Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Journey Continues: Traveling in France, Summer 2013

After saying good-bye to "my girls," Zoë and Maya, I enjoyed a couple of days on my own visiting my  favorite spots, the Place Vosges, on the right bank, the small Museum Carnevelet, with it's fascinating story of Paris and lunching in a small cafe, sipping my wine and relaxing after my heady days with two teens!
On Monday, my girlfriend and college roommate from the sixties, joined me for a much dreamed about trip to France together. We took off the next day by train to Tours, in the Loire Valley, where we planned on visiting some of the many chateaux there. I had seen them fifty years hence but Farrel had never been to the region: it was a great review for me and fun for her, too.

We took a tour to four chateaux on our second day in the Loire Valley:  Chenonceau, Amboise, Chatigny and Chambord. What a wonderful day it was exploring these enchanting abodes of Kings and Queens, and their lovely gardens as well. For a little history of each check out the internet. My favorite was Chenonceau built in the 16th century on the River Cher, a tributary of the Loire, by Thomas Bohier and his wife Katherine Briçonnet on the site of a demolished fortified castle and mill belonging to the Marques family. After its former owner the keep was named the Marques Tower (you will see it in the photos). It was restored in the Renaissance style. The layout of the forecourt is a copy of the former medieval fortress surrounded by moats. Walking down the long pathway towards the Châtaux we came to the impressive main door. (unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of this wood door decorated with the symbols of its former owners and the salamander, symbol of Francois 1, who later inhabited it and installed his wife, Catherine de Medici and his mistress, Diane of Poitiers in its gracious rooms.  One of my favorite was the Chapel, with its lofty windows and serene feeling lighted by the stained glass.  The gallery too, with it's black and white checkered floor and many windows looking out on the river Cher was impressive but Farrel and I loved best the kitchen with its many copper pots and utensils of the time. Beautiful flower and fruits arrangements adorned the decor of today, all taken we supposed from the surrounding flower gardens and potagers (vegetable gardens).

Our next visit was to Amboise, heart of royal power in the Renaissance, built in the 15th and 16th centuries on the high promatory on what was once a  protective fortress above the town. Protected once by Charles VII's archers, later to be succeeded by Louis XI whose son and heir Charles VIII was born there. Charles later married Anne of Brittany (all this history you may or may not find as interesting as I do).  Perhaps the most interesting fact about Amboise is the presence in the chapel of Leonardo DaVinci's final resting place as he was one of many Italian artists commissioned by Charles VIII in 1496 to create the Lodge's interiors and gardens after the style of the Italian villas.  Leonardo, the great Italian master, left his mark on the Château and King Francois I granted him the privilege of being buried here in 1519.  He was named the Kings "first painter, engineer and architect" and was provided with a  place to live which one can visit in the town, where there is also a small museum of DaVinci drawings and inventions.  His house was called Clos Lucé, formerly the Manoir de Cloux. We went on the visit two other Châteaux, the last being the large, ostentacious 440 room hunting lodge, built to impress France's aristocracy. We found it cold and unimviting and were glad when the day ended with a degustacion at a lovely little wine shop on the grounds where we met a charming man, widowed husband of the former female vintner whose memory he honored with a bottle of wine named "Emotion"---how French! We bought a bottle of this rose to bring as a gift to our hosts we were visiting in the next days. Hope you enjoy some photos of the Chateaux!

From Tours we took the train to Poitiers, just one hour away where my French girlfriend, who I call my sister (soeur), Michelle, met us. This was a special visit as this year marks the fiftieth anniversary of our friendship and we had the good fortune of first eelebrating that in Mexico city during her visit along with a mutual friend, Mauricette, in February (see the former blog).  Michelle welcomed Farrel and the three of us had a wonderful time for the next two days visiting Mauricette, and Michelle's family as well as  the island of the ÎLE-DE-RÉ, on the Pacific coast just a few miles across a bridge from La Rochelle. My mmories of visiting there in the past run deep. Farrel was delighted and especially enjoyed, as I did, staying at the beautiful island summer house of Michelle's brother, Claude and his wife Aline.  We partook of their gracious hospitality and loved the cuisine of their kithen. You will see mouthwatering photos of a few of the delectables Aline served, always accompanied by wines from Claude's cave.  We walked in the small fishing villages, visited art openings, strolled the beach, perused the open markets and basked in the warm attention of our friends. I had told Farrel about the beautiful hollyhocks which grace every street in the Ile and she didn't believe me until she saw them with her own eyes. I've included some photos of those and a few of the picturesque cottages and doors. Enjoy.

After three days, we left the island and headed south to Rochefort, a charming town, once the seat of ship builders where the Hermione was built for Lafayette to sail in to America. Imagine! Before the Revolution.  For the past three years a replica of the Hermione has been in construction and the unveiling ceremonies are planned for July of next year---will you be there? I may be!  Rochefort is a very pretty and interesting town with other things besides the Hermione to its credit: namely, an annual International Film Festival, which had just finished (see my photos), a replica of the arc de Triomphe, and a wonderful museum where we were to visit the collection of photos taken by Pierre Loti, a famous writer and photographer. I was particularly interested to learn that Loti was born here as I visited a small place in his memory in Istanbul, Turkey in 2010. He had a famous love affair with one of the Sultan's Harem which ended tragically (I won't go into detail; you can read about it and him on the internet).
From our day's visit to Rochefort we continued on to St. Emillion where we were to spend two days and nights visiting its lush wine country. My friend, Farrel, lives in Sonoma, California and is a wine connoisseur and enthusiast. She runs a B & B there and often hosts guests from France. Last year one of her guests, his wife and small daughter shared with her the fact that François' father lived in Et. Emillion and was the owner of a Chateau and vinyards there. Continuing their correspondence for the past year, Farrel had occasion to mention we would be in France and François wrote with an invitation to visit his father and attend a private wine tasting at his Chateau, truly a pleasure. From St. Emilion we continued our journey east of Bordeaux to the region known as the Perigord and the Dordogne river valley. On our way we stopped at Caudoine, a lovely town known for its famous Abbey with its beautiful cloisters, representing three different styles of architecture, Renaissance, Gothic and Romanesque. The heavily timbered cover of the open market was particularly interesting as were the small boutiques surrounding the central square. Back on the road we were exhilerated by our first view of the picturesque Dordogne River as we crossed a bridge and halted the car to photograph it and several dozen swans swimming there. We knew we would soon arrive at the small village in the Dordogne where Michelle's niece, Patricia,  lived and where we would spend the next four nights.  It would be another reunion for me as I met Patty, nineteen years ago when Gary and I along with our dear California friends, Peggy and Roger, rented a house in the Dordogne for a month and enjoyed biking and exploring the valley and it's many fortified castles and small villages.

More about our travels in the Dordogne in my next blog. Hope you enjoy!

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