Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Rooms with a View in the Loire Valley

This view of the castle was taken from our room at the Anne d'Anjou shortly after arrival

We arrived in Saumur late Saturday afternoon and since the town was buzzing with a street fair, or brocante, we parked at the edge of all the activity and headed for the tourist office on foot so that we could locate our hotel Anne d'Anjou. We passed by all the colorful stalls and finally found ourselves at the Loire river and the Tourist Office. They said we were not far from the hotel, so we walked there along the river.

Photo of the castle in Saumur taken at dawn from our room at the Hotel Anne d'Anjou

At the reception we were given the "Children's suite" in the little building next to the garden because I had requested a "calm room" and because there were no children staying at the hotel. That meant we had a lovely suite with a stairway to another bedroom on the floor above. From the upper window we had this stunning view of the chateau on the rampart above the hotel. I crept up the stairs several times that night to view the illuminated chateau in the dark and at dawn.

The huge terrazzo of our hotel looking down on the beautiful gardens and the valley below

Leaving Saumur, we headed to Chateau Azay- le- Rideau via the nearby tufa caves and troglodyte dwellings. After chateau viewing and lunch, we were ready for our splurge hotel, Chateau de Rochecotte in tiny St. Patrice. The grounds were amazing and the pool was large and heated

This is the view from our room: pale hydrangeas in a formal park setting

Our room was lovely, but the dinner in the gorgeous formal dining room was disappointing. They made up for it with  the generous breakfast which included croissants and pastries made by the hotel chef. Those are always the best. The smaller hotels bring in baked goods from nearby bakeries.

Next stop was Montreuil- Bellay, which  the DK guidebook described as one of the most attractive towns in Anjou, combining an ancient village and a fascinating feudal chateau.

A poster in the stairway of our hotel

On our way, we passed by Fontevraud L'Abbaye and had to stop. I had read about this place, but it wasn't high on my list of sites to visit. Finding ourselves in Fontevraud, we decided to check out the abbey that dominates the town.  Founded in 1101 by a hermit, the abbey, for both women and men, is the largest and most extraordinary of its kind. It was run for nearly 700 years by aristocratic abbesses, almost half of them royal. So that allowed the abbey to be funded by royal coffers.
The grounds rest on 35 acres, so was impossible for us to see much, but we were impressed by the history and immensity of the abbey. There were very few tourists, so we  had a short private tour by a  sweet young docent.

The beautiful cloisters, said to be the largest in France

The cuisine (or kitchen) with 6 fireplaces was closed for renovation

It was late afternoon by the time we left Fontevraud. We never knew how long it would take to find  our next destination and how many times we would get lost. Our GPS was worthless, so I'm glad I came equipped with detailed regional maps. Actually, that afternoon from Fontevraud to Montreul-Bellay was the only time our GPS worked and it guided us right to the driveway of our hotel.

The hotel Relais de Bellay had a lovely heated pool and a manicured lawn and best of all, a stellar view of the castle

We checked into our room and gasped at the perfect view of the medieval castle outside our window. I snapped some photos and headed straight to the pool for a refreshing swim. When I swam on my back I could gaze up at the chateau and neighboring towers. What a life!

Montreuil-Bellay Chateau at dawn from our hotel room. Could this be Disneyland?

At dawn I snapped another photo because I wanted to capture the theatrical early morning light. I imagined I was back in the middle ages when the Plantagenets were battling the English for control of this part of Anjou.

Luckily, there was a market on Tuesday morning, so I trudged up the hill next to the castle after breakfast. The market was small but fun, but unfortunately the castle was closed on Tuesday.

A market flower stand next to the castle

Our next stop was Savennières, a tiny town in an area which produces an exceptional dry white wine. I'd read that it is one of the world's great whites, with an incredibly rich bouquet and taste, so I wanted to visit and do some tasting. As we entered the area, we stumbled upon a sign for Nicolas Joly and we headed up the dirt road to the small winery. We had a private tasting in French with a Belgian couple and we bought 2 of the 3 wines we tasted. Interestingly, the wines are made biodynamically and the winemaker was in the room above us, but was too nervous about the imminent harvest to talk to visitors.
The wines turned out to be quite expensive, and soon we found out that Joly is the most famous wine maker in the well-respected appellation of Savenièrres, and he makes one of France's "rarest and greatest white wines."

It was difficult to locate a place to stay near Savennières, but deep in the internet I came across Rousselière, a "chambres d'hôtes." The photos on "Booking" showed a charming country estate--just what I was looking for.

Above is the view from the bedroom window at Rousselière. The photo was taken at dawn and  Francois, the owner, was just about to arrive from a local boulangerie bearing a large box of breads and croissants for the petit-dejeuner. This was also minutes before I stepped on a giant wasp in the bathroom. My toes were paralyzed, and Dean woke up while I was crawling around the room in agony, unable to walk. Our kind host supplied a bag of ice at breakfast and soon I was better.

Outside our bedroom door at Rousselière,  we could cross to the opposite side of the long hall and  see the pool and little chapel from the upstairs windows. I swam in that cold unheated pool the afternoon we arrived and walked up to the charming little chapel. We loved this country house. I'm so glad I discovered it.

We had one more chateau opportunity on the way from Possonnière to Angers. That would be Chateau de Serrant, which I had never heard of. Our hosts had mentioned it and we followed the signs on the auto route.  I found the chateau to be be heavy and foreboding, but Dean liked it.

Dean posing in front of Serrant

The moat around Chateau de Serrant without the swans we saw earlier

Entering the larger town of Angers was scary after all the narrow country lanes we had enjoyed. We had to find the train station where we would return our car, so we followed the signs to the center of town and eventually got the car to the underground return area. After settling into the Hotel du Mail we walked to the castle and viewed the grounds and famous tapestries.

Chateau in Angers

Dean on the draw bridge

It would have been nice to have a view of the castle in Angers but our hotel was situated  in a small alley and our room looked out onto the hotel parking lot crammed with cars in the late afternoon, and also onto a small stone patio with a few tables where guests sat and  smoked.

A view of our room on the 2nd floor of the typically French Hotel du Mail in Angers

The next morning we caught the train back to Paris and returned to our favorite Hôtel de Sêvres. From our room I photographed a woman clipping ivy on her balcony across Rue l'Abbé Gregoire.

A Parisian trimming ivy on her balcony in the 6th arrondisement

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Treasures from the Auguste-Blanqui Market in Paris

On Friday mornings in Paris, the rambling Auguste-Blanqui Market is in full swing. When you get off the Metro at Place d'Italie you're immediately caught up in the swirl of activity, which extends for many, many blocks. The vendors mainly sell edibles, but there are other treasures to be found.

I'm contemplating the figues de Barbarie or prickly pears

One of many cheese stands

Dean admired these tomatoes

I happened upon a basket full of African bracelets and I had to have some. I should have bought more than three. C'est la vie.

The basket of colorful bracelets

                      Then I saw some typically French espadrilles and I had to have some.

Modeling my purchases from the market

Our plan was to walk up to the the nearby Butte aux Cailles after the market and sit in the lovely park we had discovered on a previous trip. The Butte aux Cailles (quails) was originally a tiny village on the outskirts of Paris. It's flowering gardens and cobblestone lanes dotted with convivial bars and restaurants is now an integral part of the 13th arrondissement. We enjoyed staying there when we went on a Yoga trip years ago.

Above is a typical view from our park. And then we decided to walk up Rue Gobelins to Rue Mouffetard, as we had done a few times on previous trips. But unfortunately we had left our maps at the hotel. This being the quaint Butte aux Cailles, we passed a dusty old newsstand and the proprietor found a couple of Paris maps buried deep in a dusty drawer. We bought one and it turned out to be the best "plan" we had ever seen. We kept it and we'll take it along next visit.

I'm working on a longer blog about the Loire Valley but in the meantime I decided to post this little ditty.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Three or Four Gardens in the Loire Valley and One in Paris

I was expecting the chateau gardens in the Loire Valley to be formal, and the vast gardens of Chateau Villandry were just that.

Villandry was the first chateau on our itinerary and we headed straight there after renting our car in Tour. Of course we immediately made the usual mistakes, and  were over half-way to Poitier before we realized that we were way past our chateau. After a surprisingly easy turnaround, we headed back on the auto route to Villandry without any more problems---that I can remember. Fortunately the chateaus are marked by signs well in advance, since they are the main tourist attractions.

The gardens were sporting their bright fall colors, and the plantings consisted mainly of red begonias intermixed with purple cabbages.

In the vivid afternoon sunshine, the cabbages were luminescent. And then there was the chard.

But not all the parcels were symmetrical and formally laid out. We found some wild flowers mixed in.

We spent a splendid Saturday night in Saumur, sleeping beneath the illuminated chateau and dining at the bustling Le Pot de Lapin. Sunday morning, after a typical French breakfast, we set out for Chateau D'Azay-Le-Rideau.

We parked on Rue Rabelais next to the church and as we entered the tiny village Dean marked the spot with a photo by the spouting gargoyle fountain.

Before entering the grounds, we spotted a potager, or kitchen vegetable plot, belonging to the Chateuau. It contained a wild array of colorful flowers and herbs and even a working compost heap. The potting shed also served as a mini garden-themed gift shop.

The trip wouldn't be complete without a compost heap- this one at Azay- le-Rideau

We continued through the gates to the the exquisite chateau, which turned out to be my favorite of the trip. The fairytale aspect of the castle with its perfect proportions, and the glorious late summer day all contributed to the magical experience.

The moat surrounding Azay-le-Rideau

After visiting the chateau and extensive grounds, we tried to order a bite at the outdoor café, but we were too famished to wait for the over-worked staff to wait on us...

So we left the enchanted castle and found a typically french bistro nearby that would serve us lunch after the witching hour. (The French stop serving lunch at about 2:30 and close their restaurants until dinnertime.)  The patrons also were kind enough to locate the area where we had parked our car. After so much oohing and ahhing, we had forgotten how to find our parking spot on Rue Rabelais .

Next on our itinerary was Chateau D'Ussé. More fairytale towers and medieval spires

From the upper level, we looked down at the the sprawling gardens and after a thorough study of the interior, including the attic, we descended onto the grounds.

                                    I loved the colors and unsymmetrical arrangement of the plants

Some areas were remiscent of wild gardens I saw growing up in Wisconsin. They were a bright contrast to the stony formality of the chateau itself.

Dean writing a postcard across the road from Chateau D'Ussé

We found a lovely spot for lunch immediately across from the Chateau entrance and we wrote postcards and watched the bicyclists file in while we waited for our typically French salads.

For the next few days we drove around the countryside, visiting troglodyte caves, tasting Anjou wines and  enjoying the small towns and villages with their lesser known chateaus or abbeys.

Ancient church in the tiny wine village of Savennieres, 

 Finally we found one more garden at the Chateau in Angers. This was our last stop in the Loire Valley and after we returned our car at the train station, we spent the afternoon touring the formidable castle with it's famous tapestries of the Apocalypse.

This chateau  garden was of the formal French variety and it was laid down in the dry moat surrounding the castle. Dean took a video which captured the whole scene.

                                         Then it was farewell to Angers and hello Paris

Not only does Paris boast grand parks and green spaces,  if you walk around you'll be surprised by small squares with enchanting little garden spaces like Square Marius Constant, which we discovered by chance.

More chard amongst the flowers

Another photo-op for both of us