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> The Loire Valley

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The Chateaux of the Loire Valley

 Follow Bill and his wife Helen on the on the French roads visiting France with their France Rail Pass.

 


The Loire River valley is home to the finest French fairy tale castle – the Chateau de Chenonceaux -- and dozens of others. Romans settled here in Year 1 or so, and French Kings and Princes fancied the area for centuries. With all that going on, no wonder UNESCO made it a World Heritage site.


heritage itinerary

 


 

 

PARIS MONTPARNASSE - TOURS /ST PIERRE DES CORPS

Time 1H00 by INTERCITES
Time 14 trains per day*

 

Caen

My Helen has had Chenonceau (pronounced Shen-ohn-sew) on her list of sights to see for years, and now we were going to see it. My idea was to make a base camp in Tours and then pop around to the neighboring towns.

The fun of a French Rail Pass is that you can be a little bit impromptu. We could go to Tours from Paris in two ways: a slower train from Austerlitz to the town center, or a fast TGV from Montparnasse to neighboring St. Pierre-des-Corps and then a 5-minute shuttle over to Tours.

I decided to go fast and come back slow.

Tours is the capital of the Indre-et-Loire department, of the Touraine region, and of the chateaux region of the Loire Valley. Romans liked it for four centuries as a place to cross the river. After the Romans left, the moors in Spain thought they would come north, but in 732 French infantry stopped Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi in the Battle of Tours.

We arrived in mid-morning and found our hotel not far from the station and the fine arts museum. We decided to spend our first day in town. At the Musée des Beaux Arts I looked over the ruins of the Roman wall, and a stuffed circus elephant that they shot in 1902 after it went mad during Barnum & Bailey’s parade. If I had called the museum a month ahead of time, we could have toured the basement where there are some 4th Century Roman tiles. Helen preferred the paintings, and they have everything from Rubens to Monet.

On the main bridge we stopped to admire this wide, shallow river. It has no dams, rare in France, and it flows past towns with important roles in French history, including Amboise and Blois that we will visit, Nantes downstream, and Orléans is upstream, which Joan of Arc captured from the English.

 

NOT TO BE MISSED

 


 

France Rail Pass’partner:
- Tourist Offices: Tours Tourist Office (Castles pass)
- Museums and Monuments: Château de Chambord
- Accommodation:
     - Château d’Artigny (near Tours)
     - Domaine de Beauvois (near Tours)
     - Les grandes étapes Françaises
 

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TOURS - CHENONCEAU
(RAILWAY STATION LOCATED JUST IN FRONT OF THE CASTLE'S ENTRANCE)

Time 0H30 by regional train
Time 10 trains per day*

Caen

The station is practically across the street from the Château of Chenonceau, and it’s a short walk into a fairy tale.

The castle looks elegantly feminine, and there’s a reason. It’s called the Dame’s Castle because women made it important. People say it was built by a woman and saved in the French Revolution by a woman. My favourite story is how King François the First took it away from his chamberlain and gave it to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, who built the part that crosses the river Cher. Then when the king died, his widow Catherine de Médicis took it over and sent Diane packing. Helen must have been a princess in a previous life, because she looked right at home walking through those rooms full of Old Masters’ paintings and then standing where I could photograph her in the foreground against a background of the castle reflecting itself in the water.

We took the train back to Tours for dinner and dodo, as the French say.

 

 

NOT TO BE MISSED

 

  • La Maison des Pages de François
  • Old gatekeeper’s house

 

France Rail Pass’partner:
- Tours Tourist Office (pass for "Château de Chenonceau")
 

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TOURS - AZAY LE RIDEAU

Time 0H30 by regional train
Time 9 trains per day*

Caen

Today’s visit to Azay-le-Rideau was quick as well. I’m glad it didn’t rain. We had a 20 minute walk from the station just outside the village to the Chateau, but there is a nice sidewalk most of the way, and we talked with a nice Australian couple going the same place.

Where Chenonceau was feminine, the L-shaped Azay chateau is a solid Renaissance fortress. It was also built in the 16th Century of François the First. The French writer Balzac liked this place on an island in the Indre River, and I wondered why I had never read any of his novels. We wandered around in the gardens as it was a nice spring day, and we found a place for lunch where we could drink the local wine with our new Australian friends, a rosé called Touraine Azay-Le-Rideau. I volunteered to carry two bottles back with us, for a picnic one day.

 

 

NOT TO BE MISSED

 

 

France Rail Pass’partner:
- Tours Tourist Office (pass for “Château d’ Azay le Rideau”)
- Museum and Monument: "Château d’Azay le Rideau"
 

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TOURS- AMBOISE

Time 0H20 by regional train
Time 19 trains per day*

Caen

We decided to move our base camp to Amboise for two nights, then go back to Paris. I like to take a chance, but Helen likes to know where we will stay ahead of time, so I called the tourist office in Amboise, and they found a nice bed-and-breakfast between the river and the castle. The owner arranged for a taxi to meet us at the station, which saved a 15 minute walk, and we put our things in a room with a view of the Chateau d’Amboise.

Like Azay-le-Rideau, it’s a solid castle, not a delicate one. And François the First was here, too. It belonged to his mother, and he grew up here. As King, he invited Leonardo da Vinci to Amboise and gave him a house next to the castle. Leonardo arrived with the Mona Lisa, which is how that most famous painting became French. We visited his lovely house, Clos Lucé, and its garden that is peppered with reproductions of Da Vinci inventions.

 

NOT TO BE MISSED

  • “Leonard de Vinci at the Court of King François I, the Royal Castle at Clos Lucé” tour

 

France Rail Pass’partner:
- Val d’Amboise Tourist Office
- Tour: Jet Systems hélicoptères
- Fun Park: Mini-Chateaux or Aquarium du Val de Loire
- Accommodations: Hôtel le Choiseul
 

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AMBOISE- BLOIS

Time 0H20 by regional train
Time 19 trains per day*

Caen

Chateau Blois was our last day in the Valley. The station is on land that was once the castle’s Italian garden. This castle was built over centuries, starting in medieval times. With the help of the guide’s explanation, you can see the changes in French architecture by different owners. Seven kings and 10 queens lived here, and Joan of Arc was blessed here in 1429 before attacking Orléans. (Today Blois isn’t mad at the English. They make Cadbury chocolates here.)

We lunched at a little bistrot with a view of the Jacques-Gabriel Bridge. My guidebook said that only three of the 11 arches on this 300-year-old bridge are original. For tactical reasons during wars, the French blew it up during the Revolution, when the Prussians invaded in 1870 and when the Germans invaded in 1940, and Americans blew it up in 1944 when they were chasing the Germans. Maybe now it’s good for a few centuries of calm.

We got to see Blois one more time, because our train from Amboise back to Paris Austerlitz the next morning stopped here on the way.

NOT TO BE MISSED

  • Le Musée de L'Objet

 

 

France Rail Pass’partner:
- Tour: Les attelages du Château (Horse carriage sightseeing tour)
 

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BLOIS- PARIS AUSTERLITZ

Time 1H30 by regional train
Time 15 trains per day*

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* (2011 frequency)

Last Updated on Monday, 12 March 2012 15:36