Tag Archives: gardens

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.

Springtime in the Gardens of Savannah and Tybee Island

Savannah's Forsyth Fountain
Savannah’s Forsyth Fountain

Seductive Savannah, Georgia’s first city, beckons with sophisticated stature: iron fences and balconies adorn stately antebellum mansions; renovated townhouses abut cobblestone streets; green squares blossom and aged live oaks drip with Spanish moss. She flaunts mystery with tales of murder and ghosts.

Neighboring Tybee Island, a 20-minute drive, bespeaks an altogether different aura; she tempts visitors to tiny raised cottages, marsh grass, tidal beaches and sea breezes. Where Savannah oozes Southern charm and elegance, Tybee prefers laid back relaxation. Both vacation spots offer ideal springtime getaways.

Savannah‘s historic district is divided into a grid. Walk or hop on a tour bus to review her past and visit high-end antique shops, quirky boutiques or art museums. Fans of John Berendt’s, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, will enjoy touring sites from the book, including the Mercer Williams House and serene Bonaventure Cemetery.

Mercer House
Mercer House

Make sure to dine at Paula Deen’s The Lady & Son’s Restaurant, probably the most sought out reservation in town or Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room, a former boardinghouse that dishes a lunch that lasts all day. Another favorite, The Pink House, serves elegant southern cuisine. If you want to splurge on lodging, check into The Mansion on Forsyth Park or consider numerous bed-and-breakfast inns at www.historicinnsofsavannah.com.

Cross the causeway and let your hair fly. Tybee Island’s claim to fame is Fort Pulaski, where a famous Civil War battle occurred, and Tybee Lighthouse, the tallest lighthouse in Georgia. Sign-on for deep-sea fishing charters, perhaps a dolphin cruise, rent a bike or kayak, bird-watch, surf or simply rest on her shores. The beach is perfect for weddings and many couples choose to wed along the five miles of sandy dunes

Island shopping offers beach-themed kitsch, bait and tackle shops, and art exhibits. May 15th is the date for the 21st annual Beach Bum Parade. Spectators line the parade route armed with buckets, squirt guns and hoses. What results is an all-out water war.

The Savannah Beach Inn on Tybee, offers lodging in a restored 1898 Victorian house. The owners prepare a luscious gourmet breakfast, featuring Bananas Foster French Toast, host daily wine and cheese receptions and leave bedtime, milk and cookies.

For dinner try the famous Crab Shack for seafood low-country boil or catch a sunset meal at a local’s favorite, A.J’s Dockside Restaurant.

Give yourself a springtime fling in one of America’s loveliest cities or interesting islands.

For more information on Savannah’s events, please visit www.SavannahVisit.com, for Tybee Island: www.tybeevisit.com.

Doing the Swamp Thing: Audubon Swamp Garden at Magnolia Plantation, Charleston, So Carolina

Swamp Garden, Magnolia Plantation

As a mom and grandmom, I  know infants and toddlers are challenging, yet fun. Sure, wails and meltdowns prove stressful, but big hugs solve many a tear. And, little children can be so adorable.

Move from tots to teens and the headaches multiply. My college hunting trip with Laura, our high-school aged daughter, proved downright dismal. The admission’s staff overwhelmed us with talk of SAT and ACT scores, GPA’s, essay requirements and application procedures.

Campus tours produced comments such as, “dorm rooms are too small; What? No cars for freshmen; campus is too big, too small, too rural, etc.”  Fairy godmother wand needed.

Frustrated, I decided to take a break from the pressure and explore a heritage site.  I chose a historic plantation that offered something I’d never seen before–a swamp garden.

To stay on my daughter’s and husband’s good side, I invited them to accompany me, but both declined.  So I was off on a solo escape; even better.

I drove about 20-30 minutes out of Charleston to Ashley River Road, stopping at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens.  I took the 30-minute house tour with a tour guide named Wanda.  She was knowledgeable and entertaining, quickly covering the 300-year history of the home and Drayton family.

I exited the back door, really the front door as it faces the Ashley River, and walked down a path to the landing through flowering azalea’s and lilac blooms. Live oaks hang their heavy branches over the river’s edge creating a genteel feel of the Old South (more on this beautiful place in a future blog.)

Afterward, I moved my car to the entrance of the 60- acre Audubon Swamp Garden, where the lot was near empty. Perfect, I thought, no crowds. I crossed onto a wooden boardwalk, which muffled the sound of my footsteps as I traversed over green-slimy water.  Later, I learned this floating botanic was duck weed.

To my surprise, I came upon a sign announcing, “Cell Phone Tour:  Dial 843 303-9665.” Now I’ve taken many audio tours, but never one via my cell phone. And…of all places, in an eerie swamp? I dialed up.

A woman with a distinct southern drawl welcomed me and began speaking about the wildlife. I must admit the experience seemed like listening to an in-person guide, but frankly, a little too woo-woo for the marsh. Wouldn’t a few signs have provided the same information?  Wasn’t this encouraging phone interruptions or obnoxious ringtones like Dixie or the American Idol theme song?

Fortunately,  no distracting telephones annoyed me, in fact, I was seduced by the calmness and tranquility of bird calls. Back and forth I heard twitters and tweets- the real kind from the ornithological species. I heard frogs croaking and crickets; but Mother Nature held her breath, not a ripple on the water or rustle of leaves.

Since it was after five p.m., I hurried along, passing a dawdling couple: the woman checking her bird book, the husband spotting a Nature Conservancy ball-cap. “Blue Herons,” he said, which I rather smugly knew, since I live in Florida.

An alligator suns himself in the Swamp Garden

Yes,” I replied, “splendid swamp.”

Egret flying
A Snowy Egret in the sanctuary of the Swamp Garden

An alligator sunned himself, perched on a man-made ramp in the middle of the blackwater. He resembled a monster from the deep wearing a pea green coat of duckweed. Across the way, Snowy Egrets nested in gum trees, amidst tangled vines. This spot is paradise for photographers and I happened to catch a few decent shots myself. As it was getting late, I meandered back, but allowed myself time to stop and smell a few camellias, enjoy the water lilies and let my imagination run. “The Swamp Thing,” starring Louis Jourdan and Adrienne Barbeau, was filmed here. But, I preferred to think of John J. Audubon, who came to paint, a friend of the owner, Reverend Drayton. I’d noticed some of his original art in the mansion.

I was happy with my decision to visit. This preserved habitat is a jewel of South Carolina, a magical wildlife sanctuary and an exotic slice of lowcountry. I surrendered to the swamp and it revived my spirit, freed my frustrations and let me return to teen tensions in a better mood.