Epic Loire Valley Sightseeing Weekend

This year, the EC Paris program and other European Council programs decided to add a “bonus” to each program in some form, both to take advantage of this year’s favorable exchange rates and to help attract students. The Paris program’s “bonus” was a weekend trip to the Loire Valley to see some of the famous châteaux. It was an excellent trip and I am writing this post in the autocar on the way back. It will be light on narrative but heavy on pictures, so get comfortable and click through…

We set out Friday morning from Paris in 2 autocars. Ours was piloted by our trusty driver Guy and we were led by our old friend Tour Guide Josh. We arrived at our first destination, Amboise, before lunch and had plenty of time to visit the castle and enjoy a good meal in town. I had not been to Amboise before. It is very impressive and definitely shows the military and strategic roots of chateau architecture.

Amboise castle from below

Tour Guide Josh gives the history of the castle

Exterior views 

For lunch, Daniel and I and Dr. Mann went to a charcuterie and got “ardoises” (slates) of mixed cheese, charcuterie, and cold salads. Everything was delicious! I can’t remember what the cheeses were called but one was a goat cheese that’s grey on the outside–we would see it again, twice, before the weekend was over. We had more than we could eat and yet we still managed to get ice cream afterward. How does that happen?

Getting lunch in Amboise

Our lunch!

The view from our table

From Amboise we continued into Tours, which would be our base for Friday and Saturday night. Because we are a large group (almost 100 people counting students, professors, bus drivers, and tour guides), we were split between 2 hotels. One hotel, St. Eloi, was closer to the center of Tours. Our hotel, La Terrasse, was outside of town but right on the tram line so we could easily go downtown. We had a very quick city tour from Josh including some cathedral ruins that are right in the town center. Standing in front of the two towers, which once made up the northwest and southeast corners of the transept, respectively, you suddenly have a new perspective on the size of a cathedral that comes from examining how many normal-sized houses and shops can fit into the space where the cathedral once was. It’s amazing.

This is the southeast corner tower

Looking northwest to the other tower

This is the basilica that replaced the ruined cathedral but not until the 1800s.
Close-up of the northwest tower which is called the Charlemagne tower
View from where we ate dinner–a medieval half-timbered house.

We had a very traditional French dinner that night at a restaurant called Le Bouchon Tourangeau that is right off the main square, Place Plumereau, in Tours. For my entree I had chevre chaud (there’s that goat cheese again) on a salad, followed by andouillette and frites, and a chocolate mousse for dessert. Let me explain about andouillette: it is delicious, but like a lot of delicious French food (especially cheese), it smells terrible. The most polite word I can find to describe the smell of andouillette is “Swiftian.”  Or maybe “earthy.” And yet it is sooooo tasty. Again: how does that happen?

Saturday morning we had breakfast at the hotel and got a leisurely 10 a.m. start for our winery tour and tasting in Vouvray. We toured the “cave” (in this case a literal cave though sometimes it just means a cellar!) where Vouvray wines are aged for at least a year before they are sold. It was a fascinating enviroment and interesting to learn about. Then we went on to taste 3 different Vouvray wines plus some local snacks (GOAT CHEESE). Tasting wine at 11:30 a.m. was a little unusual but fun! I bought a bottle of my favorite of the wines we tasted, a “petillant,” “demi-sec” Vouvray. In the wine world “petillant” means “half-fizzy” (all the way fizzy is “mousseux”) and “demi-sec” is semi-dry. I am excited to open it next time the professors get together to raise a glass.

Daniel & Dr. Mann with Guy
Students walking into the cave

Madeleine, our tour guide at the winery, in front of a rack of 15,000+ bottles.

Goat . . . (wait for it)

CHEESE!

The wines we tasted–the middle one is the one I bought.

From the winery we went on to Chenonceau, a short hop down the road. I had been to Chenonceau before but was more than happy to go again. It is so beautiful. I could probably have sat all day just looking at it!

Students listening to Josh’s introduction

I was there! (And using my worst posture, apparently.)

After lunch in Chenonceau we returned to Tours and had time to catch a nap before heading back downtown in Tours for dinner and some fun. We ate pizza (don’t worry; it was French: there was a fried egg on it) and walked down toward the riverfront where there is a little strip of bars and restaurants called La Guinguette. On the way, we stopped to ride the Ferris wheel that is in another square right next to the river. The views were breathtaking at sunset.

Down at the river Daniel managed to befriend some guys with guitars (OF COURSE HE DID) and they jammed around playing classic French music for a while as everyone relaxed and enjoyed the riverfront scene. But today was an earlier start–9 a.m. departure–so we did not stay out too late. Today we had a slightly packed agenda with a stop at Chambord for photos, followed by lunch in Chartres and a look at the cathedral, and then “home” to Paris. These were also the longest sections of the drive with a generous 90 minutes separating each stop, so we have been a bit rushed to get everything in. But it was worth the stop to see Chambord again (less worth it to pay 50 cents to use a porta-potty, merci beaucoup, domaine de Chambord):

And I am always thrilled to see Chartres again especially now that the restoration is really coming along. A large part of the nave is covered in scaffolding right now, but there is plenty left to see. And the restoration is extraordinary. The somber gloom that we associate with cathedrals is wonderful enough, but seeing the stone scrubbed white and the faux marble painted is thrilling. I can only wish we’d spent a bit less time eating cheeseburgers with our students and a bit more time in the cathedral. On the other hand, we are here for the students and lunch was good fun.

I love this plaque because it talks about students coming to Chartres on pilgrimages.

Notre Dame du Pilier

Left to right: completed restoration, non-restored, restoration in progress

The main altar: already fully restored

Arches & keystones above the main altar
Look, I was there too!

So now we are rolling back to Paris in our autocars and getting ready for next week. It’s going to be a mad scramble for the washing machines but a good weekend trip is always worth the laundry you have to do afterward.

Update at time of posting: Going straight to the laundry room from the autocar is the secret to success. À bientôt!

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