Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Loire Valley

After arriving by train from Paris into Tours, we navigated our way past fields upon fields of vineyards, wheat, and poppies to Chinon, a small medieval city on the banks of the Vienne in the Touraine section of the Loire Valley. What seemed a mirage in a distant field was actually our bed and breakfast in a real-deal chateau.  If one is in the Loire Valley to tour the chateaux, it is only fitting to stay in chateau, n’est pas?  Chateau Charge is now run as a bed and breakfast extraordinaire by a most lovely family.  Charlotte popped her head out of her Dutch door to welcome us, and we immediately started pinching ourselves as she showed us to our room.  Records of ownership date from 1429, the same year Joan of Arc visited Chinon to meet with the King of France, and our windowsills had etchings in the stone from the 1600s, a sort of ‘Philip was here, 1629’.   We enjoyed walking the grounds, meeting the menagerie of pets, chickens, sheep, including Caesar the donkey and Lola the goat and eased into what would become our ritual of dinner at the chateau, four courses prepared by Chef Franc for the exclusive enjoyment of the lucky guests at the small and charming Loire Valley Retreat.

                                                                            Chinon Fortress

And, oh, the chateaux and history of the Loire Valley!  It is simply too much to do in just one visit, or even a year’s worth of visits.  We choose to start with the medieval city and fortress of Chinon.  It creates a formidable and impressive impression along the steep banks of Chinon, and we spent well over four hours exploring turrets and dungeons, spiral staircases and ancient rooms that relayed the story of the fortress through tasteful vignettes played onto the old stone walls themselves: it literally was as if these walls could speak.  It was here that Joan of Arc road her horse to convince the King of France to go to war.  Her history is so entwined into Chinon’s story, and we look forward to exploring her biography with students, as she is an incredible female role model. A brand new dragon installation added a little bit of fun and flair, so we also took away the names of some dragons from many traditions, and thought of the myriad of ways we can weave their imagery into the study of fairy tales.

Entrance to Chinon Fortress

Chinon Fortress overlooking Vienne River.

We had just enough time left in the day to explore a chateau only ten minutes or so away from Chateau Charge, the Chateau du Rivau.  It’s an absolutely stunning structure from the outside, with the classically pale-colored Touraine stone, a drawbridge, turrets, and a bounty of gorgeous roses growing up its sides.  The eclectic collection of art on the inside had us puzzled, but the outside and gardens did not disappoint.  Every girl’s dream is to have a turret to call home, and the ones at Rivau fit that image to a tee.  It is not so far off to imagine Rapunzel resting her head inside one of these towers.

Chateau du Rivau's drawbridge

Chateau du Rivau

Chateau du Rivau

The following day took us further afield to the chateaux and gardens of Villandry, Langeais, and Chateau d’Usse.  The Villandry’s symmetrical gardens were perhaps our favorite in all of France, with their absolutely perfect alignment of herbs, vegetables, flowers, and roses.  Oh, the roses.  The Villandry Rose was especially stunning - a flower fit for a princess. A water moat surrounding the grounds is the stuff of legends, indeed. Langeais, situated in the middle of a medieval town along the Loire River baring the same name, rises up in the heart of its medieval city, with a massive drawbridge and formidable grey stone towers befitting a royal marriage.  Inside, winding stairways inside turrets led to room upon room filled with stunningly intricate medieval tapestries and artifacts.  Last, but not least, a meandering drive along a sleepy road alongside the Loire led us to the d’Usse, Charles Perrault’s inspiration for the story of Sleeping Beauty.  The soaring spires certainly are the stuff of dreams, and the interesting, albeit tired, looking wax figures inside the rooms retold the classic Sleeping Beauty story in all her glorious Renaissance detail.

The Loire Valley is an ideal playground of chateaux and fortresses, inspiring us to bring this era and these stories to life with our students.  While we simply scratched the surface, we leave feeling invigorated, charmed, and above all, filled with dreams.

Villandry's moat

Villandry's garndens: Pam, Emily, Josie, and Meg


Villandry Rose

Langeais's drawbridge


Chateau d'Usse

Chateau Charge: Loire Valley Retreat
Madeleine Rose

Feeding baguettes to Caesar and Lola at Loire Valley Retreat.
This picture was taken at 10:15 at night.  Look how bright it is.

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