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Trip Report: Two days in the Loire Valley

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Trip Report: Two days in the Loire Valley

Old Jun 2nd, 2008, 10:56 AM
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Trip Report: Two days in the Loire Valley

Two days in the Loire Valley -- long enough to see quite a bit and have a wonderful time

To show our son-in-law the wonders of the Loire Valley we booked a two day stay there following four days in Paris in mid-May. We've been 3 or 4 times previously so we had the luxury of not needing to try to see everything, but I think we were able to show our SIL an amazing amount of the highlights of the place without feeling like we were on a forced march in a mere two days. So I present this report as a kind of first hand answer to the questions that are so often asked here about "how many days should I devote to the Loire" and "will I be able to see very much if I only have a couple of days to spend in the Loire?"

We left Paris early (about 8 a.m. or so) from the Gare Montparnasse on the TGV, arriving an hour later in St. Pierre des Corps (the TGV switching station on the outskirts of Tours) traveling through brilliant yellow fields of spring mustard. The station is uncrowded and easy to navigate and we picked up our rental car and were on the road in less than a half hour enroute to Montbazon and our hotel for two lovely nights, the Relais and Chateau d' Artigny.

The hotel - Chateau d'Artigny

Here's the review I wrote about our hotel and our experience there for Trip Advisor. I consider it a kind of tribute to Rex Bickers, who posted here on Fodors so frequently about the place with such glowing memories. Rex has been ill and not posting as often as he used to but I'm hopeful he'll see this and know that his advice was finally taken by a faithful reader of his posts.

Chateau D'Artigny seems to evoke mixed reviews--all the way from "most wonderful hotel ever" to "way overpriced and I'd never go back." Based on my experience I think a lot depends upon how you set your expectations. This place first captured my attention in a Relais and Chateau guide in the late 70s/early 80s. I gazed longingly at the picture and realized we just couldn't afford it and soothed my longing by thinking the staff was probably snooty. Over the years I repeated the experience until recently when I noted that it had disappeared from the guide. I wondered whether they had decided they didn't need the Association and were above all that or if somehow they'd been "drummed out" of the guide for not keeping up to standards.

When we got to planning a trip to Paris and the Loire with our daughter and son-in-law (they are expecting twins in November and won't be able to make our customary holiday trip with them) I decided it would be great to give them an extra special experience (and to satisfy my own long-held enchantment) by booking our two nights in the Loire Valley at Chateau D'Artigny.

Before booking, however, I went on Trip Advisor to check out the reviews and ran into the seesaw effect explained above--great, not worth it, fabulous, not so hot, etc, etc. I concluded that the basic structure and elegance I'd longed for was probably still there but that I'd best temper my expectations a bit and hope for the best. The approach worked perfectly.

Besides the reviews on TA, my first inkling that the place might not be up to the mythical perfect hotel I'd once built up in my mind was when I saw that I could book a double room for 210 euros. Figuring back to the 70s/80s when I first checked this place out against others and it was among the most expensive of the Loire chateau hotels, I'd have guessed that by now the going rate for a double would be at least 350 euros or even a whole lot more--not 350 dollars given the current exchange rate. This was great since at 350 euros we'd certainly not have been able to afford to book 2 rooms for 2 nights, but at 210 as a celebratory splurge related to the impending opportunity to become grandparents for the first time, we could and would do it. Yeah!! I'd finally get to stay at the Artigny.

It was wonderful. Plain and simple wonderful. The sight of the place as we drove up to it from the wooded entry all but took my breath away. The lobby was everything an elegant hotel should be. The welcome was warm and efficient and the peak into the fantastic dining room confirmed that I'd done the right thing. The kids were pretty well blown away with the elegance and my daughter was delighted to learn that such an old-fashioned elegant place still had an up to date fitness room.

One of the most exciting things was a second floor reception room with a dome painted with a masquerade ball motif including the actual faces of guests that Francois Coty, the perfume baron former owner, had had at a party he gave. The history of the place made it almost like one of the Loire Valley chateaux we visited, only more modern day. We drank a bottle of sparkling Vouvray that we'd bought at a wine festival there and felt like party guests ourselves.

The rooms--ok, that's where the dream gets a bit cloudy, but hey, I was expecting something less than perfection. While they weren't perfect, they were certainly ok and a fair trade for all the overall elegance we were getting for our money. Ours had drapes, bedspread and wallpaper all of the same floral print in a room bigger than a Paris left bank hotel room but not a whole lot bigger. While the bath and sink room and the separate toilet room were properly attired in marble and perfectly clean, they could use the expensive redo that the Artigny seems to be putting off--and which probably accounts for their deletion from the Relais and Chateau guide (just my hunch.)

Service continued to be fine. While we were there, the light went out in our bathroom and it was fixed by the time we returned from our day of sightseeing. The front desk was accommodating and the bartender was helpful. The person who took our order for dinner, the one night we dined there, was a bit curt but not enough to complain about.

The dining room was a highlight and the food while not star quality and a bit uneven was perfectly respectable. The bar where we took our coffee after dinner was lovely and flower-filled. Best of all the patio overlooking the river valley and forest below with gentle breezes blowing was a heavenly place for before dinner drinks. And the opportunity to just float up to bed on the beautiful staircase after dinner was the perfect elegant experience I wanted and that I wanted to provide my soon-to-become-parents children.

The value issue at this place is significant. If the exchange rate were at the 1 to 1 ratio it was a few years ago, this would be the value of a lifetime and well worth putting up with a smallish room. Even at the current 1.5 or more to 1 ratio it's a good value--if you want a wonderful luxury experience and are willing to splurge a bit to have it. Can you get more personal comfort with a bit less luxury elsewhere for the same or less? Yes.
Can you beat this experience if you've dreamed of it for a long, long time and it still satisfies the dream? No. It was worth every penny.

Sights and pacing ourselves

After dropping our bags at the hotel, we were off for Villandry with its beautiful gardens. We walked around the gardens and took unlimited photos but chose not to tour the interior of the chateau. By the time we finished we were hungry so before seeing the chateau at Azay le Rideau, our next stop, we dropped into the Grand Monarque for lunch in the town of the same name.

Lunch turned out to be a bit lengthy with multiple courses but we still had plenty of time to tour the chateau there and walk about the city a bit before returning to the hotel with time for a work out for my daughter and a nap for me.

It was still light by the time we drove to dinner along the Loire to Les Hauts Roches in Rochecorbon, right smack in the middle of Vouvray country and close to Tours.

On day two, we were up early and had breakfast at the hotel so we could beat the crowds to Chenonceau the grandmamma (chateaux are feminine not masculine so calling it the granddaddy would seem odd) of all the chateaux. Thank goodness we did. By the time we left close to noon, there were really long lines, and this wasn't even summer yet. There were plenty of fellow tourists but we could still get around without using our elbows while we were there. We toured the grounds and the interior enjoying not just the antiquities but the very fresh, lovely floral arrangements in each of the rooms that makes this chateau such a treat to walk through.

We drove on to Amboise, walked around the town a bit, then had lunch at a little pizza place on the main street facing the chateau and then walked up the hill to walk about the grounds of the chateau, view the Da Vinci burial chapel and see the Loire from the ramparts, and then were on our way.

Enroute back to the hotel we chanced upon a Vouvray wine festival being held above the city in the tufa caves, bought tasting glasses for 3 euros each and proceeded to try several of the sparking vouvrays on offer. We even bought a couple of bottles to take back to the hotel for drinks in the hotel's lovely sitting room under the dome. Again, we finished a fairly full day with time for a workout and a nap before having dinner at the hotel.

So it is possible to see quite a bit of the Loire (4 chateaux, two towns, and a wine festival) with only 2 days to devote. If we had been there any time but over a weekend, I'd have pushed us to add a 5th chateau, Cheverny, with its lovely interiors and the feeding of the hounds at 5 p.m. But they don't feed the hounds on the weekend and we were there Saturday and Sunday, so we didn't go the extra mile to add the fifth chateau.

On this itinerary, we also missed Chambord, certainly one of the primary chateaux on any short list, but it's a distance from the others and you have to be reasonable about what you undertake in a short time lest you push yourself too hard and cease to enjoy the things you do have time to see.

Dining

As anywhere, part of the fun of travel to the Loire Valley is dining there and we had lots of fun. Three of the 4 meals were especially noteworthy.

Grand Monarque in Azay le Rideau

When we ate here on a previous trip we chose to be seated outdoors so it all seemed quite casual. This time that choice wasn't available so we ate in the formal dining room and the experience became quite different. Asparagus mousse then pork offal with caramelized onions and balsamic. I know that offal always sounds awful, but this was the complete opposite of awful. It was superb. Perhaps that was why I, the only one to order that dish, was higher on the meal overall than my three dining companions.

I must admit that the salmon en papillote over carrot shreds was a bit uninspiring. The raspberry crumble and cheeses were good finales, however. The major problem with the meal was that it stretched on endlessly. Service was pleasant and attentive. The pace was just too slow. Had we not been in a hurry to see more chateaux and just lulling away an afternoon like the locals at the other tables, I'm sure we'd have felt the place a very worthy, recommendable stop.

Les Hauts Roches
This is another Relais and Chateau property and we'd stayed and eaten there on a previous trip. In fact, we thought to stay there on this trip but then the opportunity for a stay at the D'Artigny raised its head and I jumped on it. (Ok, so an awful word picture if ever there was one.) At any rate, we knew we'd be having a good meal and we sure did.

It's not often that a second experience in a place outshines the first, but this one did, primarily because we were able to eat outside on the hotel's lovely deck with trees overhead while the food remained as good or better than before. Amuse of cauliflower crème, then first course of rabbit terrine with fois gras and balsamic. Monkfish for a main course with baby potatoes and sweetbreads. They push a mean cheese cart so it was a tough choice but those of us who had raspberry crème brulee instead were happy we did.

These folks have one Michelin star and it's easy to see why. This was a wonderful, elegant dinner in a wonderful place with perfect temperatures and gentle night breezes. Heavenly.

Dinner at Chateau D'Artigny

As I said above in my review of the hotel, the dining room is very special. It's a two story affair done in mirrors and light green paint with gold leaf and gigantic floral arrangements. Service was acceptable but not really polished as you'd expect in a place like this. Perhaps it's better during peak season. We all had the multi-course tasting menu of the chef which made ordering very simple. We started with very good fois gras with apples. This was not only very good, but some of the best I've eaten. We were off to a good start.

Next came raviolis with langostines, competent but unremarkable. Then monkfish with lemongrass and ginger sauce, a winner even with my non-fish aficionado husband. Duck breast slices with apricots and mashed sweet potatoes were tasty but sort of just laid there on the plate (actually perfectly acceptable but after several meals of spectacular presentation you begin to expect a certain standard, and this wasn't up to it.) Goat cheese infused with fruit and nuts, fruit cup with beet sorbet, mango and pistachios, and thin slices of pineapple with cream. The last of this was my favorite of the dessert panoply. It tasted delicious and looked easy enough to try at home with my mandolin.

So it was an uneven meal in a lovely and gracious setting. Taking coffee in the bar was my favorite part. That just makes you feel like you're in someone's lovely mansion at a private party, and we sort of were. Francois Coty never got around to putting us on his guest list, but Rex Bickers invited us, and I'm so glad we finally got to go.

Going home -- the easy way

This was so slick. In the past whenever we flew home from a trip we've had to plan a final night in the city of the airport, generally sort of spoiling a day or a day and half by needing to travel and mostly just get ready to leave. This time we stayed where we'd been for the night before our flights, got up super early, made our way to the TGV station, hopped on the train and got out right in the airport terminal at CDG. No muss, no fuss, no taxi, no bother. We trundled up from the train arrival area, got in line and checked in for our flight. How easy is that!

We're doing it again when we stay our last night in Wurzburg before boarding our flight out of Frankfurt am Main airport in September. I hope European train connections continue in this vein and that we can do more and more of this--and maybe someday even here in the US. Let's hope.

So there you have it. Two fun and food filled days in the Loire. Happy to answer questions. Enjoy.
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Old Jun 2nd, 2008, 11:08 AM
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Lovely report. Thanks for posting. And I hope rex will see this too.
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Old Jun 4th, 2008, 09:49 PM
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OMG - - I'm blushing, Julie. How kind of you to make these remarks. I agree that the approach was almost "worth the price of admission".

I still remember the place fondly. We were there in 1997, I think - - and had a 1976 Vouvray because we married in 1976 - - it was actually affordable and I marveled at the prospect of being able to enjoy a 19 year old white wine. I don't recall that it was spectacular, but it was certainly very enjoyable, even if only for the gee whiz factor.

And I have fallen off posting just because of other pursuits - - but no less interest in Europe travel. We leave for Sicily in just about a week. For what it's worth, my lymphoma has been in complete clinical remission for over 15 months.

If I can brag just a little... some of you know me as a champion of self-assembled "small group trips". My love of these began ten years ago, when our oldest daughter had just graduated from high school. We felt like this might be "the last hurrah", traveling on family vacation together, and so we pulled out all the stops. 17 days in England, Italy and France - - and not just us and our three daughters, but six of our kids' cousins and two boyfriends to boot.

Well, ten years later - - and we are now going on "the last hurrah", number FIVE! This Sicily trip is a slightly smaller "army" - - the five of us now includes a son-in-law (not one of those two boyfriends from 1988... LOL; she found someone better) - - and his parents are coming along also.

I have traded a few posts this spring with Sicily aficionados (and I did share a post on how I got all eight of us FF air travel or upgrades with only six months lead time!) - - and hopefully I will have some experiences to share when we return near the end of this month.

Thanks again for posting, JV...

and...

Best wishes,

Rex
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Old Jun 4th, 2008, 10:13 PM
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This was the FF award travel posting...

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...2&tid=35105386
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Old May 1st, 2009, 09:25 AM
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Wow - Fabulous - Exactly what I need to get started. Thanks so much !
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Old May 1st, 2009, 09:49 AM
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We've done several trips to Loire Valley. I'd be happy to try to answer any questions I can. Glad you enjoyed the report. It was a wonderful trip. We now have twin granddaughters so our trips with the daughter and son-in-law will be a bit limited for a few years.
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Old May 1st, 2009, 10:00 AM
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wonderful report, Julie, thank you.

Rex, happy to you are doing well
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Old May 1st, 2009, 03:55 PM
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Your meal of offal at the Grand Monarque reminded me of when my wife and I ate there. My wife wasn't able to translate one of the entrees and asked the waiter. He replied that "it wasn't for Americans" I'm sure he was right in our case.

We stayed at the hotel also and they were very nice, driving us to catch an early morning train. The bus that should have taken us to the station that morning at 6:00 AM just didn't show up that day.
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Old May 1st, 2009, 04:06 PM
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big, I wouldn't like a waiter saying that to me.
I eat lots of what some call strange.
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Old May 2nd, 2009, 03:02 AM
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bigtyke, I thought the Grand Monarque seemed like a very nice hotel. Happy to hear that I was right. The dining room is lovely.

cigalechanta, I share your taste for "the nasty bits." Still looking forward to our next chance to eat at your wonderful Vapeurs in Trouville. We go in July.
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Old Jul 2nd, 2009, 10:16 AM
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Julie: I'm thinking of doing the train trip you did...but in reverse. Upon arriving at CDG, can we take the TGV directly from the airport to Tours?
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Old Jul 4th, 2009, 04:47 AM
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Great Report Julie,
We leave for a week in the Loire in the end of September. We have an apartment in Amboise. I have done my research via the web and books however I would like your insight into must see sights in five days. Although we will certainly visit the chateaux in the region I dont want to spend endless hours in them. What we really enjoy when we visit Europe is to explore quaint villages and towns visit historic sights and old churches, and sample local foods and wines. If you had to choose say 3-5 chateaux and 3-5 different towns in the Loire what would be your best bets. Also is Tours a worthy day trip? We will have a rental car. Thank you,

Mikek
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Old Jul 12th, 2009, 08:40 AM
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Sorry to be so late in responding. Didn't realize that there were questions on this old post.

JeanneB, Yes, for sure you can take the TGV directly from CDG to Tours. Check out the times on raileurope.com to see if the connections are good for your flight schedule. Depending upon what you intend to do when you get there, it sure seems to me like you'd want to just get out at the St. Pierre des Corps station rather than have 5 minutes to connect to some other train for the 5 minute ride into Tours main station. There are rental car companies at St. Pierre des Corps and you can get taxis, so unless you have a hotel booked directly across the street from the main Tours station, I'd just depart at St. Pierre des Corps and taxi or rental car from there.

Mike, 5 days is a nice long time to have for the Loire Valley and Amboise is a nice base. The 5 chateaux I'd choose would be Chenonceau, Cheverny (time your visit to see the feeding of the hounds, it's quite something) Chamboard, Villandry (actually the chateau itself is nice and worth seeing, but of course, the gardens are the main draw). I like the romantic setting of Azay le Rideau, so I'd make that the 5th and if you're near Langeais, it's worth a stop, as much for the sweet little town as the chateau. Try to see Fontevraud-L'Abbaye, and its wonderful complex for a church experience. The vineyards and wine culture around Bourgueil and Vouvray are interesting. The town of Tours is worth a visit (try to find out when they have a market and go on that day) and the troglodyte wine caves along the river near Vouvray are interesting. We also liked the town of Montreuil-Bellay, down the road from Fontevraud Abbaye and the small town of Montrichard, I believe of goat cheese fame. A larger town worth going to on a day trip is Orleans. The cathedral there is very interesting, decked out in flags on all the pillers. The chateau at Chaumont has a nice garden exposition but I don't know what, if anything, they would have there in late September.

For certain, chateaux are the main draw of the Loire valley and "doing" them one right after the other can lead to overload, but most are situated in or near some cute little villages that make for pleasant walking and pleasant dining and a market or two here and there. Interspersing them with a bit of wine tasting, exploration of the odd troglodyte cave from time to time, and having a lovely, elegant dinner makes for a very relaxing travel experience. Enjoy.
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Old Jul 12th, 2009, 08:46 AM
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Mike, if you haven't already seen my other trip report on the Loire valley, just click on my name and search my trip reports. It's titled "Another long trip report--Paris and the Loire valley" from a trip we did in 2006. Includes info on a goat farm we went to, in case you really decide to do something a bit different.
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Old Jul 12th, 2009, 09:06 AM
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As I have replied to several posters heading for Chenonceaux, you can have a really wonderful lunch in charming surroundings at La Roseraie. Hotel looks lovely, too.
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Old Jul 12th, 2009, 09:41 AM
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What timing! We just booked our Sept.'09 trip back to Paris & The Loire.

We will be 5 days in Paris, a week in The Loire, and then 4 days in Paris again. We have been to The Loire 2 years ago for 4 days and it wasn't enough. We saw Villandry, Chambord, Cennonceaux, Amboise, and the Davinci House. We loved Amboise and driving around all the small towns, but found Tours to be a bit too large & busy for us.

We loved the area so much that we are returning for a week and have rented a small house in the Chinon area. I am devouring all of these posts for tips on other things to see. Also having the house will let us relax a bit.

Julie---Congratulations on those twin granddaughters. What fun you will have buying all those Paris fashions for them. My granddaughters are now 8 & 4 but I have been bringing them home Paris fashions since they were born. The kids shops on Vavin(near Lux. Gardens) are great. There is also an absolutely wonderful shop on Montparnasse & Raspail(2nd shop from the corner-can't remember name). A bit pricier then those on Vavin, but oh what different things they have.

I will look up your past trip reports. Your restaurant reviews are great.

Does anyone have any tips on the Saumur area of the valley?
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Old Jul 12th, 2009, 11:12 AM
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Nice report, but I will say it again: those yellow fields are not mustard but are rapeseed (canola).

The French couldn't use so much mustard in a million years, but they can certainly use the oil.
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Old Jul 12th, 2009, 11:14 AM
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Oh, and château is a masculine word, not feminine.
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Old Jul 12th, 2009, 12:38 PM
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TPAYT, thanks for the tips on children's clothing stores in Paris. We'll be there for 3 days at the end of an upcoming trip to Brittany so I'll be able to check them out soon. One of the girls is named Anna Loire. They wanted to use a travel name and so chose Loire having enjoyed their trip there so much. We think it quite lovely.

kerouac, thanks for setting us straight on the mustard/rapeseed confusion. While chateau may be a masculine word, I still think of the buildings themselves as feminine and in the case of Chenonceau particularly so since it was built and rebuilt by women.
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Old Jul 15th, 2009, 10:41 AM
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TPAYT, in the Saumur area we stayed at the Chateau de Rochecotte, a fantastic place that Talleyrand presented to his niece by marriage (lots of stories on that "niece thing" the Duchess de Dino. Even if you don't stay there, you might schedule a dinner there. It's very civilized and relaxing. I'm not especially fond of Angers, but it is a distinctly different experience than the other chateaux as it's more of a military stronghold, complete with moat and many towers. Saumur is near the chateau at Montreuil Bellay which we enjoyed, as we did its surrounding town. in general I think the cahteaux to the east of Tours to be somewhat more interesting than those to the West.
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