Travel Pleasures – Loire Valley

Loire Valley

The Pontlevoy Abbey

Believe it or not, the weather in Florida today has sent us to the closet for sweaters and jackets; but there’s nothing like warm memories to take the chill from a winter day.

A few years back, we were tucked away in a vacation rental near Amboise, when we decided to visit Pontlevoy.  itDuring a visit from Parisian friends, we had trekked up the hill in Amboise to visit Clos de Lucé. We visited the fabulous Chambord Château,  wandered the streets of Blois, relished the Amboise open-air market and picnicked by the Loire.

One day we piled into the Peugeot and headed for Pontlevoy.  A family member recommended we visit The Abbey, where Americans had founded a Study Abroad Program.

As it turns out, that prior relationship earned us a neighborly welcome with a friendly tour of the grounds and building, use of the school’s Wi-Fi (not easy to come by in those traveling days) and a generous invitation to feel at home and to return again.

The roots of the Abbey and the town of Pontlevoy spread through the centuries from its founding in 1034, through its destruction during the Hundred Years’ War, rebuilding and transformation to a seminary for the sons of wealthy bourgeoisie and later to a royal military academy.

Pontlevoy Abbey

Louis’ cedar tree

The huge cedar of Lebanon in the courtyard was planted in honor of Louis XVI’s accession to the throne in the late 18th century. While the history is fascinating, on this day and on another that followed; our idle visits felt like trips to the oasis for a respite from the glaring sun.

After our tour, we sat beneath Louis’ tree, simply taking in the peace of our surroundings. Our friend’s dog, Sam, was quite content, as we heard the sweet sounds of a student violinist drift through the courtyard.

Just across Rue Colonel Filloux, we sat beneath plane trees to enjoy lunch at Café Commerce, the name as straightforward as the menu, the service as hospitable as friend’s.  Next to us, a local gazed over the Abbey and enjoyed his Kronenbourg.

Loire Valley France

A Kronenburg in the shade

We still wrap all of those experiences around us like a favorite old coat in the heart of winter. The Abbey, the tree, the friendship and convivial meal and the sight of a gentleman enjoying his cold beer on a warm day were as grand as a royal procession at Versailles.
Joie

We’d love to hear from you!

Copyright © 2005-2017, LuxeEuro, LLC. Photo and text, all rights reserved

Château “Imperfection” – Loire Valley

Overlooking the Loire River in Blois

1997. My first trip to France and the pleasure of staying with my best friend in her Paris apartment.  Don’t even try to imagine my excitement – it’s beyond words! After exploring every nook, cranny and cobbled lane in Paris through the week, we would take off for a weekend adventure away from the city… Chartres, Provence, the Loire Valley and even Windsor, England.  The world was ours to discover and savor.

In remembering our weekend outside of Blois in the Loire Valley, I decided to experiment, to look back on my memories and personal observations and to compare those with the many reviews we find on line today. Yes, I will share my own recollections, but the ‘truth’ I discovered in this little research project may be more important than charming anecdotes.

Some described a perfectly suitable maison d’hôtes (actually a family château) in the quiet country, quaint and comfortable but certainly lacking the pristine, crisp décor some demand.  Others were put off by the obvious need for some refurbishment.  Where we saw interesting family treasures, some reviewers saw ‘old stuff’ and dust. Where we saw a host that was friendly enough but might benefit from a Carnegie course or two, others saw a self-centered guy who needs to talk less about himself and his château memories and more about …. what, exactly?

Quite simply, the Château de Nanteuil is an old family home with a lovely back garden overlooking a petite river – a pretty special sight, especially from the large French doors in our room.  A tranquil location yet right in the middle of innumerable castles of the Loire Valley.

The château is neither a five-star hotel nor a member of the esteemed Relais & Chateaux organization.  In this case, the downside IS the upside – an authentic home of hospitality with perfectly nice meal offerings and comfortable rooms.  For those of us willing to forego free shampoo, a room television and phone; it is an idyllic escape.  For those seeking a more elegant, ‘brand’ experience, one might suggest a very careful perusal of internet reviews.

So my memories?  Allow me.  After arriving by train in Blois, we explored a bit before picking up our rental car.  Through the medieval streets we wandered past gorgeous entry doors and handsome windows covered with quaint lace curtains.  Once on the road, we wound our way through roundabouts and over bridges and to the countryside of our 18th-century Château De Nanteuil overlooking the River Cosson.

Our host, Frédéric Théry, welcomed us and chatted, as we enjoyed a café au lait and delicious île flottante dessert (floating island).  Frédéric’s English grandfather – a Trinity College Cambridge gent – originally purchased the château in the early 1900’s.  Frédéric has never been to America; and we had the feeling, he neither feels deprived nor in need of a visit.

We followed his recommendation to visit Bracieux (quite near the Château de Cheverny) and arrived in the lovely old commune, after driving among forested lanes and stone-walled cottages.  We found an enticing antiquaire, where the charming shopkeeper guided our purchase of faïence and a brass pigeon lampe.

After that satisfying journey, we returned to our enormous room with no defined décor but many touches of charm.  Our room overlooked the garden and river, with an enormous bath, eight-foot doors and a fireplace, but no television or phone (no problem!), stationery package or tiny bottled shampoo – definitely not a Comfort Inn.

Château De Nanteuil

A fire in the dining room hearth greeted us, and our corner table faced the room for the dinner seating.  Within minutes, we enjoyed a glass of red wine and, soon, a feast of lapin (rabbit), soup and an enormous crème brûlée.  A large family and a couple of other smaller parties arrived, and we tried to figure out the mothers, fathers, couples – who are they at this large table presided over with discretion and charm by a happy, bi-focaled gran père?

And so my friends, I don’t want to indulge in reverse snobbery here.  I understand that people are different as are their needs and expectations.  Those with precise requirements should carefully review on-line comments, but hopefully they will be able to embrace a less-than-perfect experience with a spirit open to the unexpected.

 

 

 

We’d love to hear from you!

Copyright © 2005-2016, LuxeEuro, LLC. Photo and text, all rights reserved

Please take a moment to browse through … and order … my book:

Autographed copies with notecard gift

Loire Valley Gifts and Gardens

Amboise France

The Loire – lazy in August

A few years back, we traveled throughout France during an entire summer. Heaven! After a lengthy stay in Paris; we took the TGV, collected our ‘home’ for the next two months and headed off in our trusty Peugeot. Adventure was ours for the finding … and taking.

Now and then, our rhythm slipped a bit. We either didn’t stay long enough in one place, or we overstayed (or so we thought) in other areas. Due to a mix-up in vacation rentals, we ended up staying an entire two weeks in the Loire Valley. What are we missing, we wondered? And we came to discover, we missed nothing. Rather, we enjoyed the gift of settling in with plenty of time to wander and wonder at all of the beauty and charm of this “garden of France”.

Loire Valley France

Amboise market

The enormous Amboise market became a must for us. Tucked along the Loire River, the market teems with people and goods every Friday and Sunday. Huge pans of paella scent the air. Vivid flowers line colorful Provençal trays covered with acrylic to encase and preserve their beauty. Vendors offer gorgeous chunks of cheese of every taste and texture, while just next to them a large rotisserie roasts chickens to perfection and braises the potatoes that capture their succulent juices at the bottom.

Flowers. Fresh white asparagus. Berries galore. Artisan breads.  And the quiet hum of Amboise and neighboring residents. We gathered indelible memories along with all of those offerings.

French markets

Amboise flowers

One day we wandered over to Vouvray, where we bought namesake wine and savored lunch overlooking the river. And one enchanted evening Bléré became our destination; where chapels date to the 13th century, and outdoor cafes line the church square. Ironically, we ran into a young man we had met a few days before in another small village – Pontlevoy – underscoring that perpetual truism – it’s a small world after all.

Beyond excursions to villages and chateaux, we seemed to discover new spaces and places each day. Down a lane behind our little house; gardens lined the road, and donkeys milled about a field. Overhead, age-old trees bent beneath the river breeze offering a whispered sound that wrought images of naps in hammocks strung between the chestnut trunks.

Amboise Loire RiverOne exceptional August night, we took to the riverbank for a picnic supper of market-fresh delights . The water in this low season was quiet, slipping by and turning golden in the setting sun. Perhaps that evening cemented our knowledge that so called wrong turns happen for a reason, when you set aside expectations and embrace the moment. One could fare much worse than enjoying a two-week stay in the middle of some of the most beautiful landscapes and chateaux of France.

Amboise France

Loire pique-nique!

 

We’d love to hear from you

Copyright © 2005-2015, LuxeEuro, LLC. Photo and text, all rights reserved.

Autographed copies with notecard gift
Amazon direct order

Overcome French Language Issues!

Lyon and Le mont dor france

Friendly pharmacists in France!

My French vocabulary is decent.  My verb conjugation, however, leaves something to be desired and makes me wonder if I sound:  a) like a charming American making her best effort or b) like an illiterate bumpkin whose courageous effort falls way short of the goal.   For those of you whose language skills may deter you from venturing into the French countryside, I say, “So what?  Go!”

Naturally, I have a couple of interesting stories to accompany those statements.  In early August, after roaming around the West and South regions of France, we parked ourselves in Lyon for a couple of nights.  Over the previous few days, my husband had developed a ring-looking rash on his inner thigh.  I thought it looked like old-fashioned ringworm – we had, after all, been in the fields, farms and general countryside.  And it seemed to be spreading.

Hmmm.  We need advice.  Hmmm.  This situation calls for more than everyday French.  We walked to a nearby pharmacy, where I tried to explain this “cercle, rouge….oui, ici”, and I pointed to the site of the problem.   Too difficult, this conversation.  We called our friend in Paris and had him explain the problem to the pharmacist.  “Ah.  Oui.”  The pharmacist recommended a cream, and we were on our way.

A few days later, we arrived in Le Mont Dore.  No, that town was not chosen by design but definitely by a wandering sort of journey.  The cream had not solved the problem.  We sought another pharmacist (in this much smaller town, by the way), who recommended we see the local doctor.  Bien.

Loire Valley France

Negotiating the laundry in Amboise

This rather straightforward female doctor heard.  She examined.  She conquered.  Apparently there is a kind of insect – usually descending on the countryside in August – that causes this kind of rash.  Voila!  Prescription in hand; we go back to the pharmacy, get the medicine and apply as directed.  All’s well that ends well!

Another unique situation occurred during our stay in Amboise in the Loire Valley.  We found a ‘laverie’ – a laundry center to wash our clothes and were quite proud at negotiating our way through the machine directions and coins required.

There we sat amongst a congenial group – part French-speaking, part English.  The London
bombings had just occurred, so the latter group was abuzz with that occurrence.  When we checked the washer to transfer our laundry to the dryer, the door would not open.  We tried and tried.  The washer door would not open.

Hmmm.  This is a problem.  Our clothes are held hostage.  What do we do?  After a few minutes, we finally spotted a phone number on a posted sign.  Here we go again, I thought.  Again, this is not an occasion for every day, stumbling French.

A man answered the phone.  “Bonjour,” I began.  (Good start, don’t you think?)

“Je suis Americaine et  c’est une problem avec la maquine de la laverie. »  Phew.  I think that was good enough.

“ I speak English, “ he said.  WOW (or was it whew!), I thought.

He and his wife quickly came to the laundromat, and she explained to me that sometimes ‘the wire from the bra gets into the machine’.  In the meantime, my husband was watching her husband fix the machines and saw the teetering plyers drop.  Uh oh.  Suddenly the electricity to the whole place was kaput.  Even the entry/exit door would not open, because – mais oui – it was electronically controlled.  Now WE were hostages!

Well folks, everything ended well.  Electricity on.  Clothes dry.  An adventure shared in Amboise by a bunch of strangers and a pleasant business owner.  So all of this is to say, don’t worry.  You can make it through anything, anywhere in France.  The people are jewels…and you will figure out how to communicate.

We’d love to hear from you

Copyright © 2005-2015, LuxeEuro, LLC. Photo and text, all rights reserved.

Autographed copies with notecard gift
Amazon direct order

 

Magnificent Château de Chenonceau

Chenonceau in the Loire Valley

So many images come to mind, when I recall our visits to the astonishingly beautiful Château de Chenonceau.  Sheep graze in a quiet field along the  lengthy approach to the castle, a lane under a canopy of ancient trees.  A tiny railroad depot delivers daily visitors, while nearby a crepe maker carefully spreads batter over his hot griddles.  Finally we step into the open with the castle glistening in the sun beside the Cher River.

Exploring the popular castle itself can be a bit busy in the summer, but don’t hesitate.  The treasures are many – the elegant private chapel, the ornate bedrooms of the royalty, the huge old copper collection in the vast kitchens, the impressive art and tapestry collections and then to spill out onto the broad black-and-white tiled gallery that spans the river.  The gallery served as a hospital during the first Great War; during the Second, it literally was an escape path between the Nazi- occupied and Free Vichy zones.

Loire Valley France

Chapel of Chenonceau

Wherever you choose to pause a moment, either in the castle or in one of the sprawling gardens; beauty surrounds you.  Even the kitchen absolutely glowed with the sheen of old copper.

We wandered through the pastoral gardens and along the river to the gazebo.   We lunched on the patio by the orangerie, while barely absorbing the unimaginable centuries of history this masterpiece represents.

 

We’d love to hear from you.  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com
Copyright © 2005-2015, LuxeEuro, LLC.   All rights reserved.

The Charm of Sancerre

Hilltop view of Sancerre

Friends invited us on a day trip … and wine tasting, bien sur, to delightful Sancerre.  Approaching the charming village, the hilltop overlooks wheat fields, wildflowers and row after fertile row of the abundant vineyards that fuel the economy and spirit of the ville.  Every scene in this lush, Loire valley town is a singular vignette – the café that ‘steps’ down the hill, the cornflower blue-gated home and petite, umbrella-clad restaurants that line the square, where cyclists stop to bid hello to neighbors – the charm is unending.

Wine drives the life of the Sancerre region, and we opt to visit a three-generation cav (wine cave), where the hospitable vintner introduced his fine wines and a few vintner tales to augment the experience.  Simply merveilleux!

Copyright © 2005-2015, LuxeEuro, LLC.   All rights reserved.

French Markets – Food, Culture, Artisans

Saint-Raphael Market, France

Scented artisan soaps at the Saint-Raphael marché

The marchés of France deliver far more than fresh farm vegetables and wedges of cheese.  From   neighborhood markets of the cities to weekly village markets across the land; the traditional open-air marché offers a mix of culture, artisan ingenuity, local specialties and the abundant yield of the land.

These markets did not evolve as a quaint lure for tourists.  They have been a tradition since the Middle Ages, offering a delightful bounty of farm-to-table produce, artisan sausages and breads, aged cheeses, flowers and scented soaps.

Half the fun of marché shopping involves mixing with locals to discover many of the delicacies they cherish.  Each market differs with one serving up savory pork and chicken a la rotisserie, while another includes local crafts, bric-à-brac and regional wines.

Naturally, cities have larger markets held more frequently than those in smaller towns and villages.  You need only look on city and village websites to discover where and when markets are held.

For example, Saint Raphael on the Mediterranean has a food-plus market on Place de la République and Place Victor Hugo, in the old town, every morning except Monday.  We found some exquisitely-scented soaps, vibrant Provençal baskets and even Italian knits in the market along the Mediterranean.

The Amboise market bordering the Loire River teems with handcrafted trays, flowers galore and wonderful, savory cheeses.  Did I forget the bread?  Plenty of that too, as well as local wine.  The aromas alone will have you stopping under a riverside tree to enjoy some of your purchases.

Provencal market in Salernes

Provencal market in Salernes

Aix-en-Provence offers exceptional choices for market shopping.  The main markets take place every day except Wednesday and Sunday.  It’s a lavish event by the Palais de Justice with fresh produce, food and flea-market items. Flower markets can be found on the Place de Verdun and Place des Prêcheurs, by the Sainte-Madeleine church, where wildly colorful flowers and sweet scents envelop you!  Just check the local tourism website to confirm dates, places and times.

Do you wonder about Paris marchés?  They are plentiful, delightful and deserve their own special praise.  To add a distinct cultural note to your French trip, plan ahead to add French market memories to your itinerary

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2015, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Sous les Étoiles de Loire Valley

All set for a welcoming lunch

We watched the moon rise above the trees here in Orlando tonight.  It’s a bit cooler, thank goodness, as the 80-degree weather doesn’t lend itself to the feeling of winter.  I hasten to add that we do feel badly for those suffering through winter storms in the North.

With the cooler, dry air, the sky grows clearer and there we see a star…and another…and maybe five or six more.  The sight is beautiful but makes us recall a magical evening in the Loire Valley.

We were invited with our Parisian friends for a weekend visit at the country home of a friend in the Loire Valley.  We found that time plays tricks in France with the regularity of an accomplished mischief-maker. Perhaps, it’s the mere footsteps from 5th to 18th century architecture and artifacts.  More likely, it was our host’s quiet hospitality and thoughtful planning that seemed to expand our weekend by several days.

He celebrated our arrival with a late afternoon lunch of roasted chicken, potatoes, warmed goat cheese salad and wine,  spread before us on a long table set before the window.  Then, we were off to take an enchanting tour of the quaint pottery village, La Borne, walk along narrow, natural lanes, from one small studio to another, to enjoy the artists and admire their work.  The Bourges light show and a lovely trip to Sancerre were other highlights, and the entire weekend continued to spill across us like a soft, worn quilt.  We began and ended our days with outdoor meals – breakfast with huge bowls of steaming coffee, pitchers of juice and local jams for the fresh baguettes.

Breakfast under the sun, dinner under the stars

But it was the last remarkable evening that forever imprinted our memories.  We gathered around a rough-hewn table in the evening air, lounging comfortably, while meat cooked over an open fire.  The  pitch black sky was bejeweled with the sparkle of millions of stars, a Van Gogh kind of evening unfamiliar to those of us who live under the constant haze of city lights.  Beneath this starry tiara, we enjoyed lightly-breaded chevre, warmed in an iron skillet and accompanied by smooth red wine of Sancerre.  Fresh breads and salad accompanied our perfectly-grilled beef.

Through the evening, we did what the French do so very well.  We sipped our wine and shared our stories.  We laughed and dined and listened to the eerie sounds of a slightly strange neighbor; who delivered strands from the Phantom of the Opera in his tenor voice, a sound that rose boldly in the night.  We spoke of old movies and new projects, of new friends and old habits.  The din of the world simply disappeared.

We wish you many star-filled evenings in 2015.

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2015, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

 

 

French Wine Gifts Part III

White wines Vouvray and Sancerre

Champalou Vouvray Brut NV

Today we offer a special recommendation for an exceptional French champagne. Honestly, when you are searching for that ‘perfect gift’, isn’t it nice to have a personal recommendation?

This extraordinary French gift is a bisou from Vouvray – the bubbly kiss from the Gods we especially enjoy during celebratory holidays. I’ve already confessed to lacking the nose and palate required for exacting examinations of wines and Champagnes, but that’s no problem. I rely on the experts – like renowned importer Kermit Lynch. And to back that esteemed recommendation, how about Le Wall Street Journal?

Earlier this year, WSJ profiled our recommended Champagne – Champalou Vouvray Brut NV, noting “…a very gentle character quite typical of the domaine. A nice palate, quite full in the mouth, with lots of foaming mousse. A good clean style, with a powerful acid backbone. There is plenty of appealing character here.” Now, that’s from experts in the realm of wine descriptions!

I enjoy exploring the who, where and what of wine production; and in this case, the origin is the Loire River Valley wine region. In that lovely, rolling landscape, two famous white wines dominate – Chenin Blanc and Sancerre. We have been fortunate enough to enjoy tastings in Vouvray and Sancerre, experiences we would recommend to all travelers and wine aficionados.

Our perfect Champagne – Champalou Vouvray Brut NV – comes from a small, specialty producer (Catherine and Didier Champalou) of the highest quality, one with a history of delivering reasonably-priced whites that are bright, clean, vibrant and almost pear-inflected.

The Land

The Champalou label is one of the most highly-acclaimed in the Vouvray appellation, where the Chenin Blanc draws from the exceptional soil and ideal climate to yield – well, something quite different from the California Chenin! In the region of the Touraine, Vouvray enjoys warm summers and slowly cooling temperatures in autumn, allowing an extended ripening season. The vineyards’ gravel and chalk soil absorbs the sun’s rays and perfects the ripeness of the grapes.

Chenin grapes in the Loire Valley, France

Grappe de Chenin a Vouvray

The Champalou family farms twenty-one hectares (about 50 acres) of vineyards, where the acclaimed vignerons even integrate the lunar calendar with their eco-balanced farming. Between the vineyard rows, cover crops are planted to absorb excess water and encourage microbitoic activity in the soil. Wine experts applaud their elegant, balanced results, “No one comes close to copying their distinct style.”

The Methods

Early in the morning, the Champalou ‘team’ picks the grapes at the peak of maturity and immediately presses the fruit. Fermenting in stainless steel cuvees follows, and the wine is aged on fine lees (yeast and other solid deposits) to enhance flavor. The effervescence develops during a second natural fermentation that takes place once the wine is in bottle – then various periods of aging, according to the wine to be produced. (Come now – you know we won’t get the exact recipe!)

The Chenin

I love the fact that Champalou specializes in one grape – Chenin – that is native to the Loire Valley region. Interestingly, the grape is mentioned by Rabelais in his Gargantua (1534), so no need to question its’ pedigree! Depending on its terroir and the vinification, the Chenin ranges from bone-dry and sparkling, through dry and still, to semi-sweet dessert wines. Their annual 120,000-bottle production is enjoyed in over twenty countries around the world.

The Rhythm of the Season

Each season in the vineyards heralds new tasks: pruning in winter; de-budding and removal of unwanted shoots in spring; and trimming and thinning of the leaves in summer. No, we haven’t forgotten the big moment in September! That’s when they taste the berries for maturity and continue that tasting, until they decide the grapes are perfect for harvest.

We hope you decide to ‘gift’ Champalou, but don’t forget to keep a bottle or two for your own holiday pleasure.

We’d love to hear from you!
swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com
Copyright © 2005-2015, LuxeEuro, LLC. All rights reserved.

Royal Guests at Château de Chambord

Breakfast with a rather pleasant view!

South of Blois in the Loire Valley, the 18th-century Château de Chambord rises at the heart of over 5,000 hectares (12,000+ acres) of ancient forest.  Chambord was the personal chateau and hunting sanctuary of King Francois I, and today is the largest enclosed forest park in Europe.

Our first encounter with Chambord destined our return.  We attended the light show —  “les clairs de lune de Chambord” — a fantasy light show production created to recall the hunting of deer and boar, fox and pheasant by guests of King Francois.  We arrived shortly before sunset to stroll through the grounds surrounding the Château.  Couples shared ice cream or light snacks under an outdoor arbor.  Others dined on the patio of a hotel restaurant.
Wait – hotel?  There is actually a quaint hotel – The Hotel Grand du Saint-Michel– overlooking this magnificent chateau?  With little hope that it would be affordable or available for the one night we would have between gite rentals, we had to check.  When we were able to book a room at a reasonable $75 rate, we felt as if the king himself had invited us to his retreat!

A little ‘voyage’ before the show

Prior to the show, we watched families gather on the lawn with children, couples take to rowboats to enjoy an end-of-day outing.  France bestows these blessings on a public entranced by history and tradition.  Chambord’s information pamphlet reinforces this gift:
“It is to the passion of Francois I for hunting, that we owe the existence of Chambord, designed both as a meeting place and a belvedere for observing the hunt.”

Alas, when we returned a few days later,  Francois was not on hand to greet us.  Still, we wandered the grounds and imagined the privileged guests and game hunting of 300 years past.  Visitors biked and hiked through the many lanes that lace through the forest.  Others gathered for the equestrian and falcon shows.

Our view over the petite Chambord village

This night, we would see the light show from our dining table on the terrace.  Indeed, with our exceptional bottle of local Vouvray and delicious French fare, we felt like guests of the king!  When the park closed, only the hotel guests and Château staff shared this enormous sanctuary.  Chambord remains a national hunting reserve and home to an abundance of wild creatures that roam free.  No, we didn’t encounter a graceful stag or menacing boar, but the crisp night sky offered us millions of stars to illuminate our stay.

Save up to 65% at Luxury Link!

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.   Photo and text, all rights reserved.

 

 

“Scrapbook” of Montlouis-sur-Loire

Loire Valley France - Montlouis-sur-Loire

A pictorial ‘scrapbook’ of Montlouis-sur-Loire

Sometimes unique little features of places are the things you remember – totally unplanned moments that surface without a hint.  Once we stopped by a town near Toulouse, only to find it seemingly abandoned – not a sign of life nor a soul to be seen on the streets.  Then, we rounded a corner to a lively “pressed dirt” square (as so many paths in France seem to be).  Beneath the plane trees around the square, the whole town was involved in a lively pétanque tournament – either as a participant or as a wholeheartedly enthusiastic (and biased) spectator.

On another occasion, we headed along the Loire River from Amboise en route to Vouvray.  Just before reaching our destination, a little riverside commune captured our attention.  The entry was so pretty, lined with plane trees and old stone walls.  Here and there, ‘troglodyte’-like caves either were converted homes or were tasting caves for the many excellent wines produced in the region.

The town was Montlouis-sur-Loire, and we felt the urge to park and look around.  We happened upon an unusual, small communal area.  A board contained all sorts of photographs of events, homes, people and festivals, seemingly from many eras.  One photo featured a visit from President Charles De Gaulle, certainly a monumental occasion for a relatively small town.  Who knows?  Perhaps he was paying a visit to his first Prime Minister of the Fifth Republic, Michel Debre, who had a home in Montlouis-sur-Loire.

Montlouis-sur-Loire Charles De Gaulle France

French President Charles De Gaulle

Our short visit to this central village ‘scrapbook’ seemed to encircle us with the lives and history of the residents.
We’d love to hear from you!

Copyright © 2005-2016, LuxeEuro, LLC. Photo and text, all rights reserved

Please take a moment to browse through … and order … my book:

Autographed copies with notecard gift

 

Celebrating Saint Valentine’s Day!

Valentines French gifts

A colorful gift from Anne Touraine-Paris

Oui – Saint-Valentine is just around the corner; and if you are really savvy, you could hop on a plane and celebrate in Saint Valentin , where the inhabitants take full advantage of their good fortune each year with an annual festival.

Naturally red roses are first and foremost in the celebrations; the Jardin des Amoureux invites visitors and even those who might wish to be married in the garden gazebo. Just as we take the trouble to send Christmas cards postmarked from Christmas, Florida; visitors to Saint-Valentin visit the post office for the same reason.

Assuming for a moment, though, that you might not take advantage of this visit, might we suggest some last minute gifts with the flavor of France?

Naturally, a premium choice is an Anne Touraine – Paris scarf or gift certificate – the gift that would win any woman’s heart!

Or perhaps, a Provencal tablecloth or French sign from My French Neighbor.

My French Neighbor

Provence tablecloth

Or go to your local French bakery for a delicious assortment of desserts. Our local favorite is Gourmet Croissant. 

Two of our favorites are simple, elegant choices – Chanel perfume from your favorite department store and lavender soap from L’Occitane.

Whatever your choices, may you enjoy a day devoted to appreciating the love(s) of your life!

We’d love to hear from you! swsheridan@luxeeuro.com

Copyright © 2014, LuxeEuro, LLC. All rights reserved.

The Lure of Loire Valley Memories

France wheat fields

Golden fields in the Loire Valley

I suppose everyone has a different approach to travel, some probing the history and points of interest of a given area and others taking a more laissez-faire, let-it-unfold approach.  Whichever method appeals to you, what is quite interesting is to go back and research about an area you have experienced first hand.

I recently came across a nicely written and very thorough article that profiled the city of Bourges in the Loire Valley.  While reading of historic churches and age-old customs, my mind whisked backward to a remarkably hospitable weekend in the area.

A friend and former Parisian invited our friends and us to visit with him in a tiny hamlet about 30 minutes from Bourges.  We managed to pack a ton of discoveries into that one weekend.

Loire Valley

Cows seeking shelter from the July sun

In deference to the article I mentioned, yes we walked the streets of Bourges.  In fact we did so at night during the Lumiere extravaganza, when mystical lights cast their glow upon church courtyards and centuries-old, timbered houses.  On the steps of the renowned St. Stephan’s Cathedral, I picked up a couple of tiny red and pink tissue hearts, the sweet mementos of a wedding held earlier in the day.  We have the deepest respect for the city and its’ storied past.

But now I move on past the sophisticated travel to our deepest memories –

…. Of golden wheat fields stretching, stretching for miles up soft hills capped here and there with a couple of trees, standing as sentries, it seemed, overlooking this ‘bread basket’ of France.

…. Of steaming bowls of coffee enjoyed in the morning in the front yard, as we heard the plans for the day

…. Of an enormous, rhinestone blanket of stars setting the blackest of black nights ablaze with light

…. Of a whimsical house with all sorts of glass art – now, I see, named La Cathédrale de Jean Linard

…. Of narrow country lanes winding through the country, and shuttered homes built inches from the road – they always, always cloak their windows in delicate French lace

…. Of our little trek to La Borne, where 88 village artists give birth to imaginative ceramic  works of art

artists of the Loire

La Cathedrale in the Loire countryside

And so we traveled in the footsteps of the Gaulouis and years from now will still enjoy this warm quilt of Loire countryside memories.

 

We’d love to hear from you!

swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2013, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

 

 

 

Tributes to Heroes

Sancerre France

Memorial to WWI and WWII soldiers from Sancerre

Nearly two years ago, I wrote about war heroes and the constant reminders of war throughout France.  The message bears repeating on Memorial Day in the United States, and as D-Day approaches.  To honor all veterans who have fought for freedom and democracy –

The French have suffered so many invasions, so many losses over their long history.  The two Great Wars cost them generations of young men and women, who bravely fought to regain their Republic, to return their streets and farms and homes into French hands.  

Everywhere you travel in France, you see how deeply the French value their freedom and remember the price paid for their liberation.  And that price was paid with the blood of young men of many nationalities from the United States and Canada to France, Poland and Australia. 

In a small hamlet, just beside the road toward Riom, we see a monument to two young men who were casualties of World War II.  In Sancerre, a poignant memorial includes long lists of soldiers lost in the World War I.  In fact, look closely and you will be reminded of the movie, “Saving Private Ryan.”  On the list are four young men from the Lesimple and Boulay families, three from the Bernau household.   We notice they have added tributes to  those lost in the 2nd Great War, but the number of names is understandably fewer.  How many of your young neighbors can you lose to war?

Paris France memorial

“France Remembers You” Pere LaChaise, Paris

 

The tributes are not limited to towns and villages.  On Ile Saint-Louis in Paris, a plaque commemorates an entire building of people lost in the night to German soldiers.  Along a quiet rue, fresh flowers and even a note are tucked behind a plaque offering tribute to the young man who lived in this home. 

One of the most touching of all memorials is in the Pere Lachaise cemetery.  Carved of marble, a child’s hand reaches up, as if to write…and beneath the writing implement are the words,

“France souviens toi.” 

France remembers you.

Copyright © 2005-2013, LuxeEuro, LLC.   Photo and text, all rights reserved.

Night of Museums throughout France

 

Hersent Louis, Paris

National Museum Magnin – Dijon

Shakespeare’s “The world is my oyster” has evolved through time to mean that I can enjoy all the world offers.  That’s precisely what you and I and anyone else in France (and indeed in all of Europe) can enjoy on Saturday the 18th of May. 

On that evening the 9th edition of the European Night of Museums offers free admission to millions of ‘night-owls’ to enjoy 3,000 museums across the continent … from Moscow to Marseilles to Madrid.  Beyond the museum admissions, more than 5,000 ancillary events have been organized to join in the artistic celebration.

At the Grand Palais in Paris, for example, the Dynamo exhibition will be open until midnight with a festive evening planning in the Loggia – the Dynamo Live Party. 

First initiated by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication in 2005, the “Night of Museums” takes place every year in May with official hours running from sunset to 1:00 a.m. to take full advantage of the magic of the evening.  The public is invited to discover the wealth of museums in France, as well as those of thirty European countries.

In the Champagne-Ardenne region, twenty local museums throw open their doors with original showcases, collections and entertainment.  The night full of surprises will include film screenings, buffets, demonstration of skills and more.  I would particularly enjoy visiting the National Museum Magnin in Dijon, where the magnificent oil canvas of Parisian Hersent Louis (1848-1884) – The Song of the Nightingale is on display. 

Limoges France

Museum of the Resistance – Limoges

 

The city of Bourges focuses on fairground arts with juggling and acrobatics invading the museums.  At Chartres, the spotlight is on strange musical experiences that mirror the museum collections. 

Of particular interest is the Resistance Museum in Limoges.  The Italian aircraft Reggiane RE 2002 Ariete returns us to the past.  Recovered by the Germans in 1943, the aircraft was assigned missions in Haute-Vienne.

Spectacular art, lively events, music, circus and history – the European Night of Museums promises an exciting cascade of events to a very fortunate public.

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2013, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

#3 Reason to Travel – History

Paris monuments France

Gold-domed Invalides, Paris

We can begin in Paris – bien sur – where ‘history’ speaks to us at every bend.  Plaques adorn so many otherwise unremarkable buildings, plaques that pay homage to those lost to war; plaques that regularly receive small bouquets from elders who remember.  Invalides holds the remains of Napoleon.  Roman baths and arenas mix with the grand Arch de Triomphe, and the homes of Balzac and Rodin are simply there. 

Over at the extraordinary Père Lachaise Cemetery, eternal residents range from Chopin to Jim Morrison, from Oscar Wilde to “Aux Morts de La Commune – 21-28 Mai 1871”.  We came upon this small triangular corner, where an infamous chapter of French history is remembered.  Working-class Parisians, who were not in accord with the French capitulation to Prussia in 1870, formed the revolutionary and socialist Paris Commune in opposition even to the French government.  They held out for two months and suffered their final defeat in an Alamo-like last stand on May 28 in a battle at Père Lachaise Cemetery. 

Paris France Paris Commune

Pere Lachaise monument

Well, that is just Paris – so easy to get carried away, when you are surrounded by history!  Travel anywhere in France, and you find yourself in disbelief that you are standing in the American Cemetery dedicated to all of those young soldiers who died in World War II or visiting the hallowed grounds of Chambord in the Loire Valley.  From the stock exchange in Lille to the Roman Arena in Nimes, from the Canal du Midi footpaths trod by Thomas Jefferson to the grand hotels of the Cote d’Azur.  From simple village squares with ancient fountains to Cezanne’s studio, the wonderful tapestries of history demonstrate what a small part of our life on earth is included in the Big Book of all time. 

And perhaps that’s the whole point behind this reason for travel – that history gives us a profound sense of perspective.

Nimes France

Roman Arena, Nimes

We’d love to hear from you!

swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2013, LuxeEuro, LLC. All rights reserved.

#1 Reason To Travel – Discovery

Bordeaux region, France

Cabane cabane de pêche au carrelet – Gironde

In the Bordeaux region, we first discovered the “cabane de pêche au carrelet” – fishing cabins on stilts raised above the Gironde River.  For us that was an unusual sight, because the only remotely similar buildings were fish camps firmly situated on the shores of rivers in the States.  With a little homework, the “discovery” was complete.  We learned that peasant fishermen in days of yore used these types of cabins for fishing. 

Today, they are popular for local and visiting fishermen, who suspend large, square nets from a winch into the water and scoop the catch with nets on a long pole.  The Gironde offers a feast of sturgeon, white shrimp, shad and lamprey.

Troglodyte caves were next.  We stayed for two weeks in the Loire Valley, where these cave-like homes are abundant.  In fact, walking up Victor Hugo toward the last home of Leonardo da Vinci in Amboise, we passed by cave dwellings tucked into ancient cliffs.  The cheerfully-inhabited troglodyte homes were adorned with flower boxes, brightly-colored shutters and stone alcoves that held their satellite dishes. 

Loire Valley France

On the way to da Vinci’s Amboise home

Some homes are actually built of the tuffeau stone, cut in blocks from the ancient cliffs above the Loire River. Quarrying of the tuffeau dates to the 11th century, when great cavities were created in the hills, when construction of the renowned chateaux took place throughout the valley.  People moved in to those spaces, finding them to be a low-cost refuge.  Now ‘owners’ dress them up to their own pleasure and convert them into their own vacation retreats and artist galleries.  Hard to imagine ‘owning’ a piece of ancient history!

And now we discover Alpine pile-dwelling settlements.  On the UNESCO World Heritage list, the settlements date to 5000 to 500 B.C., when ‘villages’ formed along the edges of lakes or wetlands.  Many of the sites are located in Switzerland; but in the Haute-Savoie Department of Rhône-Alpes, several prehistoric sites hug the shores of Lake Annecy. 

Near Lake Annecy, France

Original piles and reconstructed dwelling in Lac de Chalain, rive -© P. Pétrequin, Centre de la Recherches Archeologique de la Vallée de l’Ain

Important Archaeological evidence points to early agrarian societies in the region, where pile-dwellings have been discovered under water, on lake shores and along rivers.  Flint, shells, gold, and pottery reveal the existence of trade routes, and old textiles date to 3,000 B.C.   Along the western shores of Lake Annecy, the communes of Sévrier and Saint-Jorioz  are home to Neolithic finds.  In 1989 over 700 piles were counted. 

Our memories of Bordeaux and the Loire Valley and Lake Annecy are filled with stunning images – riverbank wedding ceremonies, Amboise markets and the crystal Alpine waters of Lake Annecy.  Then, we add the discoveries of ancient settlements and medieval chateaux – it’s simply a fascinating journey that combines spectacular natural beauty and ancient history with the welcoming hospitality that travelers can enjoy.

We’d love to hear from you!

swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2013, LuxeEuro, LLC. All rights reserved.

 

7 Fabulous French Wines

B-21 List of 2012 Top Wines

French wines to please the palate!

Don’t you just have to feel some degree of sympathy for a guy who flies all over the world tasting wine? Hmmm … I’m sure it can be exhausting, but the wine must help to offset the fatigue!

Such is our introduction to Bob Sprentall and B-21; who hopped aboard the family retail wine business, after graduating from Tulane in 1979. By 1983, B-21 was the highest dollar volume wine and spirits store in Florida and in 1982, they introduced the B-21 Wine Buyer’s Guide – an award-winning site.

All of that is to say that the news is in for “The Top 21 Wines of 2012″, and of course, we will focus on those lovely wines from France. While competition is increasingly fierce in the world of wine, seven French wines made the list. As Bob is renowned for his acquisition abilities and enjoys life-long business relationships with wineries, he ferrets out excellent wines.

We are not wine experts and offer a few of B-21’s notes, so we encourage you to read the reviews for yourself … and act accordingly! As B-21 indicates, the fourth-generation wine retailer is about “quality wines, competitive prices and exceptional customer service.”

Without further ado (not ‘adieu’!), B-21’s top French wines for 2012:

2009 La Vieille Cure, Fronsac, Bordeaux
La Vieille Cure’s ideal location combines excellent soil attributes with southwest exposure to yield this rich, intensely colorful 2009 selection. Bob describes it as a “…serious merlot (and a lot of cab franc), dusty blueberries as rich as they get at a remarkable price.”

Haut-Bergey - France

Haut-Bergey – France

2011 Domaine de Reuilly “Pierres Plates”
In the Loire region, the appellation of Reuilly has recovered beautifully from the late 19th century scourge of the revered vineyards. Imported by Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant and produced from Sauvignon Blanc grapes, this wine blends a pleasant nose with good weight and a rich finish.

2001 Lanessan, Haut-Medoc, Bordeaux
An excellent Bordeaux vintage from Cabernet grapes, this wine is smooth, elegant and rich. Per Bob, “Never had a Bordeaux this old that tasted so good.”

2009 Haut-Bergey Rouge, Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux
A perfect claret from Pessac-Leognan, said to exceed the exceptional 2005 vintage – mostly cab.

2009 Chateau du Gaby, Canon-Fronsac, Bordeaux
We don’t have the sophistication to rate or even appropriately describe wines, but anything from the Saint-Emilion area sets quite well with us! This wine is so good, nearly all of it is consumed in Europe, and only two retailers sell it in the States…. Supple, sophisticated Merlot with a hint of Cabernet herbs.

N.V. Guy Charlemagne Reserve Brut Blanc de Blancs
But of course, there is a sparkling white – a touch of all things excellent – fruit notes blended with sublayers of smoke, stone and spice.

2010 Gerard Charvin Chateauneuf du Pape
One of the most famous Côtes du Rhône wine, this is a real B-21 favorite with exceptional aromatics, richness and yet light on the palate.

There you have but one expert list; so enjoy exploring, tasting and choosing your favorite.

We’d love to hear from you!

swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com
Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC. All rights reserved.

New Stars at Relais & Châteaux

Hotel La Villa Corsica

Beautiful poolside views in Calvi, Corsica

Each year the prominent Relais & Châteaux group honors gourmet chefs as “rising stars” and luxury hotels that have joined the group.  Today the spotlight is on a dreamy Corsican resort on the port of Calvi.

The five-star Hotel La Villa is poised between the mountains and the Mediterranean with spectacular views of the sea.  The Villa’s Chef – Sébastien Sevellec – earned the prestigious “Rising Chef” award for his “…hymns to Corsica that this son of a fisherman has created, having worked at this property for 12 years now …”

The Villa’s extraordinary pleasures begin with stunning views of the bay, easily enjoyed by taking in one of the Chef’s savory menus at La Terrasse or one the other restaurant offerings at the resort.  Imagine a seaside lunch of poisson freshly caught in the bay of Calvi!

Hotel La Villa Calvi Corsica Relais & Chateaux

Chef Sevellec’s menu by the sea

Established over fifty years ago, Relaix & Châteaux sets the standard for excellent hospitality in over 500 associated luxury hotels and gourmet restaurants throughout the world.  I particularly appreciate their emphasis on the genuine hospitality and uniquely authentic regional cultures and tastes their properties represent.

Whether you fancy an intimate Villa experience in Italy or an elegant Château in France, you will discover a world of pleasure for that very special holiday you plan.  We carry their directory with us when travelling, so we can discover unique restaurants or lodging, we would not otherwise have located … like Bernard Robin – Le Relais in the quaint village of Bracieux.

Wishing you a delightful Relais holiday or memorable gourmet meal!

 

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Delightful Memories of France

Loire Valley hamlet in France

Wheat in the windows welcomes us to the Loire Valley

One of the lovely things about travel is the memories you tuck away, special nuggets you can resurrect when tough circumstances mar your day.  And so it was with one captivating weekend with friends in the Loire Valley.

Our days and nights were filled with such peace and harmony – gorgeous countryside sights, visits to little hamlets and communes, delightful meals and warm conversation and the ever-present charm of France.  One night in particular often comes to mind.

We gathered around a table under the stars.  The outdoor fire simmered in anticipation of cooking our entrees, and we shared warmed chevre appetizers and wine.  We walked down the driveway under a huge canopy of stars, more stars than we had ever seen.  You need only get away from city lights and noise to appreciate the quiet beauty of the world.

Sun setting over the pristine Loire Valley

Quiet and calm of a Loire Valley sunset

Now, when I can’t sleep or a challenge faces me, I think of the calm pleasure of that evening and give thanks for our opportunities to travel.

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

 

 

Troglodyte Dwellings of France

Troglodyte homes in Amboise, Loire Valley, France
Oh, do come visit my little cave in Amboise!
Troglodyte homes – what in the world are they?  For starters they are historic, domesticated cave dwellings that are quite common in the Loire Valley, phenomena as rich in history as the valleys and castles of the region.  In fact, we stayed in a delightful ‘semi-troglodyte’ dwelling in Civray de Touraine, a tiny commune of less than 1,800 residents near Amboise.

And, as we walked up rue Victor Hugo toward the last home of Leonardo da Vinci, we passed by half-timbered homes and troglodyte dwellings tucked into ancient cliffs – unusual dwellings with flower boxes, brightly-colored shutters and little stone alcoves that held their satellite dishes.  Can you even imagine this mix of ancient rock and contemporary electronics?

So what is this business of building homes straight into the ancient (like millions of years old) white stone walls of caves that hover above the Loire River?   Some homes are actually built of the tuffeau stone, cut in blocks from those walls.  The most serious use of the stone, though, was for the construction of the many renowned chateaux and castles throughout the valley.

Amboise, France troglodyte home
Don’t you love the space above the door for the ‘dish’?

And that’s the real story.  Quarrying of the tuffeau dates to the 11th century, when great cavities were created in the hills.  People moved in to those spaces, finding them to be a low-cost refuge.  These spaces, you see, don’t go away.  People find new uses, learn to dress them up to their own pleasure and convert them into their own vacation retreats, artist galleries or – I am not kidding – create a hotel in a honeycomb of caves.  For my taste, I rather think I’d prefer to be very much above ground with expansive views of the sky and the landscape.

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

 

French Hotel or Vacation Rental?

bordeaux bed and breakfast, france

The long driveway that led to our 19th century gites in Bordeaux

Sometimes we like to be tucked into a nice hotel in the city, but we also enjoy the unique experience of staying in vacation rentals in more remote places.  It gives us the feeling of living in the French countryside.

We have stayed in the gorgeous apartments owned by a dentist whose sideline hobby is creating works of wrought iron.  Another lovely apartment just down the road from the renowned Chateaux Chenonceau was owned by an artist and his family.  Built up against a rocky outcropping, their children’s playroom literally was carved out of the cliff wall.  After a week in our ‘troglodyte’ habitat, we slowly backed out of the driveway only to have the owner’s brother run to us with a bottle of wine his family produced.

And that’s the beauty of staying in out-of-the-way places – getting to know the people, the village, the customs and marketplace.  An excellent resource for vacation rentals, whether in Paris or Provence, is Vacation Rentals by Owners.

GÎtes de France is also an ideal resource for locating bed and breakfast lodging, where perhaps a few rooms in a home are offered for rental, and breakfast with your hosts and fellow guests provides more opportunities to broaden your vacation experience.

toulouse vacation rental, france
Lovely vacation rental near Toulouse

We wish you happy ‘hunting’ and even happier vacation memories.

We’d love to hear from you!   swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Long Days and Abundant Flowers

Parisian gardens in June

Parisian gardens in June - Les Tuileries

Sometimes we buy a bouquet of lilies with tightly closed buds, simply green cones with a whispered promise.  Over just a few days, the buds open, petal by petal, spilling color and heavenly perfume over the room.

France in June seems entirely the opposite.  The weather usually swings just ten degrees or so to top out at about 70 degrees farenheit.  The tourists haven’t descended in the numbers seen in July and August.  The markets are filled with the bounty of early summer.  And the flowers have burst, seemingly all at once, into a full symphony of color.

Whether you walk among the carefully tended gardens of the Tuilleries or drive through the countryside in the Loire Valley, flowers planted by man or by nature itself display every possible color and shape, scent and size.  And in a fitting nod to extended pleasure, the days grow quite long as the summer solstice nears.  More hours per day, more flowers per square meter – what better combination could you desire?

Wildflowers cover the hill overlooking Sancerre in the Loire Valley

Wildflowers watch over Sancerre, Loire Valley

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Festive Château de Chenonceau

Many of us would feel rather like Julia Child; if we had a kitchen with plenty of space, a central island and every type of cooking utensil.  Tour the medieval kitchens of Château de Chenonceau, and you begin to appreciate the gastronomy of France.

Handsome copper urn and pans

Chenonceau's handsome copper urn and pans

Though the chateau was influenced by many women, Catherine de Medici in particular loved to entertain French Royalty for festivities and hunts. And with the Château kitchens, her staff was well prepared to present the many elegant parties she gave in honor of her three sons, who were all Kings of France.

One of the most famous fêtes honored Francois II and Mary Stuart in 1558 with a feast most certainly ‘fit for a King’.  Perhaps the grandest of all, though, took place in 1577, when the gallery over the Cher River was inaugurated.  The new King Henry III and his wife Louise were present, as was the wife of the future Henry IV, Marguerite de Navaree.  Feasts, dances, shows and concerts entertained all guests; while industrious and creative servants kept busy to meet their every need.

Built into the first two piers of the bridge that arched across the river, the fabulous kitchens were readily accessible by boats delivering foodstuffs to platforms just outside the kitchen.  Pristine, arched rooms included a large pantry that served the staff dining room, the Butchery for handling game and the Larder.  A huge bread oven is next to the Château’s largest chimney that dates to the 16th century; and a massive wood-burning fireplace includes an intricately designed rotisserie.

Copper collection beneath the kitchen arches

What immediately struck us was the variety and beauty of the collection of antique copper kettles and pots, a gleaming array of accessories to fit every culinary need.  Even today, the upkeep and polishing must be constant.

The gardens of Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici handsomely contributed to the Château festivities, providing the enormous bouquets throughout the castle, as well as fruits, vegetables and herbs for the kitchen.  We stepped to the side to take a moment to imagine those days, the steaming soups and braised boar filling the kitchen with savory scents, the floral teams gathering armloads of flowers.  And looking in on the small staff dining room; we had the sense some of those British series evoke of servants gathered for a brief meal, before taking on the enormous tasks of the day.

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

 

Orléans – Capital of the Loire Valley

 

Orléans on the Loire River

 

Planning a trip to France in May?  If so, by all means include a visit to Orléans on your itinerary.  You’ll be just in time to celebrate the festival of Joan of Arc, complete with traditional costumes and medieval food. It was on the south bank of the Loire River that Joan and the royal generals Dunois and d’Amiot-Iliers fought in May of 1429 and liberated the city from the Plantagenets during the Hundred Years’ War.

To this day the city folks refer to her as “la pucelle d’Orléans” (the maid of Orléans) and pay homage to Joan of Arc with an elegant statue in the city center’s Place du Martroi. In fact, what better place to begin exploring Orléans.  Some of the most beautiful streets in the city lie between this Place and the Loire River, where the  Quai du Châtelet stretches for blocks and blocks along the north bank of the river.   It’s a lovely spot for cycling, strolling or enjoying a waterfront picnic.

I particularly enjoyed the regal Hotel Groslot, one of many French renaissance mansions in the center of Orléans.  In a park-like setting with elegant fencing, the enormous 16th-century Hotel is right across from city hall.  Some of the more famous visitors to this exquisite building were the French Kings Charles IX, Henri III, and Henri IV.  The Sainte-Croix Cathedral is a natural favorite, as it closely resembles Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral.  Nearby, you can enjoy some of the finest pieces of French art at the Musée des Beaux-Arts (The Museum of Fine Arts).

Pretty streets of Vieux Orléans

Just 120 kilometers southwest of Paris, Orléans is an easy train trip from the capital.  Many choose to make Orléans their base from which to explore the many famous Chateaux of the Loire Valley.   For the energetic, you can take a tranquil cycling tour to explore the region.

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Fêtes de Jeanne d’Arc – 2012

The birthplace of Joan of Arc - © ATOUT FRANCE/Michel Laurent

Our daughter has a quirky sense of humor.  She tells us she wants to be one of those about whom people say, “She would have been ‘x’ years old today.”  She must relish the life and history of Jeanne d’Arc, who “would have” celebrated her 600th birthday in 2012.  In her fond absence, France honors her birthday throughout the country, remembering with countless celebrations the unlikely heroine of the country.

We begin our festivities in Domrémy –“Where it all started” – where we can visit her former home and the Church in which she was baptized.   Joan of Arc was born in January of 1412 in this little village in northeastern France.  She might have been an everyday sort of village girl, were it not for the last two years of her life, from the age of 17 to 19.  “Voices” told her to seek an audience with the King during the 100 Years War.

In February, 2012 Vaucouleurs celebrated her life with festivals and reenactments, as it was here she was granted an escort from Sir Robert de Baudricourt to meet the Royal French court in Chinon.   During the summer, Vaucouleurs will launch two new audiovisual shows, one – a first in France – to be reflected   on the water’s of the Porte de France.  Light shows are such an imaginative part of French celebrations, so this show should be particularly popular.

12th-century chapel where Joan prayed – © ATOUT FRANCE/Pierre Desheraud

Naturally Orléans in the Loire Valley celebrates through the month of May in remembrance of the historic battle that made her famous.  Only nine days after her arrival during the Siege of Orléans in 1429, she ended the long siege and finally gained the edge for France in the 100 years war.  Every year, Orléans commemorates Joan with the “Fête de Jeanne d’Arc.”  Exhibitions, films, light shows and historical reenactments shine the spotlight on their hallowed Saint.

And finally the sad site of her death – Rouen – commemorates her life with a grand mass and a parade of people dressed in their unique versions of Joan of Arc.  She was only 18 years old, when she was captured and turned over to the Bishop Pierre Cauchon, who was in the pay of the English.  After six months of imprisonment at Beaulieu and Beaurevoir, she was tried and convicted of heresy.  On the morning of May 30, 1431, Joan was burned at the stake on Rouen’s old market square – Place du Vieux Marché.

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

 

Forget the Clock and Wander

The Abbey at Pontlevoy

I’m not a fan of “Daylight Savings Time”.  For days my internal clock tells me what time it really is – not that government-concocted hour later.  And it’s not like a global agreement exists.  Daylight Savings Time in France starts on March 25.

C’est la vie.  I’ve had my 30 seconds of moaning, so I’ll move on in my imagination.  We’ll take a Sunday drive over to Pontlevoy to wander about the Abbey, while violin music drifts through the air.  We’ll stop for lunch at the little café across the lane  – perhaps a nice gratinée and salad with a pichet of chilled white wine.   Little lazy pleasures will soon erase any discord about clocks.

 

Have a delightful Sunday in your mind or elsewhere.

 

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Communal Garden Yields Friendship

Communal garden plots near Amboise

When people say “barrel-chested”, they mean Claude.  Were it not for providence turned inside out, we would not have met Claude.  It is the “Claudes” that lodge themselves in your personal memory.

A very long drive had ended.  It was not our normal “every wrong turn is a right step” sort of day.  To make a long story short, a series of missteps in finding a gite to rent found us checking into “Fantasy Forest” – WHAT?  Yes, Fantasy Forest.  To our Francophile spirit, the name was a real problem.

Our little apartment was like an attic – no windows and only two skylights that opened.  Not our ideal lodging, after nearly two months on the road.  We acquiesced and retrieved our bags from the Peugeot, washed up and took a walk into the walnut forest that belonged to a king long gone.

Along the lane were little communal garden plots.  One in particular caught our attention.  It was quite large and fenced, with roses and pumpkins sharing a somewhat tangled space.  In the midst of neat rows of vegetables of all kinds and colors was an arched trellis.  We were like Peter Rabbit and had to explore this garden.  As we invaded, we walked under the arbor, only to discover it loaded with blackberries.  Leo had eaten four, before he even realized it.

The garden was carefully tended.  Furrows for water bordered each row, and we discovered the largest asparagus and zucchini we had ever seen.  Our curiosity now sated, we headed back to the lane.  Just as we reached it, a booming voice rang out.  The words were lost over the distance, but the intention to see us was easily heard.  He was a very large man in shorts with a kerchief on his head and a wheelbarrow in his hands.  “We have to go back,” Leo said.

Our new friend Claude

He waited for us to approach.  Being 6 feet 2 inches and 205 pounds himself, Leo and this ‘giant’ sized one another up.  At about 6 feet and 300 pounds, Claude was the man you would expect with that garden.  He wanted to meet us.  He wanted to invite us into his life.  In fact, he invited us to join him and his wife for dinner in their home that very evening.

In broken German, French and English, we established a friendship that will last forever in our hearts.  And those blackberries – they were the best Leo ever tasted.

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Forests of the Loire Valley

A peaceful lane near Amboise

French Phrase

L’arbre cache souvent la forêt.”

The tree often hides the forest.  (Can’t see the forest for the trees.)

When we stayed in an apartment rental near Amboise, one of our daily pleasures was walking down a narrow lane that led through a forest of towering old trees.  Invariably a soft wind would move through the trees, bringing a pleasant rhythm of rustling leaves.

Here’s hoping your Sunday might bring a pleasant walk.

 

 

Sunset walks among the trees

 

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Une Soirée Très Unique à Amboise

The striking Château d’ Amboise on a promontory overlooking Amboise and the Loire River

The weekend of my husband’s birthday, our friends took the train from Paris to join us for a celebration in Amboise.  They arrived early on Friday, so we were able to explore the pretty gardens around our vacation rental as well as the sights of Amboise.

We wandered among pedestrian lanes and quaint boutiques, beneath the 11th-century Château d’ Amboise and up rue Victor Hugo to Clos Lucé, the final home of Leonardo da Vinci.  It was a pleasant and interesting walk past troglodyte caves and half-timbered homes, leaning precariously under the considerable weight of age.

We managed to take in quite a bit of the countryside during their visit – to see the light show at Château de Chambord, to visit the Abbey at Pontlevoy and picnic by the Loire.  Our friends are much like us, enjoying on-the-go moments as much as quiet walks and riverside pique-niques.

Our birthday celebration on Saturday produced several memorable moments.  Early in the day, Philippe and I huddled over a restaurant guide to choose the perfect destination for our dinner.  We reduced the selection to two – a chateau restaurant with a la carte choices or a set menu, in what has been referred to as the “best restaurant in Amboise”.  While I do have an adventurous palate, I thought dining outside at the latter would be a wonderful experience; and surely I could trust the chef’s menu choices.

We arrived at a beautiful, stately home that serves as a small hotel and restaurant.  It is set apart from the city in a lovely, walled garden with the magnificent Château d’Amboise as a backdrop.  Atmosphere – I love it!  We were seated outside under the stars at a table set for royalty – sparkling crystal and charger plates, crisp linens and little pebbles strewn here and there on the table to glisten in the candlelight.

Outdoor dining under the stars

After wine was presented, our waiter described the two set menus – vegetarian and traditional.  Remember, I’m not adventurous, and something on the traditional menu was not appealing.  The men opted for traditional, the ladies vegetarian.

The memory lurches to our first two vegetarian courses.  One, a pimiento starter, seasoned of course, and delicately placed on china.  Our second – pimiento again, prepared in a different manner, but nonetheless … was there a sale on peppers in the marketplace?

I hasten to add that I am not meaning to cast shadows on the restaurant.  The service was impeccable, the wine superb.  The pain et beurre mouthwatering.  And the finale was 7 delicate, desserts, beautifully served in petite stemmed crystal glasses in front of each of us.

You could not discover better theater and atmosphere than that.  Truly, that final ‘show’ overshadowed our quiet surprise over the first two courses, and left us with an amusing tale to share with friends.

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Saint-Aignan Celebrates New Neighbors

New residents of Saint-Aignan

 

An air of excitement and celebration is spilling through the Cher valley and Saint-Aignan-sur-Cher, indeed through all of France.  Saint-Aignan’s populace recently expanded from its’ nearly 4000 residents to add two unique neighbors – Yuan Zi and Huan Huan –lovely giant pandas who are on loan from China  for ten years.

They are the first pandas to make France their home since 1973.  Surely they needed a rest after taking an 11-hour flight from China and another 3-hour drive from Paris to their new home.  It’s rather amusing to imagine Yuan Zi and Huan Huan in flight, tucked in their oversized seats with bamboo set before them on their lap trays.

They will reside in the ever-popular Zoo Parc de Beauval in the Loire-et-Cher town of Saint-Aignan.  They join a fascinating mix of white tigers and lions, koalas, sea lions, kangaroos and other assorted primates, reptiles and exotic birds.  One of the world’s most beautiful zoos, the Parc is home to about 4,600 animals and is renowned for working with endangered species.

When you visit the zoo, be sure to drive along the Route de Beauval, a lovely little country lane that winds past soft pink flowering trees, Italian cypress, apple orchards and sun-splashed rapeseed fields.  Well-manicured gardens wrap around the houses you’ll see, set either close to the road behind little stone walls and thick hedges or set back amongst a copse of poplars.  It really is a pastoral drive, as you head toward Saint-Aignan.

Saint-Aignan on the Cher

A Renaissance château is the centerpiece of Saint-Aignan, in the midst of the medieval houses of the village.  The striking view from the château terraces overlooks the 11th-century town and the rolling landscape of the Cher valley.  We wandered down narrow streets past balconies of lacy iron, geranium-bordered windows and a few half-timbered houses.

For our finale, a picnic by the Cher, we stopped in a little patisserie to pick up sandwiches and found an alimentaire for wine and apples.  Parfait!

We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

The Forests of France

Ultimately the donkeys take to the shade of the Loire forest in the heat of summer

Some of the most beautiful natural gifts in the French landscape are the country’s abundant forests.  They spread from the Midi-Pyrénées to Alsace – Lorraine, from Aquitaine to the Rhône-Alpes.  Many of the splendid castles, like Chenonceau, Chambord and Versailles are set in scenic, wooded grounds with centuries-old trees.  We have wandered beneath towering trees by the Loire River, only to hear the soft whisper of the leaves moving slightly in the wind.  And we have seen the trails through the forests that linked one castle to another.

But it was another sight in Aquitaine that really stopped us in our tracks.  We drove along a little country road and rounded the bend to an astonishing scene.  Acres of trees spread like lifeless toothpicks across the landscape, an ugly scar in a region otherwise filled with beautiful trees and sunflower fields.  Later, we learned the reason for the devastation.

On December 26th and 27th in 1999, two cataclysmic storms ripped across France from the Île de Ré to the Alps, extending beyond French borders to Germany, Switzerland and Italy and causing damage as well in Portugal and Spain. The Lothar and Martin storms cut a swath of destruction, with 150 mile-per-hour winds, tearing through woodlands and villages and destroying about 4 percent of the forests of France.

Stripped and snapped before cyclonic winds

In Paris alone, two famous forested parks – the Bois de Boulogne and Bois de Vincennes – each lost a third of their trees.  National monuments suffered damage in France and Italy, including the palace at Versailles, Notre Dame and Rome’s Campidoglio town hall.  Of the 140 victims who died in the storms, floods and avalanches; 88 were French.

Fortunately, contemporary reforestation policies contribute to the continued growth and diversity of forests in France, with various oak, conifers, chestnuts, pines and other varieties making up forests that cover about 28 percent of the land.  We saw the mutilated landscape nearly six years after the original damage occurred, a fact that was not lost on us.  It takes so many years for natural beauty to flourish, and so little time for those years to be erased.

[Reminder – click on photos to enlarge.]
We’d love to hear from you!  swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com
Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

 

Sunday Photos from the Loire Valley

Chateau Chenonceau on the River Cher

New formula for Sundays –

2 pictures (worth 2,000 words?)
and a new French phrase.

Phrase: Tu connais la musique.
You know the routine.

Have a wonderful day!

 

Sunset over the Loire River


We’d love to hear from you!
swsheridan@francedailyphoto.com

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.  All rights reserved.

Sunday with the Sancerrois

Sancerre Watches over the Vineyards

 
It’s time to visit the lovely hilltop village of Sancerre that overlooks the abundant vineyards of the Loire Valley region.  The soil and weather characteristics blend in an ideal way to produce some of the finest wines in France.  Since we are not wine experts, we will defer to the New York Times’ Eric Asimov for an apt description of the delicate Sancerre wines. 
 
“In contrast to sauvignon blancs from elsewhere … good Sancerres are characteristically restrained rather than exuberant, perfumed with citrus and chalk rather than bold fruit. The aromas and flavors are of lime, grapefruit and lemon, of flowers and sometimes of herbs, and of minerality, a kind of catchall impressionistic description of a quality found in many great wines.”  We certainly could not have described it any better!

We chose our friend Olivier’s favorite Cave, Domaine des Caves du Prieure, in nearby Crezancy-en-Sancerre. The Cave was closed, when we arrived on Sunday afternoon.  We protested when Olivier phoned the owner, “But it’s Sunday! We shouldn’t bother him at home.”

“Oh, it’s not a bother for him,” he said. “He likes to drink wine with others.”  Indeed, our host, Msr. Guillerault, arrived to share a delightful hour or so with us. He explained that 75% of their production is white Sancerre, and 20% in red Sancerre from the traditional wine making of black Pinot. The remaining is a delicate Sancerre Rosé.

One by one, he introduced his fine wines and a few insider vignettes to add a personal touch. Through a three-generation partnership, Guillerault-Fargette has upheld a long wine tradition in the region.  It was our pleasure to select several bottles for gifts and replenishment of the wine rack.

(Click photos to enlarge)

Look to the Office of Tourism and other web links below for lists of free wine tastings, tours of vineyards and the over three hundred vintners in the local area.  Each bend in the roads of France offers a different touch of pleasure.  Explore and enjoy as many as you can!

Sancerre Office du Tourisme –  Plentiful information, photos, products and history of the area.

Loire Wine Information   –   A wine lover’s haven for information about wine production, sales, serving suggestions and more.

And with warm thoughts of our host, we invite you to visit the website of our special Cave:  Domaine des Caves du Prieure

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.   Photo and text, all rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

Chinon on the River Vienne

Chinon Castle on the ridge above the town

 

In one of our “let’s discover” moods, we head west from Amboise to Chinon on the River Vienne.  We passed the 12th-century Chinon Castle and descended into a beautiful town, where plane trees line the boulevard entry along the river.  

Chinon has more visitors than residents (about 8,500 at last count; and we soon discover why.  We amble through streets with half-timbered houses and striking views of the castle towers.   We wind through the narrow, cobblestone streets, where flowers drape vintage balconies, and one building after another exudes old-world charm.  When we arrived at the Place du Général de Gaulle, we chose a table at the Café des Arts to have lunch overlooking the shaded plaza.

 

 

We found the town’s history quite interesting, in that the Chinon Castle was the primary residence of Henry Plantagenet; where he and his son, Richard the Lionheart, took their final breaths.  The castle also is where Sainte Joan of Arc came in 1429 to beg Charles VII, the heir apparent, to let her command his army against the English.  That moment turned out to be a pivotal point in reversing the fortunes of medieval France and restoring French rule over the country.  

While the castle generally consists of ruins, the cylindrical Fort de Coudray has some interesting graffiti carved by Templar knights, while awaiting their execution.  On a more recent note, the castle also was the setting for the original film, “The Lion in Winter.”

Once more we appreciate another day of discovery – the mix of scenic    river banks, historic sites, classic architecture and excellent French food.

 

 

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.   Photo and text,  all rights reserved.

 

Tributes to Heroes in France

Beside the road to Riom

The French have suffered so many invasions, so many losses over their long history.  The two Great Wars cost them generations of young men and women, who bravely fought to regain their Republic, to return their streets and farms and homes into French hands. 

Everywhere you travel in France, you see how deeply the French value their freedom and remember the price paid for their liberation.  In a small hamlet, just beside the road toward Riom, we see a monument to two young men who were casualties of World War II.

In Sancerre, a poignant memorial includes long lists of soldiers lost in the World War I.  In fact, look closely and you will be reminded of the movie, “Saving Private Ryan.”  Four young men from the Lesimple and Boulay families, three from the Bernau household.   We notice they have added tributes to  those lost in the 2ndGreat War, but the number of names is understandably fewer.  How many of your neighbors can you lose to war?

Sancerre remembers

The tributes are not limited to towns and villages.  On Ile Saint-Louis in Paris, a plaque commemorates an entire building of people lost in the night to German soldiers.  Along a quiet rue, fresh flowers and even a note are tucked behind a plaque offering tribute to the young man who lived in this home.  One of the most touching of all memorials is in the Pere Lachaise cemetery.  Carved of marble, a child’s hand reaches up, as if to write…and beneath the writing implement are the words, “France souviens toi.”  France remembers you.

 

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.   Photo and text, all rights reserved.

Vacation Rental in the Loire Valley

Our "troglodyte" home in Civray-de-Touraine

 

The Loire Valley offers a virtual feast of pleasures – of historic sites and architectural gems, of cultural monuments and remarkable beauty, of dynamic cities and peaceful villages.  Elegant castles spread through a landscape filled with forests, vineyards, wheat-swept fields and, of course, the lovely Loire River.

Through Gîtes de France®, we chose a beautiful rental in the small commune of Civray-de-Touraine, just a short distance to the Château de Chenonceau.  The helpful Gîtes organization has regional offices throughout France with listings of thousands of vacation rentals. The back wall of our place was literally an outgrowth of the cliff behind us, known in France as a troglodyte (or cave) dwelling.  Our two-bedroom rental was handsomely designed by the artist/owner and included stone steps from our 2nd floor bedroom to the open garden below.  We enjoyed a week of leisurely drives in the country, through vineyards and to historic sites, like the splendid Château .

Troglodyte storerooms behind our rental home

Once, in fact, we packed up our wine, bread and cheese (yes – clichéd, but an awful lot of fun!) and found a lane that brought us to the banks of the Cher River, directly across from Chenonceau.

We really felt like residents looking out on all of the castle visitors (we had, after all, just been visitors a couple of days earlier), but then that is exactly what the vacation rental experience provides.  You have the opportunity to live and act as a local, visiting the market, pinning your laundry to the clothesline and fixing your own tasty French onion soup for dinner.

Chenonceau stretches across the River Cher

 


VRBO.com

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.   Photo and text, all rights reserved.

A Wine Tasting in Amboise

 

A Charming Amboise Cave

 

Stopping for a wine tasting at a local cave is a wonderful way to learn about wine and meet hospitable wine growers.  We visited the unique Vinci Cave in Amboise, not far from the Amboise Castel.  While Vinci began presenting the wines of growers from Sancerre to Nantes, they expanded to include grower’s friends from other wine regions – Bordeaux, Burgundy, Alsace, Languedoc the Rhone Valley and Champagne – so there is a wonderful assortment on hand. 

Inside tuffeau galleries – the caves are carved out of tuff stone – we found beautiful displays of wines and liqueurs and were able to mix and mingle with a visiting group.  A few “hosts” in Renaissance costumes made for an animated and convivial atmosphere.  The appropriate custom, when stopping for a tasting is to purchase at least a couple of bottles.  Naturally, we chose to follow this tradition.

Humorous Visual Warnings in France

No question about this warning!

The French have an almost sly sense of humor, as if a wink is just around the corner.  We find that to be so with road signs that warn of various animals you might encounter or dangerous circumstances around the bend. 

We enjoy exploring, taking a right here or a left there, to see what’s next.  And if you get lost, so what?  You’re lost in France, in the countryside, in a vineyard – could be worse!  I remember getting lost with a dear friend somewhere in Provence.  We ended up on a road that narrowed to a lane in the middle of a vineyard.  “Where are we?” we more or less said to one another.  And I said, “When we get where we’re going, we’ll know where we’ve been.”  And that is the free spirit of discovery we enjoy in France.

As my husband and I were driving around the countryside near the Cher River by Chenonceau, we saw this sign.  We had to stop and take a picture and imagine the “wink” of the sign creator.  There are universal symbols these days with big red cross marks for things not to do, but this creative “uh oh” sign made our day… and, no, we did not end up in the river!.
Europcar english 120x60 PLEASE DO NOT USE

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.   Photo and text, all rights reserved.

Awaken to Color in Civray

 

Colorful Montgolfier “Alarm Clock”

Imagine with me for a moment.  You are in a lovely vacation rental in the peaceful countryside of Civray-de-Touraine, just down the road from the magnificent Chenonceau castle.  You are in that pleasant awakening stage, not asleep, but enjoying a few moments more of the quiet morning, before setting out about your day.

You hear a whooshing sound.  “What in the world?” you wonder and hear the sound again.  Time to investigate.  You go to the window, only to see a brightly colored hot-air balloon, rising ever so slowly above the trees.  What a gorgeous sight – clear blue skies, quaint country cottage, dew still resting on the lawn.  Such a wonderful “alarm clock” to awaken you for another day of exploring the French countryside!

And, by the way, the word for hot-air balloon in French is Montgolfier, so named for the brothers who invented the colorful contraption in the 16th century.  Merci beaucoup Messieurs Joseph et Jacques!

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.   Photo and text, all rights reserved.

A Patchwork Quilt of Farms & Vineyards

Country lane in the Loire Valley

Before we were privileged to travel throughout France, our thoughts automatically turned to fashion, food and icons like the Eiffel Tower and Arch de Triomphe.  Now, the countryside itself equally rivals the sophisticated cities and historic sites.  The palette of France includes every imaginable color and intensity, from the dramatic coastal landscapes along the North Sea to the soaring Alpine ridges in the East. 

Wherever you travel, whether by car or train, you see miles and miles of fertile farmland, vineyards, fields of rapeseed and rows of colorful lavender stretching into the distance.  In the Alps, you drive along rushing mountain streams and emerald green rolling hills. 

In the Loire Valley, huge rolls of hay dot the landscape, and the golden wheat fields seemingly stretch forever.  Just outside cities and in small villages, you see row upon row of communal gardens, little shared plots of land planted with asparagus and pumpkins, strawberries and squash.  And the grapes!  Huge clusters of rich purple and green grapes ripen in the summer sun, awaiting their harvest in the Fall. 

Almost any sight or season you want to experience, France delivers – river rafting through the turquoise waters of the Gorges du Verdun, hiking through Alpine meadows or sipping wine along the Cote d’Azur – simply an incomparable range of visual feasts.

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.   Photo and text, all rights reserved.

Leonardo da Vinci’s Le Clos Lucé, Amboise

Le Clos Lucé – Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Home

With our friends from Paris, we amble up rue Victor Hugo past the magnificent Château of Amboise to visit Leonardo daVinci’s last home, Le Clos Lucé.  At the crest of the hill we arrive at yet another site that brings history very much to life.  The 15th-Century manor, accented by pink bricks from the Loire Valley, and several outbuildings overlook a serene landscape and gardens.

Though the setting is at once beautiful and fascinating, we simply sit a while on the manor steps and absorb the reminders of da Vinci’s genius.  The manor was a gift from King Francois I, who was enamored with da Vinci and the “New Renaissance”; and the King wanted nothing more than to have access to the artist-scholar-inventor-architect-engineer.  The King’s generosity allowed this brilliant man a peaceful refuge from which to happily continue his painting, engineering and architectural work.

It was da Vinci’s ability to so clearly illustrate his concepts – water wheels, paddle boat, tank, camera, bridges and more – that the detailed sketches became the blueprints for working models centuries later.  His close relationship to the King is the very reason da Vinci’s Mona Lisa hangs in the Louvre – a gift to France from the Italian

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.   Photo and text, all rights reserved.

The Hotel de Ville, Blois, France

The Mairie’s Hotel de Ville, Blois

One of my husband’s favorite sayings is, “It’s good to be Mayor (Mairie).”  He says it every time we come across a Hotel de Ville (City Hall) – they all seem to be stunning, historic buildings.  He doesn’t pass up the opportunity for his little joke, when we visit Blois.  There are many beautiful sights and architectural gems in this city overlooking the Loire River, not the least of which is the spectacular Château Royal de Blois .  The Hotel de Ville, though, is at the top of the list of our favorites.

We wander along narrow streets with colorful doorways and pass beneath the hotel arch.  The elegant building overlooks immaculate gardens and is graced by a lovely bronze equestrian statue of Sainte Joan of Arc.  A plaque on the wall commemorates the Allied aviators who used the city hall and cathedral as landmarks, when they risked their lives and parachuted through the night to help the Resistance movement in the liberation of France.  It is an ideal place to sit a while, perhaps in the rose gardens, look out on the river and remember those who fought for freedom.

Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.   All rights reserved.

Such a quaint hunting lodge

King Francois I knew how to escape to the country

With friends from Paris, we decide to take a little side trip to see the Chambord Rêve de Lumières” – the light and sound show at the “quaint” hunting lodge of François I. 

Through the summer, the show draws thousands of visitors who gather on the lawns of the majestic château, waiting for the sun to set and the lights to illuminate the Renaissance masterpiece.

 

The show is stunning, as illuminated scenes and dramatic music flow across the castle and through the night air.  We sit before the grandest chateau in the Loire Valley, set in the quiet midst of the 12,000-acre hunting kingdom, the largest enclosed forest park in Europe.  The experience is natural, cultural, communal and far exceeds the frantic amusement park trek that costs a fortune.  Our visit is free, brought to us – merci – by France.

Great fares to Europe and beyond.

 Copyright © 2005-2012, LuxeEuro, LLC.   All rights reserved.