To and Fro, From Chateau to Chateau
And on the second day of chateau hopping, despite some overcast weather, we saw what would become two of my absolute favorite chateaus...
Ashley and I decided to drive to the furthest stop and work our way back towards Blois, so we started the day at Chateau Villandry, famed for its extensive gardens. I'll be honest -- we didn't even wind up going inside the chateau itself, we bought the tickets that just allowed for access to the gardens and had a wonderful time! The gardens kept reminding me of Alice in Wonderland, as if the Red Queen would pop out at any moment and yell "Off with their heads!" Okay, I've got an overactive imagination, but tell me the place isn't incredible? I imagine it would be the perfect spot for an event or even just to spend lovely days with family out on the lawn with a picnic. After Villandry, we stopped for lunch in Tours, one of the largest towns in the region and a usual base for exploring the area. It is a more modern city as it was heavily bombed during WWII and rebuilt and it is known as a university town. After following recommendations to one of the top rated restaurants, we found that place closed and so went into the restaurant next door, which was probably better by far! You've gotta love serendipity. The menu was written by hand on a chalkboard, probably all of the freshest ingredients sourced from the market daily, the woman running the place was friendly, the food was delicious, and her big dog Jacob was hanging around as we ate (dogs make everything better of course).
After lunch, we drove to the nearby Chateau Chenonceau, which turned out to be my absolute favorite of them all. It was built over the river and has huge extensive grounds, including a winery, a maze, and stables. It just came across as the most fairytale-like of the ones we'd seen and I was taken by the gorgeously symmetrical entrance, the pink flower garden to the right, the wisteria laden cottage to its left, the clean white turrets that gleamed even in the spotty sunshine, and the brightly lit interior complete with a beautiful checkered-patterned-floor gallery room. Further, the chateau had a seen a remarkable history of powerful women: Diane de Poitiers, King Henry II's infamous mistress, commissioned the bridge across the river; Catherine de Medici, who had always resented her husband's gift to Diane, seized the chateau after Henry's death, took up residence, and added extensive gardens and the covered gallery atop the bridge modeled after the Ponte Vecchio in her hometown, Firenze; Louise Dupin, whose literary salon held at the chateau attracted such thinkers as Voltaire, Montesquieu, and Rousseau; and Marguerite Pelouze, who restored the chateau around 1875. The chateau has been a marvel throughout history, a key center of beauty and prestige. It would also admittedly be my dream location for a wedding (wishful thinking, take note any future suitors).
After a few hours wandering Chenonceau, we stopped by the Caves du Père Auguste winery for a taste and purchased some lovely sparkling wine to share. Then we decided to try Amboise for dinner, a nearby town complete with its own fortified chateau and medieval streets. By the time we got there the chateau was closed, but we both quickly decided that of the towns we'd seen in the Loire Valley, Ashley and I definitely liked Amboise the best. If I were to go back I would stay in Amboise as a base to see the region. It's quaint and small enough, has tons of history, is situated right on the river, has some great hotels and restaurants, and best of all felt bustling and modern amidst its medieval shell. Though it used to be a seat of the French court, it never quite developed the way Paris did since the court left, though it maintains a certain atmosphere of sophistication that I didn't quite get from Blois or Tours. We ate at Hippeau, a trendy restaurant near the center of town, then we made our way back to Blois for the night.