France – Jour 18 – Part 1

Duvine Loire Valley Cycling Adventure – Day 4

I woke up feeling much better today – and determined to ride!  We had only 2 days of cycling left. I had to squeeze in as much as possible.   After a light continental breakfast, we rallied to head off.  Today’s ride was to the famed Château de Chenonceau – one of the Loire Valley’s most beautiful châteaux!

Our guide Padraic insisted that I ride in the van for the first few kilometres – because the ride started with a bit of a hill and he wanted to make sure I didn’t over-exert myself at all, especially given I was still recovering from the cold.  How sweet!  So, the others set off – while we waited for the taxi man to come and collect the luggage from the hotel.  And waited…. and waited…. and waited…. ahh the French – you have to love them.   After about 15 minutes of waiting – which was about 30 minutes later than when the taxi was booked – he finally turned up.

Padraic set off like a Formula 1 racer!  We had to get to the top of the hill.  After negotiating the Amboise streets and leaving the town – we crossed over a busy road and there Andrew was waiting for me!  So, out I piled.  Padraic got the bike off the roof and Andrew and I set out for our ride.  About 5 kilometres later we caught up with the rest of the group who had been waiting just at the entrance to the forest.

We rode through some gorgeous French villages – and there was a “cheeky hill” that the guides forgot to tell me about, but I’m proud to say I didn’t get off the bike – but continued on in granny gear up the hill and continued on through.

After about 12km for me (and 15km for the others) we made it to Château de Chenonceau and were given about 2½ hours to look through the grounds and the château.  We needed every minute of it.

The first thing you come across in the extensive grounds leading up to the château is this amazing Italian maze with a beautiful raised “gliorette” in the middle.  The maze was designed by Catherine de Medici.  There is also a sculpture at the other end of the maze – The Monumental Caryatides by Jena Goujon.

As we left the maze, we walked through the forest to approach the château – which is absolutely beautiful.

Diane de Poitiers’ Garden

However, you cannot miss looking at the gardens – the first one being Diane de Poitiers’ Garden on the left as you approach.  Diane originally owned the château – which had been given to her by her lover, King Henri II (Catherine’s husband!!).

On the right is Catherine’s garden – she eventually took back possession of Chenonceau after King Henri II died – and she was able to reclaim back any royal gifts that rightly belonged to the throne, which was now held by her infant son.   She created a smaller, more intimate garden – which I felt was more beautiful than Diane de Poitiers’.

Flowers in Catherine de Medici’s Garden

We entered into the château and went through the rooms which were the most spectacular and beautifully restored of any we’d seen so far.  Duvine are very clever – they really build the level of spectacularness at each château!

The first “room” we saw was the chapel – absolutely beautiful.

This bedroom was originally Diane de Poitiers – but became Catherine’s after Henri’s death.  The fireplace is amazing – so intricate. It was designed by Jean Gougon – a French sculptor from the French school of Fountainbleau.

Off the bedroom is a beautiful study – this is where Catherine ruled France once she became Regent.

The Gallery had been ordered to be built by Catherine and measures 60 metres in length, and 6 metres across (this is only half the space, so you need to imagine the same distance behind as well).  It is an amazing space which was used for “entertaining”.  That’s one heck of a dinner party!

It’s a good thing the château had such extensive kitchens – including…

The Pantry (which also served as the dining room for château employees)

The Butchery

The butchery bench… very well worn!

The Cleaver Collection!

The kitchen – there’s a lot of copper to polish!

This portrait of Louis XIV was donated (many years later) by the subject himself to his uncle the Duke of Vendôme.  More staggering than the portrait itself (by Rigaud) is the gargantuan frame by LePautre!  In addition, all throughout the chateau were these staggeringly beautiful flower arrangements.  Absolutely divine!

Amazing flower arrangements

Lots of window views of the River Cher – since much of the chateau is built over the top of it!

The hall’s rib vaults

View of Catherine’s Garden

On the upper storey we saw the Five Queen’s Bedroom – named for all of Catherine’s daughters and daughters-in-law.   There are many other bedrooms – each of them stunning, spacious and amazing.

Louise of Lorraine’s – The White Queen’s – Bedroom

However, one of the most haunting bedrooms was that of Louise of Lorraine’s.  Louise was one of Catherine’s daughters-in-law, having married Henry III, the third son in the Valois royal family in 1575. All accounts say that she was a devoted wife, but they were unable to bear children.  After 14 years of marriage – her husband was assassinated by a monk.  She retired to Chenonceau and spent the rest of her life in mourning, and was known to have many stages of depression.  She became known as the White Queen – due to the fact that she wore white (mourning colours in France).   The room is so dark and sad.

Stunning location!

From the front balcony you could easily see Diane de Poitiers’ garden….

and Catherine de Medici’s garden.

A house in the chateau farm grounds

We went walking through the farm area and saw lots of ducks! 

 The vegetable garden was also amazing!

Tequila pepper!! Hello!!      Not sure what this strange plant is on the right!?!

There were also lots of gorgeous flowers

More chillis – this time black ones!!  Must be from Catherine de Medici’s Italian background.

Gorgeous!

Duck Crossing!
Just as we were leaving…. we saw these very cute ducks crossing from a field to the woods! 

After our two hours or so, we rejoined the group to have lunch.  Somehow Marg was in charge of the M&Ms!  Once again – we were meant to have a picnic, but the weather did not look good.  So, we ended up eating at Relais Chenonceaux, a small hotel restaurant that offered us good basic French fare!

Andrew had the mixed grill and was pretty happy – a good selection of meats and sausages!

I decided to go the French Onion Soup – but forgot to take a photo (naughty food blogger).  Any way – it was delicious!  Clearly!!

We then each had a crepe – I thought we had ordered the same thing, butter and sugar.

But they forgot the butter on mine!!  D’oh.

During our leisurely lunch, the rain poured down! But miraculously – it stopped before we had to be on the road again!  Fabulous timing!  So, we remounted our steeds and headed off.  Our final destination was Montbazon – our last hotel for the tour.   We had to ride like the wind… there looked to be more rain coming.

Thank fully the rain held off until we got to our afternoon break stop – in the little town of Truyes.  And then – it poured down.  We all huddled under the van’s back door!  After about 5 minutes – it stopped.  At this point, the group split!  The hard core cyclists – Andrew, Maureen and Ron opted to continue on to the hotel, while the rest of us jumped in the van.

Our hotel, by the way – was the prettiest one so far!  Domaine de la Tortiniére – it looks like a fairytale castle.   Alas – I would be doing lots more elevation over the coming days as it was 95 steps from the dining room to our bedroom.  What is it with the Loire Valley and no elevators!!

For the fans, here are the vital statistics and maps.  All up – I had cycled just over 35km with 75m of elevation – and I was happy about that.  The hard core team (including Andrew) rode a total of 54km with around 310m of elevation gain.

The ride map

Legend:  The Green star is where I joined the group,  the Blue star is Château de Chenonceau, and the Red star is the rest stop where most of us got in the van.

An amazing day – seeing an amazing chateau!  But tonight would also be a brilliant night… especially as we had a special evening planned for Padraic, of grey sweater fame!! Fun and games!!