, but still able to get inside. Beautiful vaulted ceilings with very impressive buttresses on the outside.

Le Mans 24 hour car race held last weekend. Each person who wins imprints their hands and feet and plaques throughout the town.

Walk around the old town, then we head back to Tours around 2 p.m. 

Le Mans old town
When we got back from Le Mans today, the electronic sign at the pharmacy indicated it was 42C. We all think that may have been off a bit, but definitely high 30’s. Those crazy kids…Lisa and Rich decide to continue seeing more sights of Tours; way too hot for Robin and I, we head to the air conditioned apartment. After all, I have to work on my blog!

For the last couple of days we have seen signs posted on the road that there would be restricted parking for the music festival happening this afternoon and tonight, June 21st. Never dawned on us that it was the first day of summer. When we got home this afternoon, we could hear the start of the music. Well, it just got louder and louder. Lisa and Rich went out for dinner and we opted to eat in tonight. I sent a text to our landlord wondering when the music would end………I get a text…midnight or maybe 2! He then knocks on the door and says “Did you not know about this, it’s the first day of summer, this happens all over France” . First I hear of it!

Robin and I venture out and what a sight. The old town (our apartment in the midst of all of this) is packed with people, not only in the old town, but further out and also down by the river. People in all the restaurants and outdoor areas, eating and drinking. Also carrying their drinks while walking down the streets. We came across a group of six policeman walking down the street…I guess making sure things don’t get out of hand. I don’t think the pictures do this festival justice. All kinds of music being played on every corner, sometimes a few doors down from each other. In the courtyard across from our apartment their is a DJ playing very loud Euro techno….oh, by the way, our stone walls are reverberating! Really! We came across a young girl about 10 yrs of age playing a piano in the museum courtyard. Two DJ’s competing, a reggae band, a steel drum band, a drumming group, the Blues Brothers in another square, a guy playing inverted steel drums, an older group of people singing accompanied by a fellow playing an electronic piano and a group of young people playing all types of trombones, saxophones and trumpets. All in all, quite the event. Lisa and I were saying we might have to put in the ear plugs we had for the flight over to Europe. Will give a further report later! By the way……did I mention it is HOT. Soaking wet again after walking around the music festival tonight. 

Just an update on “Le Festival de la Musique”….Lisa put in her ear plugs, Robin fell asleep right away (he can sleep anywhere, anytime), Rich says took him a while and I read till about 12:30 pm and then listened to the thumping music till about 1:30 am. 

Thursday, our last day in the Loire and everyone indulges me. I wanted to see a very small town about one hour from Tours, called Montresor. We are using our IPhone maps to direct us as the Fiat 500 we now have does not have a GPS. The vocal instructions on the IPhone Maps program keeps telling us to continue onto “Mont Razor”….we laughed every time she said that. As a matter of fact, if you are the one chosen to navigate, you must read the written instructions, as you can never understand the pronunciation of the names of the roads/streets/towns. 
We arrive in Montresor and stop for coffee/tea. This small town is definitely not on the tourist route, very quiet. It is almost as if we have landed in a fairy tale. Quiet streets, no one about, a castle and a beautiful stream lined with weeping willows. 
Montresor was marked on one of the maps I had picked up, as one of the prettiest towns in France. A ancient wall, a chateau, a church, ancient Halle from the seventeeth century and a walk along a small steam all add to its charm. 

We proceed to the tiny information centre in Montresor, actually quite a cute little place. They are selling all sorts of local artisans goods. We get into a conversation with one of the ladies and ends up she is English. Lisa and Rich to proceed to pick her brain as to what day trips they can take when they get to London next week. Some good recommendations. 

We continue to Loches, where Robin and I had a quick visit last week. What a difference. When we were here last week it was market day and the town was jammed packed, could hardly find a place to park. What a difference a week makes. It is so hot, we find a restaurant with some shade, unfortunately no breeze anywhere. Walk around the “Ville Royale” and decide to head back to Tours. 

On the way back we decide to stop in Montlouis sur Loire to visit a “cave”. This Montlouis cave des Producteurs is a co-operative of fifteen wine producers. Robin and Rich do some wine tsting while Lisa and I venture into the caves where they keep the wine while it is aging. These caves were dug out when in years past they were quarrying for rock to build. 

Robin and I drop Lisa off near the apartment, then we proceed to return our car rental. Take a taxi back to the apartment and get into a lively conversation with the cab driver. When he found out we were Canadians, he told us he really like Celine Dion and that three years ago he did a motorcycle trip from Las Vegas up through Calgary and the Rocky Mountains. He said he loved Canada. When I asked him if he went on the trip with his wife, he said he wasn’t married, but he had gone on the trip with his “amie”, but he no longer had this “amie”. He now had a new “amie” but she could not have the time off to go on the trip. When he found out where we wanted to go, he laughed and asked us how we slept last night as he knew it was the music festival!

Our last night in Tours and a lovely dinner out with Lisa and Rich, a toast to his 50th birthday (gosh..that is just not possible!). Head back home to pack as we are all of tomorrow morning by TGV off to Paris, a one hour 15 minute ride. We will then go our separate ways. 

It has been a wonderful six days here in the Loire with Lisa and Rich. Saw many new sights and great to spend some quality time together. Thank you to Rich and Lisa for making the effort to come and spend some of their short vacation time with us.

Off to Paris tomorrow morning!!

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