After a long and unpleasant flight (I couldn’t sleep and the food was rubbish) we landed in Paris. I was trying to stay lucid long enough to pick up the rental car and let Nellie, who’d at least managed a few hours of shut-eye on the flight, drive to Chartres. All went well and we got on the road soon enough, thankfully with a GPS to show us the way. We named it Carmen. Carmen the Garmin.
After fighting through Paris traffic we took the relatively smooth road to Chartres, about 90 minutes from Paris, and parked the car. We had several hours to kill before we could backtrack to our B&B (because really, all we wanted to do at this point was sleep) so we had some lunch at a brasserie on a square, struggling to adapt to having to speak French all of a sudden. After lunch we found the famous Chartres Cathedral.
It’s an impressive building, both inside and out, and one of only two I was interested in seeing on this trip. After seeing it we wandered around Chartres a little more, picking up some food for the evening since we knew we wouldn’t stay awake long enough to eat a proper dinner. We got back to the car and drove the half hour or so to our B&B, La Ferme de Bouchement.
When we arrived there was no one there to answer the door, teaching us a valuable lesson for the rest of the trip: always call ahead to a B&B. We waited for a while, knocking on various doors and windows, until finally one of the owners arrived. This is where my cloudy brain really had to switch back to French mode, as Didier didn’t speak very much English at all. However, I understood everything he said and we managed to get the car parked and bags up to the room. The grounds were lovely with cats, a dog and several ducks inhabiting the back yard. We snapped some pictures, then laid our weary bones on the wonderful bed and went to sleep.
Nellie and I being the planners that we are, we’d begun adjusting our body clocks a week before leaving, so that (sleepless transatlantic flights aside) we wouldn’t have jet lag. Thus, we sprung from our beds ready to bust south toward the Loire Valley. However, after eating breakfast and meeting Didier’s wife, we learned another valuable lesson: B&Bs in the middle of nowhere don’t often accept credit cards. Duh. So we drove about fifteen minutes north to a little town (and sadly forgot to bring one of our cameras as we parked right next to a half-standing medieval tower…hard to describe but it was very cool) to find an ATM, took out some cash and sallied forth, nearly an hour later than we’d planned. No matter, we didn’t have far to go that day. We took the scenic route (through Beaugency) to Chateau de Chambord.
Chambord is one of the largest and most magnificent chateaux along the Loire valley. We took our time there, getting plenty of good shots inside and out, including the double-helix staircase in the centre of the chateau.
In that picture I was shooting up through the center of the staircases, toward the sunlight. Speaking of sunlight, it’s worth mentioning: for the entire two weeks we were in France the weather was spectacular. The first week it was sunny and in the mid- to high-20s, and only in the last few days did it become overcast and go as low as the mid-teens. The only rain we saw was light mist one day while driving. We never got a drop of rain on us the whole time.
Anyway, from Chambord we drove to Blois for some lunch. It was a lovely city, at least the small bit that we saw from our touristy cafe and the ramparts overlooking the river. We accidentally ordered too much wine, so Nellie had to drive the rest of the way whilst I got good and tipsy in the afternoon sun. Good times. Anyway, from there it was a short drive along the Loire to our next B&B, which wasn’t very easy to find, but was well worth it.
The Chateau de Nazelles, across the river from Amboise and at the top of a hill, is actually a reconstructed old castle. Our room, the Troglodyte suite, was carved into the side of a hill, so I guess that means we slept in a cave. The place was lovely, lots of greenery and old walls and animals about, and modern luxuries like wi-fi and a place to keep drinks cold. With a great recommendation from one of the owners, we had a fantastic dinner just down the road at the Auberge de Launay. It set the bar very, very high for the rest of the trip, and establishes a go-to wine region for the rest of our time in France: Chinon.
The next day promised to be a bad-ass haul along the Loire and all the way up to Basse-Normandie, so we digested our food as quickly as we could and hit the sack.