It was a warm, sunny autumn day when mon chéri and I hopped onto the Navette, a type of bus, and headed for the TGV, or high-speed train station, in Aix.
La Toussaint, or Fall break, had just begun and we weren’t going to let it slip by without going somewhere… so, where did we go? Tours.
Tours is a ville, or city, in the heart of the Val de Loire, or Loire Valley, located in northwestern France. According to one of our tour guides, Tours used to be the capitol of France, so, naturally, there are 3,000 châteaux, or castles, in and around the city (after all, not only did the King have a separate château for hunting, his wife and mistress(es) each had a summer château and a winter château). So, what did we do while in Tours? Visited 7 châteaux (in 2 days) in the region and admired 2 châteaux from the extérieur (these châteaux weren’t open to the public). Our favorite château was Chenonceau.
The first château that we saw was le château de Tours (obviously, this was located in Tours). It was closed to the public, but it was still awesome to see from the extérieur.
I’m from mid-west America, so, it’s not everyday I get to see a château. Thus I was thrilled just looking at le château de Tours from the outside… so, you can imagine my reaction when I got to actually go inside 7 châteaux.
The second château was Chenonceau – not to be confused with its location in the ville, Chenonceaux.
Chenonceau was heavily influenced by Catherine de Médicis, Henry II’s wife.
It was also influenced by Diane de Poitiers, Henry II’s mistress.
You can’t visit the Val de Loire, or Loire Valley, without seeing Château de Chenonceau because:
- It’s a castle, not a palace that the French call a château.
- The tower from the Medieval period still rests in front of the château.
- It has a moat…with fish in it.
- It doesn’t over do it with the jardins, or gardens – there’s two main jardins (previously mentioned), 1 small jardin, and 1 labyrinthe…That’s it!
- It holds a ton of authentic furniture pieces intricately carved from wood. I’ll never understand how wood can be turned into this:
Not to mention the ceiling…
…and the wood-panels on the wall…
- The floor in the Galerie is covered in black and white checks. Chess anyone…?
- The ceiling that’s not fabricated from wood is still just as awesome.
Clos Lucé was the third “château” we toured.
It was more like a mansion than a château, which was a little disappointing, but it was interesting to tour. It’s most famous occupant was Léonard de Vinici when he worked with Francois I. So, the basement is dedicated to miniature models of his work.
The fourth château was Château Royal d’Amboise located in Amboise.
This is a REAL château! It’s situated at the top of a hill/mountain with a beautiful view of the Loire on one side & the city of Amboise on the other.
It doesn’t have a moat, though, which is disappointing; however, the guard’s room makes up for the lack of moat.
Next, we took a mini bus to Azay-le-Rideau to tour our 5th château, le Château d’Azay-le-Rideau.
- Apparently, this is mine and mon chéri‘s home (our first initials are engraved on the door).
- It has a moat! This is a must for any ‘real’ château.
- The stained glass windows and the view of the château from these windows is awesome.
- The ceiling in the stairwell is incredible (and different on each level).
- King Francis I’s symbole is everywhere.
The 6th stop was Villandry.
Let’s get something straight: Villandry is definitely not a château. Unfortunately, the French use the term château to describe many types of buildings…including palaces (even though there’s a separate word for palace, palais…). Luckily for us, Villandry had something else cool to offer (because we weren’t in la Valle de Loire to visit palais): gardens.
Le Jardin d’Ornement.
Le Potager, or the Vegetable Garden.
Le Jardin des Simples.
Le Jardin d’Eau, or Water Garden.
Le Jardin du Soleil.
The 7th château was Ussé, also known as le château de la Belle au Bois Dormant, or Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.
This château offered views of the cellar (sadly, it didn’t offer free wine tasting) and the stables; however, the moat looked as if it had been dried up for years. Every proper château needs a moat with water in it!
Ussé distinguishes itself from other châteaux through its use of mannequins. The mannequins, though extremely creepy, make the château appear lived-in and less museum-like. The most popular display, la belle au bois dormant, or sleeping beauty, appears in the tower.
The 8th château was le Château de Langeais.
2 reasons why Langeais represents a real château:
- It has a working drawbridge.
- A part of the medieval fortress still exists!
The last château was a surprise from our tour guide.
It wasn’t open to the public because it’s still occupied by a family (I don’t remember the name), but the exterior was beautiful enough for me. It’s situated at the foot of two vignobles, or wine vineyards.
But, we didn’t just visit châteaux in and around Tours, we also explored Tours (starting with the Hôtel de Ville).
We discovered L’église (church) Saint-Symphorien – as it is in the middle of being restored, it isn’t open to the public.
We happened to show up when it was being cleaned, so, the doors were open, and, of course, the employees were more than happy to let us wander around while they cleaned. Needless to say, I was thankful I took allergy medicine before we left our apartment.
In addition to L’église (church) Saint-Symphorien, we also visited Cathédrale Saint-Gatien.
The extérieur of the cathédrale was as awe-inspiring as the intérieur. The intérieur was spotted with stained glass windows and ribbed vaulting.
We also admired the jardin at the Beaux Arts Museum…
The jardin was so peaceful, calming, and beautiful that we became one with it…
5 Reasons why Tours is worth Touring:
1. It’s proximity to châteaux (I only spent about 90% of this post drooling over 9 of them…).
2. The magnificant views of the Loire. The Loire (river) runs right through Tours.
3. It’s a bike friendly city. There’s even a separate bridge over the Loire for bikes (obviously, there’s a bridge for vehicles, too).
4. It’s a sport-friendly city. Literally, everyone goes for a run or plays soccer. In fact, the ‘bike bridge’ is divided into 4 lanes: 2 bike lanes and 2 pedestrian lanes. If you’re a ‘walker’, then, you best watch out for the runners… they come out of nowhere! I got lucky when I took this photo because the runners just passed by me.
5. There’s a restuarant called, “Au Lapin qui Fume,” equipped with an image of a bunny dressed in costume, or a suit, like my great grandpa, and smoking a pipe (just like him, too).
Needless to say, every city needs this restaurant’s concept. ♦