I think I’ve mentioned how much I hate chateaux. All that pompous decoration and power-play architecture. So what the hell were we doing in the Loire Valley, aka chateaux central? Despite my aversion to the main attraction, the Loire Valley had been on our list for a long time. It was a gaping hole in our map of french travels, like we’d been studiously avoiding the region. But that was because I’d built it up in my mind, the not-chateaux parts anyway. This was going to take some time to do it right. It’s France’s valley of the kings and the scenic backdrop of many a pivotal moment in French history, most notably that of Joan of Arc. Not only that, but the Loire is the longest river in France and is considered the last “wild river” in Europe. There you will also find the first marked bike path in France on which, if you had enough gumption, you could bike all the way to the Black Sea.
We’d need a month, ideally. We’d bike. We’d move at a languorous, river’s pace. 2 weeks would be the bare minimum to do it justice. I remember when we were stressed new business owners working the in the film industry, we once got 5 days off in a row and we thought that was sufficient for a trip to Amsterdam. Sheesh. Then 10 days was a crazy amount of time to finally get back to Paris after many years away. I was worried we’d get bored. Now that we have few demands on our time, a week doesn’t feel like long enough to bother with. The trouble for us with the Loire Valley, I couldn’t find my minimum 2 weeks. We have few demands on our time, but they’re still there. In addition to our return visit to the US, we’ve lately had to deal with our residency renewal, a scattering of doctor’s appointments, and oh yes, our plans for moving to Nice.
We said screw it, and went anyway. 6 days. Besides, it was Mark’s birthday. I needed to be reminded that we could always come back. This didn’t have to be one and done. We got a rental car. We had no agenda. We had a handful of places we’d like to see, and then we’d see what would happen.
I’m not even going to tell you about the couple of chateaux we saw, nor about their surrounding charming towns. There are countless pixels on the internet devoted to the “name brand” sites, you can have a field day looking them up if you’re so inclined. Chenonceau, Amboise, blah blah Blois… I’d rather tell you about the 2 best surprises we found.
Our first find: the Priory of Saint Cosme. Back in the 12th century, this monastery was a hour’s walk from Tours along the river. Now it’s on the edge of the metropolitan area and tucked next to the D37 road. Nonetheless, it is an oasis of calm and no one was there.
The priory was the last residence of the renaissance poet Pierre de Ronsard. He was the official poet of King Charles IX and was called the prince of poets and the poet of princes. His residence remains standing, unlike the rest of the monastery, and is decked out with his poems. The church is also intact and houses contemporary art exhibitions. But here’s the best part: there are lounge chairs scattered around the property! I’m always delighted to be invited to sit and stay a while. We brought a picnic and our books and did just that.
The splendid replacement windows in the church are by the Chinese artist Zao Wou-Ki.
And there are plenty of other places to go tuck yourself away if you’re so inclined.
Fab find number 2 is La Grange de Meslay, a fortified farm from the 13th century! We were smitten. It is privately owned and used as event space, but it’s open a few hours on the weekends to the public. It was originally part of a now-disappeared priory and the farm would have been worked by the monks.
Inside the barn. The farm burned in the 1400s, leaving only the stone walls. So these oak timbers are a mere 600-ish years old.
The outbuildings are also the fortified walls.
The main entrance
It was a whirlwind 6 days, enjoyably exhausting. I’m glad we went. But ultimately, I don’t need to go back. It was enough to call it done. And I still hate chateaux.