This past weekend our program took us for two days to Loire Valley. Only a few hours southwest from the small quarters and noise of Paris lies the large grassy fields, vast vineyards, and stunning chateaus that the Loire Valley is famous for. I can say that, without a doubt, I am fully in love with this part of France. Years ago on my high school journey to France, we visited the Dordogne region, in the south of France just east of Bordeaux. At the time I didn't fully appreciate what I was seeing there: my trip was fast-moving and I was seeing plenty of beautiful landscapes through train windows and had just come from the mountains of Switzerland. It was hard to realize that what I was seeing was special, it was France. Going to the Loire Valley from the bustling city of Paris I was able to fully appreciate the beauty and serenity of the French countryside. Staring out the windows on countless long bus rides might have been my favorite part of the trip.
On our first day we stopped in the town of Amboise where we saw the place where Leonardo di Vinci's remains lay, then made our way to the romantic Chateau Chenonceau placed carefully over the water. We got ice cream, sat by a fountain, and ran through the tiny labyrinth on the grounds. Our hotel was a small converted chateau and horse stables. That night we ate in a cave. Yes, a cave. Poor French in the valley used to excavate the sides of rocky hills to make homes for themselves, and this restaurant enlarged one of these old homes and now runs a top-notch restaurant and serves their own wine.
The next day we started our day at Chateau Nitray, owned by a count (yes, a count...the surprises in this place just don't stop) who runs a family winery and uses the grounds for chateau tours and events such as weddings. After meeting the whole family, seeing the house, and playing with the dog, we had a wine tasting. Originally he had just four wines for us to try: two reds, a white, and a sparkling wine. Somehow he bumped into a 1989 chenin and thought, what the hell, why not let these kids try it. And we did. Personally I was not a fan of the two whites, one of the reds was a little too dry but the sparkling and the second red were fabulous. I bought a bottle of the red I liked to bring back with me to Paris. Maybe I'll share with Katie this weekend. Later in the day we made our way to Chateau Chambord, one of the largest in the Loire Valley. The "hunting lodge" contains 440 rooms. I suppose it was built for a king. This really was the most stunning of them all with beautiful details.
The weekend was just what I needed to ease my mind: clean air, an abundance of green grass and quiet. It is a place I would not even hesitate to return to. But for now, I must work on a paper, and prepare for Katie's visit to Paris this weekend. She is in for a real treat this weekend on her first visit to Paris :) Until next time, à la prochaine!