Monday, March 31, 2014

Chateau Chinon

Chinon was the last, largest, and most historically well known Chateau I visited. Even if you know nothing of French history, I'm sure you've heard of Joan of Arc or Jeanne d'Arc. She came here to ask for her army, and this chateau was a fortress more than than a luxurious home. The old town is still preserved with its meandering cobblestone streets just as it was in medieval times.
The road where Joan rode her horse up to the castle has remained unchanged except for the handrails constructed for the many tourists.
Looking down from the top of the climb, you can see the medieval town looks as unchanged as the path leading away from it.
The fortress is meant to be imposing and cold, and it retains that ambiance even in this century.
As with every other fortress, it had several modes of protection, like a deep moat.
Only a small part of the fortress is restored, and it takes about 10 years to complete even a small section because artisans who specialize in doing things as they did hundreds of years ago do the work and it takes almost as long as it did 800 years ago.
This is how most of the site looked after all the battles.
You can see here where they restored the top part of this section.
There are models of what was originally built at various times.
Some towers are partially restored
but you can't climb some of the stairs yet.
Some parts are restored but still scary 
as you descend into what used to hold prisoners four floors below ground!
Other towers held pigeons, more for food than correspondence!
The best part of the climb up 
is the view
in every direction.
A modern elevator can take you to a nice view from the public parking lot.
Since this is a major attraction, they have videos in every room in English and French, explaining the history in fine cinematic form equivalent to a PBS show. The high tech self guided tour includes audio in whatever language you speak at certain points merely by passing your brochure over the black and white symbols. Admission is also discounted by 2 Euros if you've visited a neighboring chateau and retain the ticket stub, making it under $10 USD for entry.
There's a nice park like sitting area in the middle of the fortress.
Heading back down the road where Joan of Arc rode
I was reminded that no matter how many wars people fight for land, there are always flowers which manage to fight through the stone and want nothing more than sunlight.

Friday, March 28, 2014

French Country Life Part 2

Little Red Riding Hood knew that going into the woods can be dangerous, not because of the wild animals or poisonous plants, but because hunters may mistake you for wild game unless you wear something like a red hooded cape!

My country friend showed us where she forages for mushrooms, trusting us with her secret spot, and knowing that city people without GPS, would never be able to find it again:)

We found a few scraggly chanterelles, but the season was definitely over.
The view had no season.

 Signs of spring popped up in surprising patches of color along the way.
The medieval town of Chinon has remained pretty much the same since the Middle Ages. 

 Even the original pigeon repellant window treatments have remained in place.
About three quarters of the buildings have been restored or maintained to be functioning modern day offices or homes.
 But not everyone has the money or desire to deal with restoration
or upkeep on a building from the 12th century. Town ordinances make it impossible to demolish and build a modern replacement, so if you are brave enough, patient enough, and rich enough to try, the prices are very low, but it may take a generation and a royal sum to make it habitable.
 Some buildings still have open cellars
and stone wash basins, so keep in mind what "remodel" means here!
The Vienne River is the main waterway here and even though it is a smaller tributary of the Loire, it is still quite wide.

 There is a monthly flea market along the banks of the river
 selling everything from absolute rubbish to ancient gems like a working spinning wheel!
 This area is known for wines based entirely on cabernet franc, and you can buy part of a vineyard for less than a new car, but like the medieval buildings, it's not the price of the plot, it's the cost of the maintenance. The side benefit of owning your own vineyard is you get to drink your own wine :)
Little ponds full of frogs also dot the landscape.
Some homes along the Vienne have their own private access to the river from their backyard
 which makes for a perfect place to enjoy the sunset :)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

French Country Life Part 1

Guess being born in NYC affected my DNA; I am a city person. My definition of being in the country is anyplace without at least one hotel, two post offices, three pharmacies, four gas stations, five grocery stores, six parking garages, seven sushi spots, eight boutiques, nine cafés, and ten restaurants.

Getting away to the country was literally a breath of fresh(er) air when pollution hit the city. I couldn't live in the country, but I could definitely enjoy breathing and living in it for a few days. A friend lives three hours away from Paris, near Tours and as she said, she could survive if there was an apocalypse just on her garden and and preserves.

There are woods nearby where she goes to forage for mushrooms every year, preserving whatever she doesn't use immediately so that she can use them throughout the rest of the year. She made an excellent omelet filled with mushrooms she picked!
Lunch was a leek tart made with goat cheese and comté cheese.
The goat cheeses are made locally and she had three in different stages of aging from one week to three; it was like sampling wine aged from one to three years old. I liked the oldest the most because it had the most intense flavor, but the youngest cheese was perfect as a delicate almost cream cheese. 

The oldest cheese log is the one on the left.
This was the youngest cheese.
Her family has lived in the area for generations, and her brother made this assortment of dried boar and duck charcuterie.
She packed her homemade deer pâté, peach and mirabelle jams "to go" so I would have a taste of the country back in the city:)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Chateau Villandry Part 2

The gardens are of the Chateau Villandry supply fruit, vegetables, and flowers, not only for the chateau, but for the neighborhood and visitors. During the months when they harvest the vegetables, guest are invited to take what is grown in return for a contribution for the grounds; a beautiful and practical way of maintaining the grounds and benefitting the community.

The view from the chateau.
The view in the gardens.
Some of the trees are still bare
as were some of the bushes
and the trellis
but signs of spring peeked out in the peach blossoms and a few flower beds.
The swans seemed to enjoy the cool weather.
The natural beauty of the gardens makes the artwork in the chateau pale by comparison :)