My husband handmade a scrapbook to propose to me. There was dinner, dessert, flowers, a limo, the works. But the fact that he took a hobby of mine that I loved and created a scrapbook really touched me. Especially when I realized later that it had involved many evenings of scrapbooking, not exactly a popular college senior male pastime. (His friends graciously marathon-ed through some TV series so he could craft and still participate.)
That’s exactly the way I was touched this past weekend. Not only did my brother and his girlfriend choose to visit us on the precious little vacation time they had, but after the big surprise of their presence in Paris, they announced that that was only the beginning. Michael and David had planned a weekend to the Loire Valley for us four, completely on their own. I love travel planning but I well know all the work, time, and effort that goes into it. Needless to say, I was sincerely moved by their gift to me.
We set off on a Saturday morning and drove south from Paris to the Loire, land of châteaux and white wine. About two hours later we reached our first château of the weekend: the stately Château de Cheverny.
Château de Cheverny had been one château that I didn't make it to the last time I was in the area, so it was on the top of our list whenever we got the chance for a return trip. It is known for its function as a hunting lodge, and for its gorgeous interiors.
This château was built in the beginning of the 1600's and survived the French Revolution due to the kindness the family showed to the lower classes. The inside is one of the most beautiful I have seen in the Loire.
We also came across some surprises here, like an original document signed by President George Washington and a pair of prehistoric antlers hanging in a hallway.
This one was built for defensive purposes, and was quite striking as it stood imposingly next to the main road. We decided just to admire the outside and move on after a few pictures. For those who decide to go inside, there are no furnishings but you can learn about how these fortresses were built and utilized.
We continued on to the beautiful Château de Chaumont. In all honesty, I did not have high expectations for this château (merely because I didn't know much about it) but I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. In fact, as a group we all voted this as the best visit of the day.
This château was built in the late 1400's. Catherine de Medici later on acquired it in 1550. After the death of her husband, King Henry II, she forced his mistress Diane de Poitiers to trade estates with her. Catherine wanted the beautiful Château de Chenonceau (see our visit there below), and Diane acquired this one. As lovely as Chenonceau is as it sprawls over the river, it doesn't seem to me that Diane did too badly in the swap.
Three in a day is definitely the maximum I think one can sustain before château-fatigue sets in. So with time to spare in the afternoon, Michael had coordinated a wine tasting at independent vineyard La Closerie de Chanteloup. This vineyard has a large tasting room in Amboise where friendly Frédéric poured wine after wine for us to try. We all walked away with a few purchases, and Frédéric even gifted us a bottle of our favorite sparkling wine to enjoy later that night.
With apéro taken care of, it was time to check-in to our hotel and get ready for dinner. David was in charge of selecting the restaurant so I knew we were in good hands - foodie runs in the family. His pick? A small, off-the-beaten-path restaurant in Amboise called La Fourchette. It is run by a mother/daughter team. Mom Christine cooks while her daughter serves. As we found out earlier, Christine used to cook at Frédéric's (from the winery) restaurant in town before opening up her own place. So he gave it a vote of confidence to affirm our choice before we set foot inside.
I really enjoyed the homey, cozy ambiance. There was a choice of two starters, two main courses, and two desserts, making decision time easy. And when our table wasn't ready right at 8pm, we were treated to a round of kirs to start the evening.
The only concern I would voice is on behalf of vegetarians. Michael called ahead and made sure it was not a problem to accommodate, which was not a problem. Yet the main they served was a double portion of our side dish, which was a lot of potatoes. They were delicious but not an inventive solution. I suppose it was to be expected as the concept of not eating meat or fish is a very foreign one in France. In the end though we were all satisfied with a lovely meal.
Sunday started off as a culinary success. David and Carissa were in search of good pastries, and Pâtisserie Bigot delivered. Coffee, cappuccinos, and thick hot chocolate with a view of Amboise’s château was a perfect start. The pain au chocolats and pastries that followed didn't hurt either.
Thankfully we were pleasantly full when we made our way to the huge Sunday market. (Otherwise I would have wanted to buy massive amounts of cheese and bread, among other things.) The size and vast variety of items sold surprised me - all types of food, wine, clothing, kitchen items, jewelry, flowers, and the list goes on and on. There were also tables and chairs to eat food at the market. If you are in Amboise on a Sunday, definitely go check it out!
After exploring the market, it was time to head back to Paris. Luckily we had plenty of time for one more stop.
Our last château of the weekend was the majestic Château de Chenonceau. Even though this was Michael and my third time seeing this château, it is a must to share with friends and family passing through the Loire. There are numerous châteaux in the Loire, and then there is the château of the region. This one is so gorgeous, gracefully spanning over the Loire River, gleaming white...this is the one château to top the list.
One must pay for a ticket to the château to be able to see it at all - it’s not one that you can drive up to and then split. But it is worth it. We spent time enjoying the warm, sunny spring weather, taking some pictures, and then breezed through the château before leaving. There is such a thing as château fatigue, but this stop proved to be worth pushing the envelope to see this exceptional beauty.
And just like that, the surprise weekend trip came to an end...but thankfully we still had one more night together to spend in Paris. What a fun, whirlwind trip! I loved the opportunity to share with David and Carissa a region of France that is close to my heart. After all, it was our vacation to the Loire Valley and Paris that impacted Michael and I profoundly enough to decide to move to France less than a month after returning home back in 2011. So visit with caution :-)
Have you ever visited the Loire Valley? What did you enjoy?
PLAN YOUR TRIP:
41700 Cheverny, France
Admission: €9.00 / adults, €6.00 / reduced rate, children under 7 years old free (prices given for visit to the chateau and gardens, as of April 2014)
Open daily, see website for hours
1 Rue Henri Goyer, 41120 Fougères-sur-Bièvre, France
Admission: €5.50 / adults, €4.00 / reduced rate, free for those under 18 years old (prices as of April 2014)
Open: May 8-September 10: Daily 9:30am-12:30pm and 2:00pm-6:30 pm; September 11-to May 7: Daily except Tuesdays, 10:00am-12:30pm and 2:00pm-5:00pm
Closed on January 1st, May 1st, November 1st and 11th, December 25th
41150 Chaumont-sur-Loire, France
Admission: €10.50 / adults, €6.50 / reduced rate, €4.00 children ages 6-11; Free for children under 6 years old (prices for Château and Historical Park, as of April 2014)
Open daily except on January 1st and December 25th, see website for hours
37150 Chenonceaux, France
Admission: €11.00 / adults, €8.50 ages 7-18 years old and for students (must show student ID) (prices for visit of Château, as of 2013 according to the website)
Open daily, see website for hours
2 Rue Nationale, 37400 Amboise, France (at Place du Château)
Wine Tasting: La Closerie de Chanteloup
Off of D83 (Route de Saint-Martin le Beau)
Restaurant: La Fourchette
9 Rue Malebranche, 37400 Amboise, France
One of the largest markets in the region
Alongside the Loire river at Place du Marche
Hotel - Manoir Saint-Thomas
1 Mail Saint-Thomas, 37400 Amboise, France
Parking included (behind the hotel)