I’m looking out of the window at the relentless rain. Sometimes our mild wet Atlantic climate gets me down, but then I allow my mind to wander back to better days.
Only a few weeks ago Mrs Dookes and I enjoyed a wonderful break in the Val de la Loire (The Loire Valley). Talk to many people about the Val de la Loire and often two themes spring to mind; wonderful Chateaux and delightful wines.
I’ll get back to the wines in another post, but for now I want to focus on the Chateaux.
The region of the Val de la Loire is located in the middle stretch of the river Loire in Central France and covers around 800 square kilometres. It is often referred to as the Garden of France due to the abundance of vineyards, orchards and fertile arable land.
The architectural heritage in the region is particularly notable, I wrote about the town of Richelieu in a previous post.
There are more than 300 châteaux, these range from simple fortified farmhouses of the 10th century to the splendour of the former country palaces of French Kings. Apparently there are a core of 42 chateaux that form a UNESCO World Heritage Site and these alone attract nearly three and a half million visitors a year!
Now regular blogonauts will probably recall that I don’t really do “visitors,” I like space and I like to be away from the crowds, but sometimes you just have to suck it up and go with the flow….like when Mrs Dookes says, “Let’s go visit a château or two.”
This was no random thing, Mrs D had carefully selected the targets, partly for their proximity and partly for their historical interest. I was happy if she was happy.
First up was Chateau du Rival near the tiny and almost inconsequential village of Lémeré not far South of Chinon.
The castle dates from the early 1300, though over the centuries, as is often the case, it has been extended and modified.
The present owners purchased the property in the early 1990’s and have extensively renovated since. It must be a real labour of love as work on the scale that they have undertaken doesn’t come cheap!
I had mixed feelings about the place, the fabric of the buildings was fascinating, but …. and this is a big but, nearly the whole place had been turned into a cross between a somewhat bizarre art gallery and theme park. Many of the rooms had a weird mix of the sort of period interior décor that one would expect from a property of it’s history and avant garde artworks and piped music that frankly baffled me. At this point I need to confess that I don’t really understand art, I just like some nice pictures, but don’t ask me to explain them!
I thought the recreated medieval kitchen gardens within the Château walls, were fascinating, but the “Fairy Story” themed external gardens left me a tad underwhelmed; the planting could have been spectacular by itself, without the distraction of plastic objects and figures!
Probably the most notable thing that ever occurred at Chateau du Rival was that in 1429, during the Hundred Years War, it supplied Joan of Arc with horses.
In contrast Château d’Azay le Rideau was much more my thing.
Located bang in the middle of the town of the same name this delightful place is exactly what I feel a “proper” château should be! Built between 1518 and 1527 d’Azay le Rideau is considered one of the finest examples of early French renaissance architecture. The château is built on an island in the Indre river and surely must be one of the most picturesque in the whole of France.
Internally the chateau still contains much of it’s historic décor and works of art, but for me the highlight was found in the attics, where the hand crafted wooden roof frame work was exposed for inspection.There were very informative interpretation panels explaining the techniques and detail of it’s construction. I spent ages in there, just marvelling at the skills needed to make something of not only brilliant functionality, but also to my eye, great beauty. I guess that sort of sums me up, show me a beautiful building and all I want to know about is how it was made and by who!
Life would be boring if we were all the same eh?
Catch you soon,