Ma mere et moi en France - Loire Valley and Reims
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Bidding adieu to Mont St-Michel, Mum and I drove east towards the Loire Valley and it’s famous chateaux. We spent the afternoon and night in Amboise, a sweet little town. The weather was really beautiful so we spent a good chunk of time sitting in the sun which was lovely. And we planned our chateaux route for the next day!
Based on Rick’s suggestions we chose to visit Château de Chenonceau and Château de Chambord. First up was Château de Chenonceau (also known as the Ladies Château as it has frequently been owned by women, and they’ve done most of the renovations/landscaping that make it so magnificent). The whole place isn’t open, but the rooms that are beautiful. There’s a chapel, saved during the Revolution by using it to stack firewood. Lots of impressive tapestries and wallpaper, including one room dressed entirely in black, including black wallpaper flocked with silver tears, which was decorated by a widow after the death of her husband. The kitchens are huge and very old timey - lots of brass pots and scary cleavers. The ballroom, which used to house sculptures now at Versailles, was used as a hospital during WW1, and as a means to escape to Vichy France in WW2 - the ballroom spans the width of the river that marked the border. The gardens were also stunning; it so nice to be there when lots of flowers were out, and there’s a maze! All in all Château de Chenonceau was really excellent to visit, though do be prepared for it to be overrun by tourists and (American) bus groups.
Next up we headed to Château de Chambord. The day started to turn a little bit at this point, adding to the somewhat foreboding atmosphere. The Château is incredibly impressive, with all the chimneys and the sheer size of the place! Inside was cavernous and freezing, and not as richly restored or decorated as Chenonceau. The highlight was climbing the double helix staircase and then wandering around the roof. The park is huge and still home to lots of boar/deer etc, though we didn’t catch a glimpse of any. Again, well worth a visit, especially if the day was better cycling in the surrounding forest would be lovely. The place is massive, so even though there’s lots of bus groups/school kids/tourists, it doesn’t feel that crowded.
That night we spent in Tours as we had an early train the next morning. We were said to say goodbye to our lovely (automatic and GPSed) car! Tours seemed fine, though to be honest we didn’t see much of it, having had a big day and an early wake up call we stayed close to our hotel.
Then it was off to Reims! We had to transfer through Paris on the Metro, but that actually worked out fine. Reims had been a somewhat last minute add to our itinerary so we weren’t exactly sure what to expect. Firstly, we stayed at an absolutely terrible hotel in that the owners are stark raving mad, so don’t stay here! However, it was a pretty good location. That afternoon we managed to track down some lunch and explore the recently done up Reims center. We visited the Cathedral (where the Kings of France were crowned) and hit the shops for a little while which was fun. Then we visited our first champagne house! Yay! We visited Taittinger first and were shown around by a very poshly accented English girl. Taittinger was quite cool to visit as it is built in on the ruins of an old abbey where monks used to make champagne! A tour at the champagne houses involves an overview type promotional video, and then a walk through the underground chalk tunnels where thousands of bottle are stored, learning more about the production process. Of course the tour concludes with a glass of bubbly so all in all it’s a pretty nice way to spend an afternoon!
The next day, after an unintended detour through a graveyard dragging our suitcases (oopsie!) we visited Mumm (Moome). We did an even better tour there, again with a poshly accented English girl (I sort of want their job but clearly will have to improve my speech). The grounds and buildings at Mumm are very impressive, lots of beautiful art. Their caves are bigger than Taittinger’s, with something crazy like 20 miles of tunnels. We were lucky to visit on a weekend when its quiet and there are no golf carts busily driving up and down the “Champs-Elysees” of champagne houses. After this tour we had two glasses of champagne (what better way to start a Sunday?!) and perused their gift shop. We liked the Mumm tasting more than Taittinger, both Mum and I were surprised to like the sweeter champagnes more than the dry. Mum and Dad actually drank Mumm at their wedding so it was pretty cute that we got to visit!
Reims was a nice little stop over. I don’t think you really need more than one night as there isn’t heaps to do apart from the champagne sites. We found it a little tricky to get around as the houses aren’t super central, and taxis were a bit hard to come by. And of course, because the hotel staff were so crazy we had to carry our bags with us from 10:30 check out until our train at 2 - hardly ideal but we managed.
Sadly that’s the end of our French adventure! I’ve two more posts coming up, about our time in Belgium and then our adventures in Mum’s last few days in NL.