Off to see the Castles of the Pays de la Loire
The ski vacation has once again arrived in France. Students, educational workers and anyone who wants to use up some vacation time have two glorious weeks to spend hitting the slopes. I’m not much of a skier, so instead of bruising my bottom on the hills of the Alps, Dimitri and I headed back in time for a week.
I’m a bit of a romantic, and have always had a fascination with castles. The region of La Pays de la Loire in France is chock full of them. It used to be the area of France where royalty lived, which is before Louie the XIV moved into the palace of Versailles outside of Paris. We also chose this area of France because Dimitri’s mom gave us a night’s stay in a castle as our Christmas present. We got to choose the castle, so we figured why not make a week out of it?
We started off with one of the most well known castles, Chenonceau. This castle was built over the Cher River, meaning the river literally runs underneath it. The of the castle over the river is actually the ball room. I think it would be amazing to be invited to a huge party, go in a big fancy gown and spent the evening dancing over a river. This castle was also used as a hospital during the Second World War.
The Abbey of Fontevraud is in a tiny little spit of a city in the countryside. Without a GPS I think we would still be trying to find it. This huge abbey has in interesting history. It was originally built to be a monastic sanctuary, a religious residence for both nuns and monks, away from the rest of the world. The place is massive with a stunning chapel and simple courtyards. Richard the Lionheart is buried there. In the 1800’s, this place of peace and reflection was turned into a prison up until 1963. It was really weird to think how such a beautiful place was once one of the most horrible prisons in France. Where monks and nuns once prayed, prisoners fought and preformed manual labor.
While on the way to another castle, Dimitri suddenly turned down a little side road in the hills. He had seen a sign for a “troglodyte” which was for sale and wanted to see what it was like. I had no idea what he was talking about, so he nicely explained. All of the castles in the area were built from stone. Obviously the stone came from somewhere. The workers cut stone from the hills in the area, leaving huge caves. Some people turned the caves into houses and these places still exist! The man selling his “troglodyte” aka cave house was kind enough to show us around. It was just as you would expect pointy ceilings of various heights, with a darkish atmosphere. Absolutely not my first choice for a house, but I could see how Gollum from Lord of the Rings would like it.
We made a quick stop at the Chateau d’Ussé, the castle which was supposedly the inspiration for the story for Sleeping Beauty. We didn’t go in, which we were told later was a good thing. Apparently the inside isn’t really that nice, we enjoyed the outside though!
Quick visit to Chateau of Azay le Rideau. One of the smaller castles, but I loved its middle age architecture.
Our castle was “Chateau des Sept Tours” or Castle of the Seven Towers. We were surprised to discover that we were the ONLY customers there so they bumped us up to a room in one of the towers! I absolutely felt like a princess. We had a private dinner in the castle restaurant and snuck around at night trying to explore. We did find an open door in one of the castle rooftops, but it was pretty creepy. It was just used of storage but it looked like a nice home for a ghost or two. To thank us for being their first customers or the year, they gave us an additional night in the hotel along with breakfast! Hopefully we can use it before I go back to the USA.
We also visited Clos Luce, which was Leonardo Da Vinci’s house for the last three years before his death. This house has a secret tunnel connecting it to the Chateau d’Amboise, about a 10 min walk away. This way the king could visit Da Vinci to see what kind of wartime masterpiece’s Da Vinci was inventing for him, without those pesky villagers hassling him.
Our last stop was the biggest castle in the Pays de la Loire, the Chateau de Chambord. It was continuously added onto throughout the years making it a monster of a hunting lodge for François the 1st. surrounding the castle is a 13,000 acre park where the king used to go hunting. Apparently wild boar and deer still live there, but we sadly did not see any. In the middle of the castle is a double helix stair case designed by Leonardo da Vinci. It consists of two winding stairs cases twisting around each other. This made it so someone going up the stairs on one stair case would never come across the person going up the stairs on the other stair case!
I adored this trip. We spent a lot of time driving from city to city, but we had a beautiful landscape to observe as we did. We drove along the river of the Loire, the biggest in France, and got to see so many amazing little cities. Apart from the castles I wrote about here, we passed hundreds more of them as we drove. I would say we came across one about every 5 to 10 minutes while driving, and I’m not exaggerating at all. Tiny little villages with 50 houses would have a huge castle sticking out of the middle of the down town. Hidden among the trees on the banks of the Loire, point roof tops could be seen. Not all of them are inhabited, and sadly a lot of them are falling into ruin. Yet they add a fairy tale like charm to the landscape and can easily make you think you have gone back into time.
Some little observations:
- Castles are freezing! Even with the fire places burning away, I was cold in every single one of them. I can’t imagine what it would be like in mid December.
- People were really short in the renaissance/middle age time period. I almost touched of many of the doors in the castles and I definitely would have had my feet hanging off of the beds if I slept in one.
- The kings were naughty! Not only did almost all of them have multiple mistresses, but many of them had their own personal room in the castle! I guess that is what happens when you marry for power and not love.
- Japanese Tourists love this part of France. Many of them speed walked around the castle grounds, taking pics of random things without really looking to see what they were looking at.
And Princess Amanda and Prince Dimitri returned to their home kingdom after their vacation and they lived happily ever after. The end!