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France ~ Chateau de Cheverny: Tally-Ho and Tintin

August 27, 2009 by · Comments Off on France ~ Chateau de Cheverny: Tally-Ho and Tintin 

Chateau de Cheverny

Chateau de Cheverny in the Loire Valley, France

My bus trip continued to the Chateau of Cheverny, a Loire Valley location renown for fox-hunting. Cheverny was built in the 1620’s for Henri Hurault, the Comte de Cheverny and Governor of Blois. The architecture flaunts Louis XIII style with classical symmetry, five pavilions (divisions) and two roof-top domes. The 1640’s interior decoration presents some of the finest paneling, painted ceilings, and fireplaces of the era.

Diane de Poitiers, who owned Chateau de Chenonceau (which Laura and I had visited earlier that morning), also held deed to an earlier castle on this site. She sold the property back to the original family owners in 1565.

The current mansion underwent a major twelve-year renovation during the late 1770’s. The Hurault de Vibraye family, descents of the original builders, acquired the estate in 1825 and have kept it in the family ever since.

Tintin_and_Snowy

TinTin

Perhaps the facade, decorated with sculpted roman busts looks familiar? Cheverny inspired the mythical Chateau of Moulinsart in Herge’s famous Tintin stories. We noticed some darling children’s toys and Tintin memorabilia in the gift shop, but Laura did not recall the story. I recognized TinTin, but honestly have never read the books.

Cheverny

The ground of Chateau de Cheverny

After entering the main gate, visitors walk down a long, wide gravely path dividing a manicured lawn. They enter the house through the small main door, into the lobby boasting a grand limestone staircase with elegant carvings. The ceilings feature finely painted exposed beams which create a lively colorful mood. The walls are covered with wood paneling decorated with more flowers and mottos. The swanky drawing room dazzles with examples of French decorative arts and period furniture.

We toured the bedrooms including the King’s Chamber where Henri IV slept, the dining room, and armory. I was impressed but felt at ease with the gracious home-like atmosphere. Some members of the bus tour group visited the private apartments, which were used until 1985. They raved about the interior but time was short with so much to see.

Dining Room at Cheverny

Dining Room- Interior of Chateau de Cheverny

Laura and I chose to walk across the grounds to the kennels. We heard barking, then found at least seventy fox hounds of mixed English and French breeds. Our guide said feeding time is popular with tourists, especially children, who delight in watching the dogs gobble their dinner.

The Dogs of Cheverny

The Dog Kennels at Chateau de Cheverny

Sadly we missed seeing: the formal gardens, the organery (where the Mona Lisa was secretly kept during the Second World War), the woodland park offering boat rides on the lake and the trophy room- filled with over two hundred stag horns. Hunts are still held on the property.

But, our schedule demanded departure: tally-ho and away we go. Next stop-Chateau de Chambord .

France ~ Chateau de Chenonceau: Tour of the Ladies Chateau

August 25, 2009 by · Comments Off on France ~ Chateau de Chenonceau: Tour of the Ladies Chateau 

Chateau de Chenonceau over the River Cher

Chateau de Chenonceau on the River Cher in the Loire Valley, France

The Loire Valley, just two hours from Paris, abounds with a wealth of historic chateaux. The former French royals discovered this enchanting area made a perfect getaway and I was ready to join them, even if that meant taking a group bus tour.

My daughter Laura and I were in Paris so we hopped aboard the comfortable vehicle at 7:15 am, which included about 20 other tourists. We were blessed with two knowledgeable guides who fortunately understood the need to nap.

First stop was Chateau de Chenonceau which sits not just on the banks– but directly over the River Cher. Chenonceau is often referred to as the ladies chateau as its designers and owners were women.

Marques Tower at Chenonceau

The Marques Tower of Chenonceau

Upon entering the grounds, we strolled down a long, sun-dappled tree covered pathway. Two lion statues acted as sentinels at the gates. Then, we passed the Marques Tower, the oldest standing building remaining from the original fortress built in 1432. The turrets are exactly what I imagine Rapunzel’s tower in fairy tales.

Our guide led us into the stone castle through the main entry with the original wooden doors. This section, built in 1513, was sold to King Francois I, in 1535, to pay back taxes and debts. In 1547, Henri II presented it to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. Diane loved the chateau and lavished her feminine touches on the property.

However, when Henri died, the queen (Catherine de Medici) took revenge and forced Diane out. Diane took Chaumont (another chateau) in exchange. In the end, the rival between these two women created the galleried bridge, the chateau’s most famous feature. Diane designed and installed a small lower bridge. Catherine then redesigned a large extension above and thus, the chateau grew over the river.

Chenonceau Bedroom

Royal Bedchamber- Chenonceau

Paintings, tapestries, original furniture and other Renaissance period pieces are scattered throughout the rooms. Visitors see the guardroom, chapel, bedroom of Diane de Poitiers, and another used by Catherine de Medici. I found it easy to imagine royalty dancing in the spacious gallery ballroom over the water. The view from the room’s windows, however, bespoke tranquility.

In addition, we saw Henri II’s bedroom with a portrait of Diane and the five queens’ bedroom- used by Catherine de Medici’s two daughters and three daughters-in-law. Louise of Lorraine’s bedroom was decorated in somber black and white after her husband, King Henri III,died. She then became known as the White Queen for joining the reclusive nuns who always wore white.

Chateau de Chenonceau Balcony

Laura overlooking the Chenoceau gardens

I took this photo of Laura in the upper window balcony because I thought she looked like a princess smiling down on her subjects.

The gardens burst with vibrant pink blossoms: one is a copy of Diane’s garden, the other is Catherine’s. These flowers are used to create the gorgeous arrangements that decorate each room in the chateau.

Chateau de Chenonceau

Chenonceau Chateau from the garden

Chenonceau gets a thumbs up. I would definitely return to this elegant chateau and spend an entire day. We didn’t have time to explore the maze, take a boat ride on the Cher, which would have offered a terrific photo-op or see the wax figures displayed in period costuming. The lunch area seemed lovely, and goodness, more time to stroll the grounds would have been appreciated. I suspect the grand illumination of the grounds during summer months is spectacular.

Lavender Fields of Provence

August 13, 2009 by · Comments Off on Lavender Fields of Provence 

Lavender Fields of Provence

Lavender Fields of Provence

Imagine row after row of tiny, bud-like purple flowers majestically raising their heads from green shoots. Their stalks burst free from the hard-packed rusty brown earth. The surrounding soil is covered by limestone rocks, crunching under my feet as I walk through the field. Lavender plants wave in the breeze tickling my legs, just below my knees.

I listen carefully; the field buzzes with the sound of humming bees. No need to worry, these little critters don’t bother people. They are happy and content to flutter between the thousands of blossoms, bee nirvana. The insects produce what is called lavender honey and sometimes beekeepers place hives along the edges of a field.

Provence, a glorious region in the south of France, is home to legendary lavender fields. Wild plants have grown here since the Middle Ages. The climate and soil create perfect conditions for farming the herb. While the harvested flowers yield a sweet perfume scent, the cultivated fields send a softer aroma.

I see purple haze. Tourists and locals stop their cars, get out and stare at the mesmerizing scene. They bring cameras to photograph the visual joy, but the pictures don’t capture the ethereal essence. Being among the fields, in person, is like tasting fine wine. To fully experience the moment, you must immerse yourself.

Mid- August brings harvest time but similar to grapes, readiness depends on the seasonal weather. Lavender is hand-cut and left to dry for three days in the sun before being passed through a steam press. Nothing is wasted; leftovers from pressed flowers are used as fuel for the steam producing oven.

Honey, essential oils, perfume, soaps and dried flowers are end products of the crop. Lavender honey is said to help heal open wounds; the essential oil promotes calmness. Potpourri or lavender sachets help mask odors and chefs in France sprinkle the herb in many dishes.

The territory casts a magical spell with golden sunflower fields, precariously perched hillside towns, historic sites, in cities like Avignon, and a relaxed lifestyle made famous by Peter Mayle’s books. Tour de France fans know Provence as the home of Mount Ventoux. Photographers call it paradise for the diversity of nature, colors and vistas. Artists such as Van Gogh and Cezanne found Provence inspired their creative talents.

But I came for the lavender fields.

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