So for the last two weeks we’ve been in the sunny Loire Valley in France, visiting Chateaux (only slightly for research purposes), a zoo, a Templar Commanderie (only slightly for research purposes). And stairs. So many stairs!!!
So here is the by now photo heavy “what I did on my summer holidays” post. I’m splitting them up into sections with short slideshows so its easier to skip if you want to. Please forgive my typos. I’m tired, it’s been a long post. Skip what you need to.
We start off with Chambord, built for Francois I as a hunting lodge in the vast, walled forest. It’s an amazing Renaissance building, so big that it’s probably uninhabitable – people complained of the constant cold, and apparently Francois’ sister complained she constantly got lost. In fact in his 40 year reign Francois probably only spent 40 nights there. The spiral staircase, where you can climb on either helix and never meet people on the other, was possibly designed by Leonardo Da Vinci. A very vague possibility.
Next up was Cheverny, they design of which Hergé used for Marlinspike Hall in Tintin. It also has an armory where I may have spent some time… and a Tintin museum. And beautiful grounds with trees hundreds of years old.
Speaking of Leonardo Da Vinci, he spent the last three years of his life in Amboise at the Clos de Lucé, which is now a museum with an amazing garden full of life size replicas of his inventions, and beautiful exhibits exploring his work.
Next we visited Blois, Francois’ royal palace. What struck me most about the restored rooms here was the colour. It’s incredible. I think of palaces being like Chambord, bare stone rather than the riot of colour we saw here.
The Templars had a base in Arville which we visited. It now has a lovely museum, a fantastic shop and the village restaurant served up what was probably the best meal of our holiday! A wedding in the chapel meant we couldn’t get many photos in there, but the gardens made up for that, reconstructed and replanted as they might have been in the middle ages, divided into areas for food, medicine and fragrance. We also saw a Hummingbird Moth, and the tiniest Marie of them all.
Beauval Zoo had visiting Giant Pandas, and resident White Tigers, White Lions, Brown Bears, Black Jaguars, and even Manatees! It’s a fantastic day out. We were utterly exhausted by the end of it.
Chenonceau is one of those jewels among the Loire Valley Chateaux, with its gallery built out over the river. It has a rich history, especially connected with women. It was owned by Diane de Poitiers mistress of the King who was later evicted by his widow, Catherine di Medici. Both women laid out elaborate, beautiful but quite distinct gardens. The river Cher was the border between occupied and free France during World War II and the gallery served as an escape route for many.
Everyone knows my obsession with Eleanor of Aquitaine by now (If you don’t, hello, welcome to my obsession). So, since we were within striking distance of Fontevraud Abbey where she died, we had to go and see it. The Abbey is huge and quiet, respectful of the four remaining tombs – Eleanor, Henry II, Richard the Lionheart and Isabelle of Angloueme. There were even flowers left by visitors at Eleanor’s tomb. We had a bit of a gargoyle hunt too, especially around the vast, elaborate kitchen, the design of which was brought back by the Crusaders. On the way home we visited the Chateau of Ussé where Charles Perrault is said to have written Sleeping Beauty. You couldn’t get two female figures further apart than Eleanor and Beauty. But the Chateau and its gardens are very pretty. And they had beautiful period costumes on display.
We happened across Beaugency on a day when we didn’t want to go too far and what a fantastic surprise it was – the place Eleanor secured her divorce from Louis, which allowed her to marry Henry Plantagenet and tipped the balance of power in Europe. I hadn’t made the connection until I was flicking through the guide book over lunch and found it. There was great excitement (& a slightly embarrassed family). We went to the Abbey there and took lots of pictures of the modern stained glass. It’s a beautiful town, with lots of fine restaurants. I’ll have to go back one day.
A lot of this was fun, and some of it was research for a Space Opera. I know. Writer brain.
I’ve a busy month ahead with the book launch of The Treachery of Beautiful Things Book Launch on the 12th in the Gutter Bookshop here in Dublin. And Titancon in Belfast on the 21st. Woot!