Chateaux (and Cathedrals) of the Loire

Posted on July 18, 2008 by Holly Hayes
Part of: The Great European Road Trip

We have had a very busy last two days, with long day trips from our base in the outskirts of Tours. So busy, in fact, that we never got a chance to see Tours! Oh, well. We quite enjoyed our short tour of the famed Loire Valley. Here's what we saw and did.

Yesterday, we drove west of Tours to Angers.

Saumur Chateau on the Loire River. The river is pretty and wide, but shallower than we expected, with lots of sandbars.

Royal Abbey of Fontevraud

Abbey cloisters

Tomb effigy of King Richard the Lion-Hearted in the abbey church

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Cunault Church and its monsters

Nice house and square in Angers, a very pleasant city that didn't make us angry at all.

Angers Castle

Angers Cathedral

We had some culinary adventures yesterday, too. In Cunault village we stopped for lunch at a small bar-restaurant and ate outside with a bunch of Brits. The only offering was a set menu, for which the starter was a choice of smoked salmon or museau. I didn't know what museau was, but figured I might as well try it. David chose it, too. When it arrived, it looked like this:

Hmm. David tried it first, and said it tasted like cold Spam and wasn't actually that bad. He ate most of his. I was only able to manage a few bites. The taste was admittedly not terrible, but the texture was unpleasant and the peculiar appearance of the meat chunks worried me, especially knowing that the French will eat just about any animal part. When the waiter/owner came to clear my nearly-full plate he put his hands on his hips and demanded, "*Qu'est-ce c'est?! (What is this?!)". I was able to muster up enough French to reply, "I'm sorry. I liked the pickles!" He laughed heartily at that, so I wasn't in too much trouble. When we got home that night, I looked up the word museau and it means snout. Yick. Could have been a worse part, though, I suppose.

The other culinary highlight was much more pleasant! This is a pistachio macaroon with strawberries and cream from a patisserie in Angers. We hadn't seen a macaroon sandwich before and the strawberries looked really fresh and beautiful, so we just had to try it. It was incredibly delicious. A perfect combo of flavors.

Today we drove east of Tours to Bourges.

Bourges Cathedral. A real beauty, built in the early Gothic style of around 1210. It was worth driving almost two hours to see. The town of Bourges was very nice, too. Clean, not too big, not too small, slick and modern in the right places, and full of trees.

Inside, one of the major highlights are the stained glass windows like this one in the east end, which date from around 1225. They were magnificent, and closer down to eye level than most.

Many of the windows have panels showing which guild paid for each window. This one was sponsored by the wheelwrights of Bourges.

I climbed the north tower of the cathedral, which provides some stupendous views over the city.

That was a seriously high tower, though, and the stairs seemed to go on forever!

We spent a few pleasant hours in Bourges, mainly in the cathedral and at a very delicious outdoor lunch at "L'Europe Grill." I had salmon and baked potato and David had a mixed meat kebab with baked potato.

On the way back to Tours, we stopped at the Chateau de Chenonceau, which had caught our eye in a book in Angers yesterday. It was so much fun. We couldn't believe how many tourists were there (most French and German, with just about every other nationality represented too), but it was well-run and didn't feel too crowded. By then the sun had gone behind the clouds and stayed there, but at least it was nice and cool.

The chateau was built in the early 1500s right over the River Cher, which is unusual and fabulous.

Several VIPs of the period lived and played here. They would hunt in the woods during the day (including the ladies), then return to the torch-lit castle in the evening for a banquet and events like poetry contests and balls. Right out of a fairy tale!

On shore, there are immaculately landscaped gardens, a maze of hedges, and a wide tranquil path through the woods.

Long gallery on the lower floor, with beautiful views of the river from windows along both sides.

The rest of the interior is filled with opulent bedrooms warmed by large fireplaces and Flemish tapestries. They all smelled good, thanks to big bouquets of flowers.

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One of our favorite parts was the kitchen, which was down in the lowest parts of the castle, right over the water:

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Those are real tomatoes and apples! Impressive.

A peaceful walk in the wood on the way back to the car. There were lots of birds hopping about and we even saw a cute little brown mouse.

And this is an awesome German license plate in the parking lot.

Tomorrow: Chartres and Paris.