Loire affair
Andrea Bellamy |

Poppy fields, Loire Valley.

Perhaps I inflicted permanent injury to my patience during the first half of my Great European Backpacking Trip of ’96-’97. It’s the only way I can explain what must have happened to my travel ethic.

I started out on that trip every bit the Girl Guide (“Be Prepared”). Oh-so-diligent. I saw all the cathedrals and art galleries and sights I had flagged in my guidebook. I took it all in, kept notes and journals, and read up the night before each day’s activities. After a few months of this, I was cranky.

So I stopped for a while. Got a job. Then, ready to move on, slowly meandered through Greece and Turkey. Soaked it up, not thinking further ahead than dinner.

The labyrinthe at Chateau de Chenonceau.

Now when I travel, I try not to let myself get caught up in the “must-sees.” I remind myself that there are only so many churches or oil paintings you can absorb at one time, and that you can’t see it all — and even if you could, wouldn’t you rather just sit here in the shade with a picnic and a bottle of chilled Vouvray?

All of this is preface to say that I made it to only two chateaux while in the Loire Valley: Chambord and Chenonceau, of which only Chenonceau is worth a blog posting. I mean, Chambord is cool and all, with it’s da Vinci-designed double-helix staircase and mythical fire-breathing salamanders. But in essence it’s a hunting chateau, and I’ll take gardens over walls of antlers anyday.


Chenonceau, on the other hand, has gorgeous gardens and a stunning location spanning the River Cher, the charm of which is largely offset by the number of visitors crowding its rooms.


We skipped the inside of the castle except to run through the Gallery that spans the River Cher, pretending it was the Second World War and we were escaping from the Nazis to the “free” Vichy zone on the other side of the river.


Chenonceau is also famous for the rival women who lived there; Henry II’s mistress, Diane de Poitiers, and, after his death, his widow Catherine de’ Medici. They both created fabulous gardens (Catherine’s is elegant and intimate, Diane’s is elaborate and impressive).


Diane’s garden is lined with walls protecting it from the Cher. The geometric layout is based on eight triangles, with the garden’s original fountain at the very centre. Santolina (Lavender cotton) creates the carpet of spirals.


But being the farmer I try to be, I was most drawn to the chateaux’s fabulous potager. The cutting garden is pretty spectacular too, n’est pas?


And finally, there’s the labyrinthe, rebuilt exactly from Catherine de Medicis’ plans.


PS: If you go, I highly recommend staying at Le Manoir de la Maison Blanche (above) in Amboise.

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