Château Chenonceau, A Real Life Fairytale

We’ve reached that time.  This is my last post about my trip to France.  But I’ve saved the best for last.  Château Chenonceau was my absolute favorite place we visited!  And I think it’s going to be on an upcoming episode of The Amazing Race, which I’m super excited about!  It’s one of my goals in life to go places featured on that show.

My visit to the Château happened on the most perfect day!  The sun was shining.  The sky was blue.  The grass and trees were green.  The air was the perfect, crisp fall temperature, although our tour guide Cindy thought it was a little cold for her liking.  She found it interesting that I described it as a “crisp” day.  I guess she hadn’t heard that English expression before.

Château Chenonceau is a magical place!  When you arrive at the Château grounds, you walk down a lovely, long, tree lined path and eventually the Château comes into view.  And it is breathtaking!  White walls and a blue roof with turrets, spanning across the river.

It feels like you’ve stepped into a fairytale.  A very different castle than Carcassonne, which conjured up images of knights and battle sieges.  Château Chenonceau is more dainty, and reminiscent of princesses and white knights.  Although I suppose the Château isn’t really a castle at all, and more of an elaborate manor house.  It’s still somewhere that I could picture Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty living.

I found the history of the Château really interesting.  King Henry II gave it to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers.  When King Henry died in a jousting match, his widow, Catherine de’ Medici kicked Diane out and claimed Chenonceau as her own.  Later, during the Second World War, the river that its situated on separated Occupied France from Free France, and people would pretend to be going to visit the Château, but really cross over to the freedom on the other side.

Diane’s Garden

Looking at old furniture inside didn’t really do much for me, although I did find the kitchens downstairs pretty interesting.  What I loved most about the Château were its grounds!  I loved how beautiful the outside of the Château was, in its picture perfect setting on the river.  And I loved Catherine’s garden with its beautiful pink flowers.

Catherine’s Garden

You can also explore a sixteenth century farm, complete with vegetable garden.  I absolutely loved this garden!  There was row upon row of vegetables: fresh herbs, kale and different lettuces, green peppers, egg plants, and giant pumpkins.  It made me want to have a garden like that so I could pick produce and eat garden fresh vegetables all the time.  And there were many beautiful flowers in the garden as well.

Château Chenonceau is such a wonderful place!  It’s made me want to visit the many other châteaux that are sprinkled throughout the Loire Valley, which is home to over 300 of them.  But that would be a whole other trip on its own.  If you’re making a trip to France, I highly suggest you include a visit to Château Chenonceau so you can enjoy its beauty and wonder yourself.  I promise you won’t be disappointed.

I hope you enjoyed hearing about my trip to France.  I’m glad I got to share it with you.  It also gave me an opportunity to re-live it, which is always fun!

There’s something about traveling that makes me love life a little more.  It’s like the more beautiful places I see, the more I appreciate them, and the more I appreciate the beauty that’s found close to home.

A Sunny Afternoon in Saint-Emilion

A lovely little side trip you can do from Bordeaux is head into wine country.   There are many charming villages surrounded by vineyards.  One such village is Saint-Emilion, and I spent a delightful sunny Sunday afternoon there in October.

My afternoon started with a wine tasting at Chateau Soutard.  I couldn’t have asked for better weather.  The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the vineyard was a sea of green.  Row upon row of grapes, waiting to be harvested into wine.

The tasting started out with a tour of the Chateau by Alvaro.  Tour guide and wine connoisseur by day, Wine Cowboy by night.  After learning about how they make the wine, it was time to get down to business and taste some!  The steps to tasting wine go something like this: look at the color, smell, swirl, smell again, and taste.

After the tasting, we headed into Saint-Emilion.  I really like Saint-Emilion.  It was a quaint little village with narrow cobblestoned streets, some of which were quite steep.  This is the place to be if you’re looking for wine!  There were shops selling wine everywhere!

Besides wine, Saint-Emilion has some interesting sights.  We had a tour of the hermitage, the Chapelle de la Trinité, the catacombs, and the Eglise Monolithe.  The hermitage is where the village’s namesake, a monk named Emilion, lived in a grotto carved into the rock back in the 8th century.

The Eglise Monolithe is the largest underground church in Europe, and it was carved out of the rock by Benedictine monks during the 9th to 12th centuries.  How they ever managed such a daunting task that many years ago, with only their primitive tools, is a mystery to me.  They did make a slight mistake, as the bell tower built above the church isn’t centered above the four stone pillars in the church below.  This has led to some support issues which they’re trying to fix.  Who knows?  Maybe in a few years you won’t be able to go into the church anymore.  I’m lucky I got to see it while you still can!

I loved the square, place du Marché, in front of the church!  I loved the facade of the church.  I loved the stone buildings.  I loved all the people enjoying a late lunch on the patio in front of the restaurant.  I just loved the feel of the place!

Another little gem Trafalgar took us on the Best of France tour.

Bordeaux

Bordeaux is a beautiful city.  If I spoke French, I’d be quite happy to live there.

The Garonne River flows through the city, and its bank is a nice place to hang out.  You know me, I love anything with a water view, be it ocean or even rivers will suffice, apparently.  There’s a lovely, large promenade along the river, and lots of green space where I saw many families hanging out.  It was nice to see people outside in the fresh air, playing with their kids or walking their dogs, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.

Place des Quinconces is the largest city square in not only France, but all of Western Europe.  This square is an interesting place.  Apparently there’s always something going on there.  When I was visiting, some sort of “pleasure fair” or carnival was packing up.

The Girondist Column is the focal point of the square.  It basically towers over two beautiful fountains.  The bronze statue at the top represents Liberty breaking free from the chains of oppression and the victory of the republic.  The horses in the fountains at the base of the column almost look like they’re jumping out of the water towards you.

During the second World War, the bronze horses were taken from the fountain by German soldiers who were looking for metal.  Luckily, they were found in Angers in 1944 and were put back in the fountain, where they belong.


From Place des Quinconces, Michael and I wandered over to Place de la Bourse.  This square has another beautiful fountain, this one of the Three Graces.  There’s usually a miroir d’eau between the square and the river that provides a reflection of the square, but there was no water in it when we were there.  We seem to be having a bit of a problem with that this year, like when we were in Washington, D.C.  Next time, Bordeaux!

During our wandering, we ended up on a popular shopping street, and it was just a sea of people.  I wasn’t a huge fan of Saturday afternoon shopping in Bordeaux.  Too many people for my liking.  I much preferred the quieter streets.  I even ducked in a cheese shop, just so I could say I did.  It smelled like stinky cheese.  Wasn’t a fan of that either.  I like to eat the cheese.  I just don’t like to smell a whole shop full of it.  I didn’t go into the butcher shop, but I peaked in the window, and that was an interesting experience as well.  Rabbit and duck, and all kinds of different meat that you don’t see at the grocery store around here.  I must say, I like the idea of the way the Europeans shop, getting what they need from little specialty shops.  It’s a lot more personal than shopping at big box grocery stores, and I’m sure the quality and freshness is better too.

So there you have it.  Those are my thoughts on Bordeaux.  Another beautiful city, in a beautiful country.

Versailles, Opulence At Its Finest

Versailles was my second favorite place I visited in France.

The moment I stepped off the coach and started walking up the cobblestoned street, I was blinded by all the gold sparkling in the sunlight, I knew this place was special and unlike anything I’d ever seen.

When King Louis XIV set out to turn his dad’s hunting lodge into a palace that would be the envy of all of Europe, he wasn’t messing around.

Our buddy, Louis XIV

The place just oozes opulence, from all the bronze outside, to the marble statues in the garden behind, and the palace itself.  I’ve never seen something so ornate.  If I thought the rest of France was beautiful and decorated, its got nothing on Versailles.

As part of the coach tour, we had a local tour guide who took us through the rooms of the palace, which was most helpful.  There’s so much beauty everywhere, the eyes don’t know where to look first!

The inside was completely stunning!  I’m not usually interested in rooms full of old furniture, but this place was different.  The ceilings were covered in beautiful murals.  I just wanted to walk around with my face turned up to look at the ceiling, but unfortunately, that makes not bumping into people difficult.  And I found something so pretty and feminine about Marie Antoinette’s bedroom.  I think I wrote a paper on Marie Antoinette in high school, although I can’t remember the details.  See, this is why you save your old school work, people!  Maybe that’s why I was so intrigued by her room.

My favorite room inside the palace was the Hall of Mirrors.  I think the reason why I loved it so much was all the light.  The hall is lined with huge, arched windows on one side, and the light from those windows is reflected by matching window shaped mirrors on the opposite wall.  To add to the light and airy feeling, there are crystal chandeliers and candelabras sprinkled throughout the hall.  And, of course, there are the required painted ceiling, marble statues, and gilded bronze accents all throughout the hall.

It’s mind blowing to think that I visited a place so full of history.  The Hall of Mirrors is the same room where Marie Antoinette probably strutted down the hall, checking herself in the wall full of mirrors!  And this is the very place where the treaty ending World War I was signed in 1919.  I learned about the Treaty of Versailles in Grade 11 Modern History class, and I never once thought at that time that one day I would go to France and stand in that very room.

After touring through the rooms inside the palace, it was time to explore the grounds.  I only had forty-five minutes in which to enjoy them, and I will tell you that is not nearly long enough!  I could have roamed around those gardens for hours!  They have all my favorite garden features, such as fountains, flowers, statues, and a body of water.

I’ve realized that there’s just something different about French gardens, and that’s the organization.  Everything seems to be arranged just so.  The plants are placed in perfect alignment to give a refined air of order and organization.  It makes the place feel very elegant and sophisticated.

The pictures really don’t do this place justice.  I’m so glad I had the opportunity to visit this historical landmark.

The Cote d’Azur

The Mediterranean and I became friends last year when I went to Pasitano and Capri in Italy.  This year I revisited her in the French Riviera, or Côte d’Azur (Azure Coast), if we’re being French.  And she was just as lovely as I remembered.

Monaco

As part of the coach tour I did, I stayed in Nice for two nights.  While there, we did a brief excursion into Monaco, spent an afternoon in St. Paul-de-Vence, drove part of the Corniche drive, stopped in Eze, and drove through Cannes on our way out.

The French Riviera was the part of France I was most excited to visit.  And while it was very beautiful, and I had the best tomato and mozzarella sandwich I’ve ever had there, it didn’t capture my heart the way I expected it to, especially compared to how I felt about the Atlantic Coast of France in Biarritz and St-Jean-de-Luz.  I guess that’s the thing about travel… sometimes it’s the unexpected places that leave a bigger impression on you.  But don’t get me wrong, the French Riviera is still pretty awesome!

What I did love about Nice was the Italian feel.  It’s not that far from the Italian border, and you get a bit of an Italian feel in the architecture and the food.  I loved the pastel colored buildings with their wrought iron balconies.  I also loved the promenade des Anglais, which is basically a big walkway that runs along the beach.  A must, as the beach is so rocky it’s difficult to walk on.

That’s the thing that surprises me about the French Riviera… it’s known for being a top destination for the rich and glamorous, but if I were one of them, I’d much rather have my beach vacation home on a nice sandy stretch of beach, instead of a super pebbly one.  Cannes does have sand, but that’s because they ship it in from Africa every year for the film festival.

Nice averages 300 sunny days a year, so I guess I could overlook the rocks if it meant I got to bask in that much sunshine.

The Corniche Drive sort of reminded me of the drive along the Amalfi Coast in Italy.  There was a nice look off point.

Moyenne Corniche Drive Look-off

St. Paul-de-Vence is where the artsy people like Picasso used to hang out.

Eze was interesting because it is pretty much built on top of a cliff.  Instead of visiting a perfumery, Michael and I decided to climb the stairs and explore the village.  A very wise decision.  I don’t think wandering around cobble stoned streets in medieval villages will ever get old to me.  I love that feeling you get, like you’ve stepped back in time.

Steps up to Eze

We ate a fabulous supper at La Bergerie.  I have absolutely no idea how we got there, other than it was on the Grande Corniche, so it was up even higher than Eze.  Unfortunately, it the fog rolled in so thick, we weren’t able to see the church and castle of Eze lit up at night, but apparently it’s beautiful.

Eze

The really rich people hang out in Monaco.  We even saw a helicopter come in and land on the roof of one of the buildings.  More beautiful architecture, and stunning views of yachts in the harbour and the Mediterranean.  The palace wasn’t that impressive, surprisingly.  It’s had an addition added, built in a completely different style from the rest of the palace.  But hey, if you’re the Prince of Monaco, you can make your palace look like whatever you want it to.

There are many more towns and villages along the French Riviera that I didn’t get to visit.  You could by all means make a whole trip just to the Cote d’Azur.  I’m glad I got a little taste of what it’s like and that I got to experience some of the beauty it has to offer.

Paris Highlights – Pont Alexandre III

Along with the Jardin des Tuileries, the Pont Alexandre III was a Paris favorite for me.

Paris is split into a right and a left bank by the Seine.  And because of that big river that divides the city, there are a lot of bridges.  My favorite one is the Pont Alexandre III, which was built between 1896 and 1900.  I will even go so far as to say that it is my favorite bridge that I’ve ever seen.

The reason why it’s my favorite bridge, is because it is so pretty!

The Parisians know how to build a bridge.

The bridge is lined on both sides by the prettiest street lamps.

And the statues!  Each corner has a huge column with a gilt-bronze statue of Pegasus.  Plus there are statues of cherubs, and lions, and ladies.

Just gorgeous!

It’s actually featured in Adele’s music video for “Someone Like You.”  Although the song is kinda sad.  The bridge is beautiful though.

I would love to walk by something that pretty everyday.

Paris Highlights – Jardin des Tuileries

One of my favorite places in Paris was the Jardin des Tuileries.  This garden is located between the Place de la Concorde (where the guillotine used to be) and the Louvre.  The garden was designed by the same gardener who planned the Versailles grounds.  No wonder I loved this garden so much because I absolutely loved Versailles!  More on that later.

Originally, the Jardin des Tuileries was the garden for the Palais des Tuileries that Catherine de Medicis had built.  The palace was eventually burnt to the ground and never rebuilt, but the gardens are still there.

And they are stunning!

Like the rest of Paris, the Jardin des Tuileries is so pretty!  There are many beautiful statues all over the place.  I’ve come the conclusion that nothing is plain in France.  Everything is decorated.

Flowers and statues and fountains.  What more does a garden need?

This was one of the last places I visited on my trip to France.  By that point, my mind was blown by all the gorgeous things I’d seen over the last two weeks.  Even with the constant beautiful surroundings (isn’t vacation rough?), the Jardin des Tuileries stood out to me as one of the prettiest places I’d seen in France.  I absolutely loved it there!

If I lived in Paris, I’m sure I would spend many an afternoon, sitting in the Jardin des Tuileries, eating a croissant aux amandes and drinking a coffee.

If you’re in Paris, make sure you spend some time there.

Carcassonne

Let’s talk about castles and medieval cities now, shall we?

Carcassonne is located in the southern part of France in the Languedoc-Roussillon region.  It is made up of two towns, the Bastide St-Louis (the Lower City) and the fortified medieval Cité, where we stayed, which is the really cool part surrounded by a double line of ramparts.  The walls are huge!  They’re so tall!  I’m glad I wasn’t a soldier back in the day trying to take Carcassonne.  It seems like that would have been a very intimidating task.

You might recognize Carcassonne from the 1991 movie Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves, starring Kevin Costner, as they filmed parts of it here.

Inside the Cité, there are a lot of gift shops and restaurants, but there’s also a part Gothic/part Romanesque church, the Basilique St-Nazaire, that has beautiful stained glass windows, and a castle.

Walking around on the cobblestoned streets made me feel like I was stepping back in time.  I’m really glad that we got to stay within the city walls at the Best Western Le Donjon et Les Ramparts.  I loved the view from our window of all the roof tops below.

At night, they light up the outer walls of Carcassonne, which was a pretty amazing sight!  It reminded me of a fairy tale, or a Disney movie, but it’s real!

If you’re heading to France, I highly recommend you put Carcassonne on your itinerary!  You won’t be disappointed.

Bonjour Tout Le Monde!

I may be home from vacation, but I think my body is still on France time.

The good news?  You can be really productive when you get up at 5am.  It gave me some time to get caught up on my yoga “om” work.

Once again, Michael and I spent twice as long getting to our destination as anticipated.  We barely made it to Montreal due to fog, then had to run through the Montreal airport to make our connection, only to sit on the plane for an hour and be told that the engine didn’t work, so we wouldn’t be flying to Paris until the next day.

I will say this, Air Canada handled the situation way better than the United fiasco when we were trying to get to Hawaii.  A representative was waiting to give us a hotel and meal vouchers once we got off the plane (and cleared customs even though we hadn’t even left the country!).

Instead of making it to Paris Sunday morning and joining our coach tour Sunday evening as planned, we arrived in Paris Monday morning and missed meeting up with the tour, as they had left Paris and were on their way to Burgundy for a wine tasting.  Fortunately, while being stranded in Montreal, we were able to touch base with our tour director, Cindy, who gave us instructions on how to meet up with the tour in Lyon via train from Paris.

I was really disappointed to miss out on that first day in Paris, Burgundy, and initially meeting the rest of our group.  The good news is I discovered how easy it is to travel around Europe by train.  Maybe next time Michael and I will do Europe on our own.

Anyway, despite the initial hassle, the trip was awesome!

We went on Trafalgar’s Best of France tour.  I’ll discuss more about what I like about coach tours in future, but for now I will say that I really enjoyed visiting so many areas in France in only two weeks without having to figure out the logistics.  I really feel like I got a good overview of the country.

The tour took us on a big loop of the country.  We started and ended in Paris and visited the following cities:

Lyon

Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere

Avignon

Papal Palace

Monaco

Nice

St-Paul-de-Vence

Corniche Drive

Eze

Arles

Cafe de Nuit that Vincent van Gogh painted

Carcassonne

Lordes

Basilica on top of St. Bernadette’s Grotto

Biarrtiz

La Rhune

St-Jean-de-Luz

Bordeaux

Libourne

St. Elmion

Chateau Chenonoceau

Tours

Mont St. Michel

Omaha Beach

Giverny

Monet’s House and Garden

Versailles

Paris

I ended up enjoying France more than I thought I would.  I wasn’t sure what to expect and I wasn’t exactly sure what French food was besides frog legs and escargots (neither of which we ended up eating).  I figured there was no way I would like it as much as I liked Italy last year.  To be honest, I wasn’t really sure what France had to offer besides the Eiffel Tower in Paris and the French Riviera.

Ironically, those weren’t my favorite parts!

I absolutely LOVED Chateau Chenonceau and Versailles!  Picture perfect and beautiful gardens!

And we got to stay within the city walls of Carcassonne in a medieval city!

Biarrtiz and St. Jean de Luz surprised me with their beaches right next door to the cutest Basque towns.  I found both places much more charming than Nice, which surprised me because I thought Nice would be my favorite place.

Normandy’s Omaha Beach stunned me with its beauty.  Who could believe that a place so beautiful witnessed such horrors sixty-eight years ago?

And the food!  Since we were on a tour, there were a lot of included dinners, and I didn’t always get to pick what I wanted, which can sometimes be tricky for me, since I am a little “choosy,” shall we say.  But what I liked, I absolutely LOVED!  Baguettes with every meal, croissants for breakfast, nougat and caramels (and Haribos) for a snack, the best cheeses, quiche, delicious ravioli in Nice, the tastiest arugula ever, and the best onion soup I’ve ever had!

Because France is so beautiful that I took so many pictures, I’m going to devote a full post to each of my favorite sites.  I can’t wait to share them with you!