|Saturday 25 May
A short TGV ride to Tours arriving with just 15 minutes to spare before the Avis rental car office closed for the long weekend (Monday was a holiday in France). We'd decided to hire a car for Tours as it's the only easy way to get around the chateaux. Because of our lovely experience with the car in Mykonos we decided to take pictures of the car, and we also plan to do the same when we return it. Rather than wasting time to find the hotel we headed straight for Chateau Chenonceau. Most famous for being gifted to his mistress Diane de Poitiers by King Henri III and then on his death being occupied by his wife Catherine de Medici after kicking Diane out. Probably the most beautiful setting of the chateaux that we saw, sitting on the River Cher with also a good part of the chateaux being built on a bridge across the river. It's surrounded by gardens, one on each side planted by the two ladies of the chateau, Diane and Catherine. Also the best audio guide we've had so far using a video iPod, very nifty indeed.
Next was Chateau Amboise on the River Loire. This one was set high on a hill in the middle of the old town. Not much worth looking at on the inside but is notable as the burial place of Leonardo da Vinci in a little chapel on the castle grounds. We were told that he was made the Official Court Portraitist to King Henri III and lived like a king himself in Chateau Amboise. The large grounds were pretty plain just providing great views of the surrounding district.
That was it for the day as ran out of time so headed back to Tours to find the hotel. Wasn't too difficult with Peter managing to navigate reasonably well (Peter with a map -HUH!) and John keeping his thoughts to himself as we worked our way through the many one way roads not indicated on the map.
Hotel Foch was nice and central, run by a husband and wife team with the husband being more then helpful and at times a little difficult to extract yourself away from. His wife is a Professor of French Literature at the local university during her spare time.
Sunday 27 May
Happy Birthday to Peter, but no time for a leisurely morning as a few more chateaux to fit in. A bit of a cloudy, drizzly day so not ideal, but first up was Chateau Azay le Rideau. Quite liked this one with a lovely walk up the drive and across the moat. It was not as large as the others but very pretty. They were also having a Songe et Luminiere evening (the castle lit at night and lighting set to music) tonight so we decided to return for that.
Next we drove to Chateau Beaulieu (Small Luxury Hotel of the World Classification 5 Stars), where John had organised a lunch for Peter's birthday. Probably the best meal and setting we've EVER had so it was very nice. For our record and hopefully not too much of a bore for some of you here is the menu of our 9 course degustation, which took us 4 hours to get through.
Horses Doovers of Salmon, Pastry and Creme Fraich with a Champagne Cocktail
Foie gras (Peter), Hot Duck Liver (John) with a glass of Vouvray (this one sweet)
Crab with finely diced vegetables in a Beurre Blanc (white wine and butter) sauce
White Fish with sauteed potatoes (the fish courses were served with a glass of dry Vouvray white wine)
Pear Sorbet sitting in a pear infused ouzo (no chance of any lingering tastes from previous courses)
Lamb Cutlet served with a small haggis parcel (Peter) and Sirloin topped with Hot Duck Liver and jus (John)
Selection of three good chunks of cheese each chosen from the trolley
Chocolate cake and vanilla mousse on a biscuit base with a chocolate grand marnier ice-cream
Nougat cake with stawberry mousse and stramberry gelato (yes 2 desserts)
Espresso with petit fours
We also managed to polish off a nice bottle of St Emilion Grand Cru. As you can imagine we had to pace ourselves and spend a bit of time before we were happy that John could drive away. It was one of those meals where you have lots of lovely food and drink over a good period of time and leave the place not feeling like you are going to explode. Also John was asked to choose the whole meal and wines without letting Peter see the menu and did a great job ("gee thanks honey").
So we headed off to another famous chateau, this one called Chateau Villandry. It is famous for the amzing garden as the pictures will show. This chateau is still privately owned and they live on the top floor.
Back at the hotel to have a nap before heading back to Chateau Azay le Rideau for the Songe et Luminiere evening. It was a little cold but the rain held off so it was great. The pictures will be testament to that.
Monday 28 May
We got up early to day to fit in two Chateaux before dropping the car off. The first, being the biggest and oldest in the Loire Valley, was Chateau Chambord. Originally built as a hunting palace for King Francois in 1519, he never saw its completion which took 25 years. It was inhabited at some stage or other by everyone famous for the last 500 years. Louis XVI and Napoleon III even had apartments there. The second we visited, was Chateau Cheverny. It was built as the country home for the bankers of King Henri II. It is famous as the place which was used to model Captain Marlinspike's home, the guy from the Tin Tin comics. There is a huge Tin Tin shop on the premises and a Tin Tin Museum. This chateau is still privately owned and the interior is painstakingly maintained, full of priceless artworks. They also have 90 hunting dogs on the property and you are permitted to visit the kennels (see the pics). After another long day we veged and had an early night.
Tuesday 29 May
On the TGV again, destination Bordeaux to visit our friends Bruno and Stef.