Visit to USSE and Azay-Le-Rideau
9 Aug 2014
|The hosts of our B&B had a nice breakfast of baguette, viennoiserie, filtered coffee and juices. It was certainly a big breakfast, and gave me lots of energy for the day ahead. This morning it was sunny and dry, and the weather forecast said that we could expect this all day, so I suggested we make our way to some chateau west of Amboise. There is a group in close proximity a bit further to the west of Tours, so I suggested we go there.
We started off by driving along the Loire river, until we got close to Tours. I deliberately ignored the GPS suggesting I go via motorways all the time, as there's something very nice about seeing the sun bounce off the surface of the water. Whilst the Loire isn't exactly clear water in these parts - think more Yarra river than snowy river, it still has an aura about it. The banks of the river are full of leafy green trees and thick grass. The fact there is a one lane road each way on the side helps it keep its charm.
When we arrived in the outer parts of Tours, I was no longer sure where to go, so had to listen to the GPS. It took us straight to a motorway and over the Loire on a big bridge. From it we could just see the tops of the twin spires of Tours gothic cathedral. The other side had dirty looking apartment buildings, much like commission flats in Melbourne. Talk about two sides of the tracks. The traffic was bad here, but we had no choice but to wait the 10ish km until we could turn off.
Once we turned off, we were back into some heavily tree lined roads. If I didn't know any better I'd say there was a forest here, but I didn't see any signs to say as such. After a short period, we went along some back roads and through some quaint small towns. The had grey houses and black roofs. It looked as if there was a quarry nearby, and everyone's house was made from the stone found there.
About 15 minutes after that, we got to the small town of Rigny-Usse. It's very small, and at the end of the main street (about 3 minutes of driving at low speed), we came upon our first stop. Just behind us was the awesome Chateau. We paid our entry fee and went in and up to the chapel first of all.
Inside the little gothic chapel, there was a small amount of sculptures in the stone and plaster, and a little about the history of the chateau itself. It was originally given to a "Captain General" of Charles the first. He built the chateau out of the "truffe" stone which is part of the hills the chateau is situated on. The truffe stone also forms the terrace and the chapel. Luckily, unlike many Chateau during the revolution, this chateau was left to stand, and the owner at the time, was released from prison. Much of the furniture and other items from the chateau remain there today. This makes for an authentic visit, as unfortunately some other palaces have had to replace items lost in the revolution with items from the period, not necessarily items that were at that location (eg Versailles).
After the chapel, we went into the caves, which were where the truffe stone had been excavated. These caves now formed wine stores and had an old wine press. In one of the caves was a monument to a saint, who was given gifts to try enhance the quality and volume of wine produced.
Next we went into the chateau itself. You enter from the left wing, which is the gothic wing of the chateau. The first room is filled with weapons and other items of war. It also had a small room with a very old wooden floor with porcelain in it. The floor boards in this room creaked very loudly and bowed underfoot as I walked. It also made the porcelain shake in their glass cases. I took tiny little steps to try minimise the shaking, but eventually gave up for fear of something smashing.
We continued through the gothic wing, and then into the main section of the chateau, which was decorated with inside in the renaissance style. This then lead into the last wing, which was done in a classical style. There were lots of columns which looked very roman or greek in various rooms. One room was the "King's room". This room had an actual king stay in it in the room was the Emperor of Ethiopia, who apparently was a direct descendent of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba (and I thought that last name was made up!).
After admiring these rooms, we went back to the gothic wing, and climbed the tower and walked the ramparts. In various rooms along the way, there were scenes from various children's books, including Sleeping Beauty. It is thought that the Chateau was the inspiration for the story of sleeping beauty. Some of this was a little kitsch, but interesting nonetheless. The only disappointing bit was the people who felt that they didn't need to follow the instructions on which way to enter. This meant that the one person wide corridors got interesting when they tried to pass you heading the opposite direction.
From here we walked down to the terrace and then down into the gardens to admire and take photos. After coming down and leaving the Chateau, Tess got into the car to prepare for her first real drive in Europe (there's not much to worry about on a motorway!) and I took a walk down to the small bridge over the Indre river. I'd hardly call it a river, it's a little more than a creek, but there was some pretty pictures to be had there.
After my pictures, I went and got in the car and Tess drove us to Azay-Le-Rideau. The trip wasn't very long, maybe 20 minutes. We parked at the first available car park in Azay, which was by a small river. It was a very beautiful little spot, with water lilies on pond and a small one car wide stone bridge going along side it. The bridge was covered every couple of meters with red or pink flowers, alternating from one group to the next. We crossed the bridge in between cars and other people, and stayed half way to watch a dragon fly landing on a lily pad then flying to the next.
We continued through the town, and past a 12th century church. It didn't look too spectacular, but the overall appearance of it augmented the colours and shapes of the buildings around it. The formed a uniform style, and the church was just a part of the puzzle. A short walk further on past some regional product sellers (mostly wine) and some art dealers, and we were at the entrance grounds to the Chateau. We bought our tickets and walked into the gardens. They were lovely and green, and there were several small bridges over waterways.
The chateau itself is basically built in the middle of these, and from one side it looks like it is on a lake. I took some photos of it which I will load up soon, which show one side of the chateau standing proudly and a mirror image of the chateau in reflecting in the completely still lake. It is a very, very pretty site. I sat and looked at this for 15 minutes or so, before I realised we needed to hustle and move on.
We went inside the chateau, via the beautiful staircase to the top floor which was the attic. They wanted you to walk through this, as it had been renovated recently using the techniques that were used when Azay was actually built. It gave a magnificent example of how they got the roof to look like it did. It also gave a great example of how bats could live in the roof. They were very difficult to see during the daytime, but they were hiding behind all the fresh wood framework of the rafters and the black slate tiles.
After this room, we walked into a bedroom. which was recently repaired as well. It was difficult to move due to the tour groups, but they cleared out after a few minutes to let us inspect the room. Each of the walls was covered in a wall paper made of bamboo. It was like a bamboo basket made flat, and then hung in sheets several meters high. The four poster bed was also recently repaired with original fabrics and techniques. They showed the techniques on a video in the room. It was amazing the painstaking detail these artisans had to go through to make the bed with its vivid and ornate bedding. The close ups of the poor woman's hand who did most of the work showed many callouses and scrapes of skin missing from all the work she had undertaken.
The next room was very small and had just a cabinet on display, and then the following was another bedroom. This room had a sort of parquetry style flooring, of zig zagged wooden pieces. Huge square tapestries hung over the walls as well. Some of these had biblical references, one appeared to show the ascension and others appeared to show a jungle or forest. The fireplace had the salamander, which was the insignia of King Francis I.
The following room had some chairs which looked like the should be thrones, as well as a marvellous tapestry which was about 5m squared. This lead to what appeared to be a drawing room. These walls were covered in a red wall paper with some very ornate gold patterns in them. Some portraits hung on the walls either side of the fireplace.
The following room was another bedroom, this time with a bed in light blue. If I didn't know any better, I'd have assumed that all they did was sleep all day in this era! The last room was a games room and it appeared more modern. It had great big red couches with a dark wood and a full sized billiard table in the middle of the room. The walls had more tapestries hung of what seemed hunting scenes. Deers and other animals in the forest all running and scattering about.
The last couple of rooms were dining rooms and a sitting room. The sitting room had tiny little chairs which looked as if they were for children, with thick red cushions on them. The fireplace in the room had 2 lions either side of the hearth, as if they were guarding against anyone getting too close to the flames. They were 2 feet high at least, and white marble.
After this, we went back out of the palace, and did some souvenir shopping before we got back into the car and headed to Amboise. We got back a bit later than we though, so we had to search for a place to eat. There was only one hotel kitchen that could seat us. We ordered a couple of course (entree and main) and a nice bottle of Bordeaux red. It was just a nice bottle though, as a good bottle heads upwards of 100 - 1000 euros. It was incredibly smooth and light, from the Margaux region. When the waitress opened the cork she took a long sniff of it. It wasn't exactly professional, but I could tell she was very envious. Dinner went quite late, so much so that they were packing up tables around us as we finished.
We have come back to the room now, and all the lights in the hall etc are off. We had to open the gate with a security code to even get on the premises! However it has been a lovely day. Perfect weather, and some very pretty palaces to go see. I'd recommend going to both very easily. If we'd left earlier too, we'd probably have been able to squeeze in a third, as there were 2 others which are meant to be of high standard all within 15-20 mins drive of each other.