Sancerre French Immersion 2017 travel blog

Fontervrault Abbey

Eleanor and Henry

The smokehouse at Fontevrault


Approaching Chennonceau

The first floor gallery over the river

A view from a window at Chennonceau

Chennonceau over the river

I had an ambitious agenda for Saturday. Long on my list of places I have wanted to visit is Fontevrault Abbey, located on the very eastern edge of the Loire Valley. I am, of course, on the very western edge. The French Autoroutes are really very good--though getting to them turned out to be a bit of a challenge with many twists, turns, and "deviations" in the road. And as all my classmates and I have commented, Google Maps doesn't always work quite so well here as in the US.

For me, the appeal in Fontevrault is that it is the burial place of Eleanor of Acquitaine, Henry II of England, and their son, Richard the Lion Heart. I have read so many books about them that I almost think of them as friends, especially Eleanor. She is a fascinating woman, and centuries before her time. Many years ago my mother encouraged me to read her story, but at the time I had no interest. But then through other readings I met her, and have been fascinated ever since.

I know that everyone does not spend their time reading history like I do, so I will give you just a few short sentences to give you a sense of the kind of woman that Eleanor was. First, she was, in her own right, Queen of Acquitaine, a section of southern France, in the 1100's. She married Henry II of England--though this was after divorcing the king of France. She and Henry had 8 children, one of whom was Lion Heart (though he was not the oldest son). Around the time that the oldest son, Henry III, was 17, Eleanor and her older sons conspired to overthrow Henry II and put Henry III on the throne. One can imagine that Henry II did not take well to this! The rebellion failed, and Henry II then imprisoned Eleanor in a tower in London for 16 years! But that is just one little piece of Eleanor's story. If you want a book recommendation, just let me know.

So back to Fontevrault. It is serenely beautiful, and I was so fortunate in visiting it in a window in between tour buses. I am sure it also helps that it is a bit off the beaten path, and doesn't have the curb appeal of Chennonceau or Chambord, which does not, in my mind, diminish its beauty. And it is more than just one building but a complex of buildings where one gets a sense of the lifestyle of the abbesses. It was also a dual sex order, which raised a lot of consternation at the time.

Later, during Napolean's time, it was set up as a prison. It remained as such until the early 1900's when its historic value was recognized and the French government began a lengthy restoration.

After the tour, I had a delightful lunch of quiche and salad in the surrounding village area. And then it was on to Chennonceau, which I think is probably the most beautiful building ever built in the world. Now the amazing thing to me is, having just shared that thought, I decided to google and see what the world thinks are the most beautiful buildings in the world. And amazingly, Chennonceau is not making those lists!! Others of amazing beauty and interest are--Versailles, Chambord, The Castle of the Mad King, and many others very well deserving, but stunning to me that Chennonceau is overlooked! Though one site had Mont St Michael picked as number one. I have not been there yet. But it is on my must-see list.

So for me, why Chennonceau? It is what made me fall in love with France (that and my last name.) I was a sophomore at Purdue, taking my first year of French. (I had two years in high school, from which I remember absolutely nothing, other than that I took it.). But I set forth at Purdue with a new attitude and really worked at it. And one thing my professor did, which I am guessing did not happen in high school, is make sure that we also knew something about the culture. And through that, he often shared what a beautiful country it is. I agreed, but sort of in a ho-hum way, until he showed pictures of Chennonceau. That sealed the deal for me.

So unlike Fontevrault, Chennonceau was swarming with visitors! I arrived relatively late in the day, so the crowds were dying down a bit by the time I left. As in my previous visit many years ago, it is a place of stunning beauty, both the chateau and the gardens, and its expanse over the River Cher is probably what sets it apart for me from other historic sites of beauty. And it is absolutely exquistely presented, with fresh flowers from the garden on display in all of the rooms! Each room, every viewpoint from every window, the majesty of the trees that line the walk up to the building, all of it is feast for the eye. And of course, there is the history, which expands over a thousand years. I won't go into all of that, other than to note that the expanse over the river was the work of Catherine de Medici. That was a pure stroke of genius! I don't know how they managed the engineering required to get that done, considering it was the 1500's, but I guess I would say they were over achievers.

So that pretty much made my day yesterday. The drive back took longer than expected, though fortunately the sun is not completely set here until after 10 PM. By then I was definitely ready to be out of the car.

Et, quelle francais, especiallement parce que je n'etudiais pas cette week-end:

Pour le weekend, j'allais de deux chateaux, Fontevrault Abbey et Chennonceau. Pour moi, Fontevrault est un place d'importance historique, si elle est la place d'entombment de Eleanor d'Acquitaine, Henry II d'Angleterre et Richard Couer de Lion. Je trouve leur histoire tres fascinant; especiallement Eleanor, qui est une femme avant de son temp. L'Abbaye est tres interesannte parce qu'on gagne le sens de vie dans l'epoque d'Eleanor. Plus tart, l'Abbaye a functione comme un prison.

Apres cette, j;allais de Chennonceau. Je pense que Chennonceau est le plus beau batiment dans le monde! Pour moi, quand j'tais une etudiante a l'universitie, lorsque j'ai vu le photo de Chennonceau, j'iai compris immediatement pourqoui la France est regardee comme une paye exceptionallement belle. Et, si mon autre visit de Chennonceau, elle n'a pas decu.

Apres une conduire tres longue, j'etais heureuse de retourner.

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