We met up with Susan and Simon at the Tour train station on Wednesday morning for our Loire Valley tour. Susan recognized Mom right away because she was wearing one of the many coats I chronicled here and she had been following our blog. We hopped in their black 1953 Citroën Traction Avant and they took us to a little roadside café for some breakfast, which was great since I was hungry.
Our first stop was Chateau Chenonceau, which I had been to before when I came to France in 1991 on a school trip. We were there early so it wasn't that crowded, at least in the gardens. Susan guided us through the chateau's rooms and through the gardens and model farm. Then we got back into the car and they drove us around to the other side of the Cher River so we could get pictures of the chateau from the back, which is the more interesting side — especially since the front had scaffolding and a covering over it while they worked on it.
Then we went to the little town of Bleré for lunch. The food was delicious and we had a table reserved right by the front window. The name of the restaurant is the first line of a French poem that I may or may not have learned in French class that's about the happiness being in the meadow or something like that. I don't have the energy right now to look it up but if you're in Bleré, the restaurant is right next to the church. Anyway, lunch was great.
Our next stop was Clos Lucé, which is a small house where it is believed that Lenoardo da Vinci spent his last three years. This stop was totally my fault, and I think I remember Susan trying to gently hint that it may not be worthwhile when I was planning the itinerary, but I had already decided I wanted to go there. The house, or manor, is a mish mash of all these time periods and nothing feels authentic. You see the room and study in the house where Leonardo supposedly lived and worked, and then there's a bunch of other rooms that don't have anything to do with anything. In the end, I guess I was glad to have walked through the rooms where he may or may not have been, but our time could have been better spent elsewhere. Again, all my fault and fortunately we were on a private tour so we were free to move right along past my unfortunate choice.
From Amboise, where Clos Lucé is, we went to a cave for some wine tasting. Mom and I aren't wine connoisseurs, but the people were very friendly and nice. It ended up being really fun and we got to tour the limestone caves where they store and prepare the wine. The wine dude spoke French slowly and clearly and I was understanding most of what he said, which might have also been aided by all the wine I tasted and kept (instead of spitting it out into the bucket). Susan and Simon surprised Mom with a bottle of wine of her choice and I also bought a bottle.
From Vouvray, the winery, we drove to Chateau Villandry. We didn't go inside the chateau because the real attraction is their crazy giant gardens. And it's not just one garden, it's all these different gardens and the grounds are massive. It was amazing to consider all the work and money that goes into maintaining something like that. It was an incredible thing to see and I'm really glad Susan had recommended it.
Villandry was the last stop on our tour and Susan and Simon took us back to the Tours train station to catch our trains back to Paris. We both agree that the tour was well worth the money and we feel fortunate to have found it.