Bonjour! How have you been? I got back from my trip to France a few days ago and even though jet lag is thoroughly kicking my butt this time around (I’m writing this at 3am), it’s still good to be home. After three awesome weeks visiting my family and friends across France, I’m feeling all refreshed, inspired, and ready to work! (it’s amazing what a little pastry, cheese and wine can do for your creativity…and sadly, your waistline too). Before I get back into my regular blogging schedule though, I wanted to share some of my French adventures with you, beginning with my time in the amazing Loire Valley.
If you’re not familiar with it, the Loire Valley is located about a 2hour drive South West off Paris. It was once the playground for the French nobility, who for a long time preferred to spend their time there rather than in Paris. As a result, the region is now full of historic cities, villages and many architectural gems. The local castles in particular draw hundreds of thousands of tourists to the area each year and most of the Loire Valley is now listed as a World Heritage site by the UNESCO.
I had heard great things about the Loire Valley from friends so I went there with fairly big expectations but I have to say my weekend there turned out to be even more magical than I’d hoped!
I went a little crazy with photos so I’ll have to split this post in two I think :)
Chateau de Chaumont
After what seemed like a never-ending 30 hour journey, I landed at Paris airport where two of my Parisian friends awaited me to begin our mini road trip to the Loire. A few hours later, we were all checked in at our little B&B and off to visit our first castle: the Chateau de Chaumont.
Not before a quick gourmet stop though! On our way over, we noticed a cute restaurant on the side of the road and decided to stop for lunch and celebratory bubbly. Because you know, food trumps castles in France ;)
I ordered the charcuterie platter which was huge and filled with all sorts of french specialties such as saucisson, rillettes and cornichons (yes, I ate it all and it was de-li-cious). We also shared a bottle of Vouvray (the local sparkling wine) to cheer to our reunion and weekend away together.
Feeling well-fed and slightly merry, we finally began our long climb up to the castle.
And when we reached the top we were rewarded with this glorious sight.
The Chateau de Chaumont has a rich history; it was originally founded in the 10th century (before being destroyed and built again in the 15th century) and once belonged to Catherine De’ Medici (wife of Henri II) and later to her rival Diane de Poitiers.
From the outside, the castle looks like a fairytale castle fit for Cinderella with shimmery white stones, large cylindrical towers and a wooden drawbridge.
The inside however is a little bit more confusing since part of the castle features furnishings from the 16th century and the other part furnishings from the 17th, 18th and 19th century (the castle was redecorated at the end of the 19th century thus the mixture of influences). Still, all the rooms were interesting in their own way and the castle had a nice ‘lived in’ feel.
The view over the Loire Valley from the inner courtyard was breathtaking.
After seeing the castle we visited the stables (built in the 19th century) which were also very charming and fairytale like.
What I loved the most about Chaumont though, was its amazing gardens.
Every year from April through to November, the castle hosts a huge garden festival where landscape artists from all the world create ‘mini gardens’ based around a theme. This year, the theme is ‘extraordinary gardens, collector’s gardens’ and since I’m obsessed with pretty gardens (even though I can’t manage to keep a plant alive for more than a month – oh the irony) you can imagine how excited I was about it!
My friends and I wandered through the various ‘outdoor rooms’ for a couple of hours and had it not been so hot and sticky by then (and had I not been awake for the past 48 hours straight) I would have happily spent a few more there. Oh well, I guess this gives me a great excuse to come back one day.
Chateau de Chambord
After a good night’s sleep and a yummy homemade breakfast, we drove to the ‘Chateau de Chambord’, one of the most famous castles of the Loire Valley. The reason why Chambord is considered such a must- see is because of its sheer size and stunning architecture which perfectly blends Renaissance and Medieval styles. Seeing the castle for the first time as you enter the property is quite a jaw dropping experience and, as cheesy as it sounds, I almost had to pinch myself a couple of times to make sure I wasn’t looking at a beautiful mirage.
From the imposing facade to the intricate windows frames and chimneys, you can really see why this building took more than 28 years to complete. As the guide who walked by us said to her group of tourists: ‘this is a true masterpiece’.
And to think it was built to act as a simple hunting lodge for the king…not too shabby huh?
Since my friends had already visited the inside of the castle (which is apparently quite stark although efforts are currently being made to furnish it) we decided to skip the indoor visit and headed to the city of Blois instead.
I’ll be back on Thursday to share pics from the Blois Castle, my visit to a local winemaker, and finally, my favorite castle: Chenonceau! (pictured below).