Today was a day to get out of Paris for the day and explore some of the castles and chateaus a few hours south in the Loire Valley.
I’m not a big fan of booking tours and going with tour groups but doing the Loire Valley on your own is virtually impossible without a car rental.
You could take a train down to Tours which is the city right on the outskirts of the Loire Valley but then you’d still need to have transport from place to place.
Plus the cost of the train there and back was actually more expensive than booking the actual tour.
So, I booked the Loire Valley day tour with France Tourisme.
I chose them simply because their tour price was significantly cheaper than their competitors (115 euros compared to 180 euros). It didn’t include lunch but it did include the entrance fees to the 3 castles we’d be visiting today.
Like my day trip to Mont St Michel a couple of days ago, I made the stupid mistake of assuming there’d be somewhere near the starting point to grab a quick bite to eat before heading out.
So, once again, I left Paris hungry knowing it would still be at least a couple of hours before I got some food in my belly.
You know, you get used to having 24 hour mini marts, 7-11s and even gas stations around to grab quick snacks and here in Paris they’re just not around anywhere.
Anyway, you don’t care about that – you want to hear about the trip!
So, myself, a couple from San Antonio originally from Mexico and five Brazilians hopped into our little 9 seater shuttle van and were off at the wee hour of 7:15am.
As all of us sleepily sat in quiet, Fabian, our guide, started telling us about the history of the Loire Valley.
The history, as you can imagine, is quite intricate as these castles were built hundreds of years ago and alot has happened over the years.
Now, Fabian with his heavy french accent was a good story teller except for one very annoying habit.
He would constantly quiz us, asking us if we knew which king built what or how someone died.
Stuff we would have absolutely no clue of knowing unless we had sat down with a book about the Loire Valley and of France’s royal history.
So, the same thing would happen every time he would tell a story – he would get into the story and then ask if anyone could fill in the blank. We would, of course, all sit there in awkward silence for a minute or so until he would finally give up and give us the answer.
You think he’d give up on the quizzing as it was obvious that no one in the van knew any of the history but, no, he just plowing along.
So, yeah, that was Fabian. Great guy but no idea how to adapt to his crowd.
It took about 3 hours to reach the Loire Valley as we pulled into our first stop at just after 10am.
Château de Chenonceau
This castle is known as the Château des Dames as five different women played a major role in it’s design.
The history of castle itself is quite a story as it was built and demolished a few times before Thomas Bohier the minister of Finance for the King bought it.
Of course, he bought it with embezzled funds that the King’s son Henry II discovered after he took the throne from his father.
So, naturally, the castle was seized from him and the new King’s mistress Diane de Poitiers became the proprietor.
Until the king died and the now widowed queen kicked the mistress out and took it for herself.
Over the centuries the castle changed hands several more times and today it’s the most visited castle in the Loire Valley.
After an hour at Chenonceau we went to one of a handful of small restaurants on the main street outside of the castle for lunch.
This estate has been in the same family for more than six centuries and is the inspiration for Hergé’s famous Moulinsart castle in the Tintin comics.
In fact, you can see reminders of Tintin everywhere and the gift shop is jammed full of souvenirs featuring the characters from the famous comics.
I actually bought what I thought was the perfect souvenir. My mom collects tins and I bought a Tintin tin for her.
Get it? It’s a tin tin tin! I crack up every time I say that!
Because Cheverny is also an important hunting venue there is also a kennel on the grounds that houses 100 dogs. All the dogs have a big letter “V” (for Vibraye) shorn into their right side.
Château de Chambord
Flanked by it’s intricate “double revolution” staircase designed by Leonardo de Vinci, the Château de Chambord is the largest and most majestic castle of the Loire Valley.
The castle itself was, by far, the most touristy one we visited as along with us regular tourists there were groups of school children visiting as well.
In fact, Chambord came across as more of a museum and, for me, wasn’t as enjoyable as the other two.
Mind you, once you get to the top of the castle and walk along it’s roof top, the visit to the castle is so very worth it.
By 4:30pm we were all back in the shuttle van on our way back to Paris.
The drive back went by much quicker simply because I had a great conversation about traveling with the couple from San Antonio.
Before you knew it, it was 7pm and we had arrived back in Paris.
The day wasn’t done yet, though, as I still had something very important to cross of my Paris list…