Today, after an early night and a late morning (Justine slept for 10 hours!) we were ready to start our next set of adventures. We set off to visit the town of Blois. It is a smallish place, about an hours train ride from Tours, centered around a large chateau and church. It is also the gateway to Chateau Chambord, however the buses between the town & the estate were not running today. That’s ok though…we got the information for getting to there tomorrow and saw the sights of Blois.
It turned out to be lucky we came to Blois today because even though we couldn’t get to Chambord, the main sights in Blois were all free! Do not ask us why this is…because we have no idea. All we know is that when we went up to the ticket desk they told us to enter free of charge.
Our first free visit was to the Chateau Royal de Blois. From the outside this house didn’t look overly grand, especially from the side view. But once you had entered the central courtyard you understood how it could have been a home of French kings. King Francis I in 1515 was the first French king to spend time at the already built chateau. King Henry III lived in Blois when he was driven from Paris during the Wars of Religion and it was here he had his arch-enemy the Duke of Guise assassinated. Afterwards, the castle was the home of King Henry IV and his wife Marie de Medici exiled herself here upon his death.
Our self-guided tour took us through the majority of the chateau. In the old kitchens there was a display of original stones & carvings from the facade of different wings of the chateau. The highlight of this was the gargoyles. It’s hilarious to see the grotesque faces they were all pulling, even the animal statues. Then we were whisked up a very cool spiral staircase…
…into the royal state rooms. We saw the King’s Hall, the Hall of the Guards and each of the King & Queen’s Galleries. The most interesting aspect of these rooms was the decoration of the walls and ceiling. In the previous royal residences we have visited the walls have always been covered in velvet or silk wallpapers. Here the walls were painted with intricate designs, that often carried over onto the roof, fireplaces and sometimes doors. It’s like I Spy to actually find the exit in this picture:
We really loved the look of the paintings, it was elegant and yet slightly more rustic. And every room was just bursting with color, so it was always very cheerful. This is how Kristin would decorate her palace…Justine is still more into the Louis XIV Versaillies style.
The King & Queen’s bedchambers were a high point, as they always seem to be in these chateaux/estates/palaces. The beds were intricately carved and there was not an inch of the rooms that wasn’t decorated. The rooms were beautiful, although the Queen’s bed was little ridiculously over-the-top with the patterns. It’s like another I Spy game:
Off the bedrooms was a small chapel area where the King could do his nightly prayer & meditation in peace. This is really only worth mentioning because it was a strikingly beautiful little closet…much nicer than the actual chapel that was attached to the building.
The final room was the Hall of the Estates General. This hall was built before 1220 and still has the original layout. It used to be the hall of justice for the courts of Blois and got it’s name when King Henri III had representatives of 3 estates (the novels, the clergy & the third estate) summoEd here for a meeting of the estates general. It is painted only in primary colors + green, but with yellow replaced by gold, and shines with such a happy, glowing air that it looked more like it should have housed parties…not courts. The ceiling featured about a million fleur-de-lis and even the floor is tiled with colorful patterns. In one corner stod a random but gorgeous wood staircase. And in another was a replica throne (we had seen the real one upstairs in the state rooms). We each made sure to take our turns ruling the nation of France.
Outside and around the corner we visited the tour du Foix, which is a tower that still remains front he 13th century fortifications. It was really just a stone circular room, but the view from the walls around it was worth the walk (which was only like 30 steps). We liked how mish-mash-y the houses looked, not at all in perfect lines like in Paris. It was also quite picturesque with the rooftops & chimneys and the big church next door.
Our other stop in Blois was the Maison de la Magie…or for this of you who do not know French, the House of Magic. Great note about this place, it was free today too! This crazy place featured many odd things. First there was a small museum dedicated ot Harry Houdini. It had a recreation of rooms of his house and things he’d used in his tricks. Then there was a floor full of “tricks”. They were rearly just a collection of optical illusions, but some were really neat. There were lots of pictures…the kind that are all like “if you look at it this way it’s a bunny, but if you look at it this way it’s a duck” and “these stairs are going up, but wait they’re actually leading to a lower floor.” there were also things you looked straight into and saw your face upside down, or your feet, or your neighbor. It was kinda tripy. Then there were the fun house mirrors that made you short & fat or really curvy or, our favorite, tall & skinny. The top floor was the halloscope. When you reached th stop of the stairs there was a man who told you to hold onto the handrail then handed you glasses. But when you went to put them on you realized they were actually a contraption holding a mirror right under your eyes. Guided by the railing you walked through a room that had a whole underwater scene mounted to the roof. Looking forward you saw it reflected in the mirror so it felt like you should be walking on nothingness or through solid objects. It was a really interesting effect where your sense of sight seemed to be battling your sense of touch and all the while your poor brain was awfully confused.
We returned to Tours earlier than expected, since we couldn’t get to Chambord today. We decided to try to get to another estate instead. Chateau Chenonceaux is open the latest and has a train run almost right to it. It seemed like the obvious choice plus it was one of Jusine’s top chateaus to see. We hurried back to the hotel for internet access so we could find when the next train left. You might wonder why we didn’t just ask at the ticket counter but our hotel is so close ot the train station that it is almost less of a walk from the platforms to get there than to go to the main station counter. We found that there was a train leaving in 10 minutes! So we boogied back to the platform and were on the train with 4 minutes to spare.
The Chateau de Chenonceaux was built on the site of an old mill on the River Cher. As in Blois, this Chateau was occupied by the same French kings. Henry II offered the chateau to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers who fell in love with it. When Henry died suddenly, his widow and now regent Catherine de’Medici had Diane expelled and made Chenoneau her new favorite residence. From the outside the chateau looks like it is straight out of a fairy tale. It is made of beautiful white stone with large turrets and a storybook tower out from. We were both immediately reminded of Rapunzel!
Inside it was richly decorated with dark wood furniture and cloth wall coverings. The residents also seemed to be very fond of large wall tapestries, although we don’t really see the appeal. The bedrooms all feature gorgeous canopy beds and there was a very large, very well equipped kitchen for the era. We were too cheap to spring for the audio guide but Justine acted as tour guide reading the descriptions of each room in the free info pamphlet. Our favorite rooms were the Grand Hall (pictured below) and Louise du Lorraine’s bedroom. The Grand Hall was a long room that actually stretches over the river that runs right behind the chateau. The stone arches along the wall and the black & white tiles floor were elegant, yet fun and light feeling. Very fitting for the room where the balls used to be held! During WWI this hall was used as a hospital ward and during WWII this Hall was a means of escaping from the Nazi occupied zone on one side of the river to the free zone on the opposite bank. Louise du Lorraine’s bedroom was the complete opposite. It had dark walls, bed hangings and a feeling of sadness hanging over it. The paintings were very religious (as most were in this ear) but all very upsetting or depressing biblical scenes. This mood was created because she had retired to Chenonceaux following the assassination of her husband, Henry III. She lived here surrounded by nuns and dressed always in white, the royal mourning color. She became known as the “White Queen”.
The gardens of the Chenonceaux estate were just as beautiful as the house. The one river bank looked like untamed wilderness (a perfect hunting ground for the kings of old) while the other was perfectly manicured. There were 2 gardens, named after the two main mistresses of the house. The Diane de Poitiers Garden had beautiful rose trees that looked so nice they might have been fake. The Catherine de’Medici Garden had a jet-spray fountain in the middle and was surrounded by a low wall you could promenade along. This was a great vantage point for a side view of the castle.
The highlight of the garden though was a short walk away from the house. Once you had passed through a treed patch you reach the farm & vegetable garden. This was comprised a a clump of cute little cottages that had once been a working farm used to supply the chateau. Just past it was a vast garden setup in the most adorable way. It was full of flowers and vegetables and little paths and places to sit. There were archways with large gourds hanging from them that really just made us laugh…and not want to walk under them…what if one fell on your head?!
We spent a good length of time just wandering through and looking at all of the plants.
If you walked long enough to reach the back of the garden you were rewarded with a meeting with a donkey 🙂
The weather network website had told us it was supposed to rain in the afternoon today. We had a nice sunny day. And it almost held out until we got home…almost. About 4 minutes before our train back to Tours showed up we started to get a few sprinkles. Then about 30 seconds before the train arrived (we could literally see it down the tracks, it just hadn’t reached us yet) it started to pour. But if we only got stuck in 30 seconds of rain all day we can’t complain too much!
For supper we returned to the central town square. We both feasted on a calzone. We realize that’s an Italian based dish, but it had a French twist! You see, they are obsessed with eggs here. They put them in everything. And our calzone had an egg in it…but not a scrambled or omlette style egg. No it was just a normal egg hanging out in the middle so when you cut in the yolk went everywhere. Weird!
Love, Luck & the Loire,