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A Weekend of Pretending to be French Royalty #1 – The Loire Valley Castles August 9, 2012

Posted by allisonb1102 in Travel Log.
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Brace yourselves. Braced? Okay. This will be a long post, because I have a lot to say about this particular weekend! On the agenda was a unique combination of places to visit, all of which were the dwellings of the rich or the royal at some point in French history. I was traveling with my friends Silvia, Iva, Jason, Conrad, Maria, Kavya, and Eric. Chateau (Castle) Villandry and Chateau Chenonceau were Saturday’s plans, while Versailles was the plan for Sunday. Chateau Villandry and Chateau Chenonceau are located in the Loire Valley region of France, near a city called Tours. This area runs along a river and is home to many old castles of France. We decided to stay in Tours on Friday and Saturday, and travel to the castles during the day. Somehow, about 85% of the responsibility for this weekend fell into my lap – an exciting but scary opportunity. A lot of planning and stress went into the day, but everything happily worked out.

Our trip actually began with a pretty long connection in Paris, where we visited the Arc and then went to the Latin Quarter. It’s funny to me how Paris has started to become “no big deal” to us, since it is just an hour and a half train ride away. Sometimes I have to pinch myself and realize, “Hello!! You are in PARIS!” Anyway, we got some lunch (crepes, mmmm!) and then boarded our next train. We arrived in Tours late Friday night and took a taxi to our hotel. We woke up on Saturday morning to leave for the first castle, Chateau Villandry (which for sanity’s sake, I will just call Villandry from now on). My first major test was getting us to the first castle. Luckily, I had studied up on the bus system in Tours. It was very similar in operation to the one in Metz; we just had to find the bus stop and get on the right bus. It took us a while to find the right stop, but it ended up working out just fine!

We got off at the train station and onto another bus that we rode for over 45 minutes to the castle. Surprisingly, this nice coach bus was part of the bus system and only cost us somewhere around two Euros each. The bus was not even close to full, and I can’t imagine that they make money on that route. We stopped right outside Villandry and we got off the bus to go inside. A quick side note on this castle: the castle itself is very small, but was said to have beautiful gardens. It was raining outside, so we were feeling a bit pessimistic about our visit. However, as soon as we bought our tickets and walked into the view of the castle, we were all blown away by what we saw.

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The castle itself was indeed small, but it was absolutely adorable. Its white walls and dark grey roof made it look like something out of a fairy tale. We began with a walk through the inside of the castle, looking at all of the cute little rooms. The presentation was excellent. Fresh flowers from the gardens were in every room, and each corner of the chateau really looked like a home that someone had really lived in. The windows all had excellent views of the gardens, which made our excitement to see them grow ten-fold. We also went to the roof of the castle, where an amazing view was offered. If not for the rain, I could have spent a very long time up there!

We soon finished going through the castle and began our walk through the gardens. This was probably the highlight of the day for me. The gardens of Villandry are huge, with many different sections. The grounds seemed to never end. We were upset that it was raining, but we had to embrace it to enjoy ourselves. The next couple of hours were spent running around as if we owned the place, visiting the main gardens, the vegetable garden, the grass tennis court, the herb garden, the maze, and yes, even the playground! We had an absolute field day soaking in the beauty and the freedom that nature offers. The bus came back right as we were finishing up with the castle, so we bid farewell to the lovely Chateau Villandry and rode back into Tours. My expectations for Villandry were lower than they perhaps ought to have been, so it ended up impressing me more than expected. It is nice when things pleasantly surprise you!

Chateau Chenonceau was next on the list. In order to get there, we had to hop on some regional trains that supposedly would take us right next to the castle. I was a little nervous about that working out, but happily the trains went flawlessly. My planning was not in vain! Unlike Villandry, Chenonceau had some high expectations to live up to. We had all seen pictures of this beautiful castle, and we’re very excited. Chenonceau is much larger than Villandry, has much more history, and is much more well-known. The castle has played a role in several wars, included WWI, where it served as an infirmary. Chenonceau also extends over a river, which was a boundary line in WWII. People would use the grand hallway of the castle to sneak across the border out of the Nazi occupied zone and into safety. Very interesting!

When we arrived, our high expectations were gladly met. For the sake of your time, I won’t go into tons of detail about our experience at this second castle, but the next two paragraphs should hopefully suffice. We went to the maze first, as this was the closest to the entrance. It being nearly flooded, we soon headed for the castle. We walked through the castle, admiring the inside as we had done with Villandry. The presentation in Chenonceau was also very well done. All of the rooms had fresh flowers and well executed staging. It was very impressive and beautiful. It took us a while to make it through the large chateau, but when we had finished we went out to the gardens.

The grounds of Chenonceau were not as large as those of Villandry, but were still very nice. We spent a good amount of time walking through them, continual rain and all. They had two main gardens, in addition to something that Villandry did not have: a 16th century farmhouse. The farmhouse was adorable. I loved walking through its herb gardens! Many minutes and many photographs later, it was finally time to leave.

We took a train back to Tours, and when we arrived, the sun was shining as bright as ever. We were a tad frustrated by the irony that it would of course stop raining now as opposed to earlier, but it was a little bit funny. We had a couple of hours to kill in Tours before the bus would take us back to our hotel, so we walked around the city a bit and also got some dinner. Tours made a good impression on me while we were there, and I wish I could have stayed longer. We passed the cathedral on our way to the bus and were shocked at how beautiful the outside was. I wanted to go in so badly, but in order to make our bus we had to keep moving.

The bus took us back to the hotel, where we called it an early night. It had been an excellent day, and I greatly looked forward to heading into Paris the next day and seeing Versailles.

-Allison

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