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Trip Report My ABC Tour of the Loire Valley

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I recently posted a very lengthy trip report about my trip to France last July but now I realise that my title and introduction may have been misleading and it didn't mention the many places I visited. Realising that many readers are interested in specific parts of France, I've decided to break my post up into smaller more specific and accessible portions. Hopefully any helpful hints I have to offer that may help in researching a trip or indeed anything of interest may reach more readers that way. I'll edited a bit and add a few details may have glossed over in my other report. Read my trip report here.

http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/eigasukis-2011-tour-de-france.cfm

and my Normandy and environs report

http://www.fodors.com/community/europe/my-normandy-invasion-from-paris-to-the-loire-valley.cfm

Today I Dont Feel Like Doing Anything

I’d spent a goodly part of the last three days in the car and the radio station I had been listening to, the only one I’ve found with good reception, seemed to have just a few songs on continuous loop - So Jet-lagged, Last Friday Night, something about Sound of the Fiesta, I Just Want to Make You Sweat and Bruno Mars’ “Today I Don’t Feel Like Doing Anything.” So that was my theme song for the day.

I’d planned Amboise as a central location where I could have a car-free rest day if needed. And I needed it! I made a leisurely start, sorting out laundry, updating my blog and dealing with emails, repacking luggage , sorting photos etc. Nice and chilled About eleven I ambled into town and wandered around the streets thronged with tourists and the shops and stalls which cater for them. Then what do you know, lunch time and time to find a table at one of the many cafes around the base of the Chateau and enjoy a leisurely lunch (last two days have had fruit, snacks etc on the go.) It was ideal weather for it, sunny with light wind keeping temperatures comfortable in the shade of the umbrella.

After lunch I toured the chateau which I really enjoyed, taking my time and lots of photos, mainly of details in the carving on the fireplaces. I enjoyed the rooms sparsely decorated in medieval styles rather than the more ornate ones of latter eras. The views from the terraces are extensive of course but just as interesting is the opportunity to peek into people’s gardens and courtyards. The chateau itself has a pleasant garden area .

The chateau seems to have quite a lot of concrete and modern stone work so I don’t know how much of it is authentic. Closer inspection of some of the older style houses in town reveal that at least some of them are reproductions. There are also dwellings built into the rock of the hill on which the chateau was built.

After all that exertion, it was time for un glace and back to the hotel for a rest and to watch the Tour de France stage one on TV. It’s a hard life being a tourist. A bit of chillin' on my bed , then dinner in the courtyard and back to the Chateau for the evening at “la Cour du Roy” the "Grand Spectacle Nocturne" son et lumiere. It didn't start till nearly 11 (when it finally gets dark.) and I might have given it a miss if I’d realised that. Parts were really great, others dragged a bit especially when you couldn't understand the commentary.

Presented by "the residents of Amboise" it featured everyone from 8 to 80, including horses, small not-very-good gymnasts, lots of dances, images projected on the wall etc. One place where the dance was a country dance, everyone in the crowd stomped along with some enthusiasm - obviously a favourite known to all. The show competed with the rock music which has pounded through the town day and night and another fireworks show somewhere else. Eventually we had our own fireworks and I walked back to the hotel, there to discover my key wouldn't turn! Breathe deep, try again. I finally got it to work and of course then some other guests arrived - carting sleeping children so lucky for them I was there to hold the heavy metal gate open. More rock music - all night at lower volume but the beat goes on......

Sunday, Saumur and Sundry Frustrations

Next day was Sunday and I hoped for lighter traffic. Fortunately, very few trucks and campervans restricted my drive west along the south banks of the Loire. Many homes built right into the cliffs. In Montsoreau I visited the street market where I purchased a punnet of raspberries. "For today or tomorrow?" I was asked. So nice to care about things like that.

Onward to Saumur to visit the castle there This I felt was bit of a rip off as it's mostly under renovation/reconstruction and there was little to see. Nine euros to get in, though to be fair, the attendant did mention that much of the chateau was closed to visitorss. The best part was the view from the castle. They have various "spectacles" during the day, the one when I was there was a duel between two young ladies - hilarious even though you couldn't understand the script. There's also an equestrian museum and display dedicated to the cavalry training school

I next went in search of the Comite Equestre de Saumur, alongside the river but there didn't seem to be anything happening and i hadn't done enough research to even be sure I'd come to the right place.

Here's where I decided that I should top up with petrol while in a large town, since it's a Sunday in rural France. Figuring any stations would not be in CentreVille but on the approaches to town I took first one then another without success and getting more and more stressed as the needle was now past empty, I finally resorted to stopping and asking for help in a hotel on the main drag along the river. Of course the one route I hadn't tried, lined with opportunities.

So my memories of Saumur are coupled with frustration - hardly fair on Saumur but not every place can be a highlight.

Next stop the Abbey Royale Fontrevaud, of Eleanor of Aquitane fame. This is largely a reconstuction and therefore somewhat lacking in atmosphere. I was rather disappointed. Maybe it was my mood or maybe I just wasn’t sure what I was expecting. They have the strangest wooden staircase maze thing in the cloister. I guess it's a modern taken on the contemplative stroll. My favourite part was the lovely Orangerie cafe where my cafe and snack were served in a lovely little box-tray thing. I headed back through the 'belle village' of Candes St Martin and found myself back in Montsoreau. I incured the wrath of an oncoming motorist - it's here I learned what those red and blue arrows mean.

Back along the river I visited Langeais, a pretty little town with a chateau, (closed) and lovely gardens along the roads and courtyards. There’s an interesting bridge across the river, though built in the 1930s. By now it was getting late so I decided to make the most of the long evening and to do a drive around the other sites in the area for some drive by shootings on camera.

The chateau of Usse which supposedly inspired Sleeping Beauty was where the camera battery died. Next stop was Chinon which looked a pleasant town and I nearly stopped for dinner but it was probably a bit early for France and I was still far from 'home'. The drive out of town was past lots of wineries and vineyards though by now all closed. Looks like a great place for “next time”. Back to base for another relaxing meal in the courtyard of La Breche.

Mad About Villandry

Since Villandry was right on the top of my to-do list for the Loire valley, I made a priority for Monday. Not a great distance but this involved yet two more attempts to bypass Tours and yet it seems all roads lead to Tours and many rond-points, round and round intertwining so you lose all sense of where you are .

I just loved Villandry and spent quite some time and many megabytes there. The potager garden is of course famous and deservedly so. You pay extra to visit the Chateau itself but it was worthwhile in my view - and for the view which you enjoy from the rooms. The chateau is privately owned and set up as a home, with family photos etc so you imagine yourself as a guest- It was much more accessible than the more royal and historic chateaux. They have a gallery of paintings I was a bit meh on Although there certainly were plenty of visitors and even bus groups there's plenty of room to spread out. In fact nowhere have the reputed crowds been a problem - maybe the GFC has really hit tourism.

Back through Tours, I headed to Chenonceau, where the crowds were really in evidence but I guess there's a reason for that! I had lunch under the umbrellas of the terrace cafe overlooking the castle and grounds and thought it rather pleasant - you can buy wine in little containers to have with your meal. How civilised.

The chateau itself in interesting enough but it's the location built over the water which is the highlight, though I have to say the water itself was rather weedy and river levels, here, as in the Loire itself were rather low. I hope that's a normal feature in summer and not a result of drought or global warming etc.

It was rather too hot a day to roam at length in the grounds, which weren't a patch on Villandry anyway, so I headed off the Chaumont-sur-Loire.. It certainly has a commanding outlook over the river and surrounding countryside. I did the tour of the house and the stables Those horses lived well. Onwards to the garden exhibit. Invited garden designers have set up a display of various themes whitch supposedly follow a theme of bio diversity and ecological awareness. Some were rather weird; others more picturesque in their interpretations.

Back in Amboise I watched a bit of the Amboise Velo Club's Criterion bike race then dined at le Reserve, opposite the chateau before heading back to pack up for an early start next day. The cute waiter was happy to try to teach me to pronounce andouille, but I don't think I'll need to be ordering it again

http://www.labreche-amboise.com/

I had a pleasant stay at la Breche. parking is available in the street and the wi-fi worked in my 2nd floor (3rd for you Americans) room. The owners were friendly and helpful and breakfast was mostly buffet style, except for the croissants, baguettes etc. The place is probably due for a makeover- I had to hold the shower as the bracket was broken. The planters and awnings which are so attractive in the photos are somewhat faded now.

Next stop the Dordogne.

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