We’ve been in hotels for a week, lovely but Internet has been either slow or dead slow so impossible to load up a post. We’re now back on line so a few coming your way.
Our arrival in Blois, a town (or small city – I’m not sure how the French define a city) on the banks of the Loire, is uninspiring as we negotiate the narrow streets to find our apartment and a parking place. Like in many cities in England, we can see where we want to go but the way is barred by a no entry sign. It takes us nearly fifteen minutes to work our way to where we want to be. It’s not pretty around here, windows closed and shuttered against the heat, a strange sight when you live in a country where anything that isn’t glued shut is opened at any opportunity.
We wander across an impressive bridge over the Loire to the old town where streets are even narrower, hardly a car width, and many are stepped and inaccessible to any wheeled vehicle. It’s the pretty part of town, ideal for a lazy wander, although mainly so steep it’s not so much lazy as good exercise for the lungs and calves. I wouldn’t recommend it in the heat of the day or after a couple of glasses of the local (and excellent) wine.
The next morning we head out early to the chateau. The streets are cool, the sun yet to reach between tall buildings that will later trap the heat and make them suffocating, any breeze we feel beside the wide river unable penetrate the narrow streets.
For a Republican country France boasts a lot of chateaux. Almost as many as churches. It seems that most were built for a King (who in one case then decided he didn’t want it as it was too draughty), or were gifted by a King to his mistress, only to be snatched back by said King’s widow when he died.
Money doesn’t seem to have been a barrier – at Maintenon, a small chateau by most standards, the ruins of a tall viaduct dominate the view of the garden. The English brochure given to us by a friendly young man as we entered the castle says it was built to transport water from the river Eure to Versailles, some 70km away, because the King wanted its huge fountains and waterfalls to ‘run day and night’. I thought it might be an error in translation but, no, the French version says the same.
The chateau at Blois is stuffed full of paintings and ornaments that are, to say the least, a little ostentatious. A huge outdoor staircase, designed so that people could be seen as well as see, links the floors between public areas, where the King would hold court, and the private apartments. (It wouldn’t work in Wellington!)
I’m not surprised the peasants revolted – the aristocracy really should have seen that coming. I’m impressed with the modern day management of visitors, a provided tablet giving information about each room and its contents also guiding you through the chateau and around displays cleverly arranged to avoid congestion. After dark a stunning light show brings the history of the chateau to life.
A little farther south, Chenonceau is a striking sight, built over the river Cher on huge stone piers, formal gardens gracing its entrance. It’s a beautiful setting and more restrained inside than Blois, possibly because it was designed and lived in by ladies, first the King’s mistress, then his mother.
In the twentieth century its owner paid for it to be used as a hospital in World War I; in the second war the Cher was the demarcation line, the main entrance in occupied territory, the door (in the long gallery) to the other side of the river in the free zone. By hiding the door behind hangings, the Nazis having no idea it was there, it was possible for the resistance to spirit people to safety.
Three days, three chateaux. I’m not quite ready to revolt but I’m looking forward to some outdoor activity.