Day 232

It was another sunny morning, which does incredible things to spirits these days. We had to decide if we were going to take the long way home via Brittany, or head straight to Calais. We weren’t really in a rush to get back to London, with no jobs or places we needed to be, and with still a little money left in the bank we carried on towards Brittany, via the Loire Valley.

It was a long morning of fairly uneventful driving, passing through plenty of lovely little villages, with their patterned brick buildings, tiny lanes and utter lack of commercialism. We grabbed a baguette and some cakes from a tiny little bakery in one of these tiny towns. I wish I could buy these whenever I wished, as they were amazing.

Château de Chambord

The entire Loire Valley is littered with beautiful chateau, however, Chambord is said to be the finest. So, naturally, this is where we started. Also, it was the closest of the lot to Versailles, so we were always going to start with this one.

There was special motorhome parking available, however, it was 24hr prices, which we didn’t want/need. We saw a small picnic area just before the chateau, where we had a picnic, then walked along one of the canals to the chateau. I nearly crashed the car while driving past, fixed in admiration at this mind-bendingly beautiful building.

It was a truly incredible experience walking towards this enormous, stunning building. The scale of it, as well as the lack of anything in the foreground made it difficult to judge just how far way it was. It was a 1500m walk, however, it never felt like we were getting closer.

We were blown away with the size of the palace of Versailles yesterday, but it just can’t compare visually with the spectacle that is going on here. It was like a city of spires and chimneys set around giant turrets. We both agreed that it was probably the most stunning palace we’d ever seen. And, the crazy thing is this started its life as a hunting lodge!

It was €13 to enter the chateau, but it was free to roam the outer grounds for views of the building. It was a really odd layout, based on a Maltese Cross and with a stunning double-helix central stairway – which was said to have been designed/inspired by Leonardo da Vinci!

It was incredible to walk inside the hollow central column of the stairwell, and be irradiated by the intense lighting. It almost felt like being in an alien movie, and being sucked up by their tractor beam. You need to have been there to understand.

The rooms were quite spartan in comparison to Versailles, with bare stone walls in many places. Some of the rooms were quite luxurious, but I guess that’s the difference between a royal palace, and a hunting lodge. Like Versailles, all the original furniture was sold during the French Revolution, so what remains is either a recreation, or something similar. I’m not sure if I’m a fan of the matching wallpaper/curtains/bed/sheets combination that seemed popular in this chateau – it felt like a Kath Kidson showroom.

It should have been obvious by the sheer number of chimneys visible from the outside, but there seemed to be hundreds of chimneys here – and it was still said to be too cold to inhabit during winter. It was also said to be too mosquito prone to inhabit during summer, too, so it spent most of its life vacant.

There were three floors, all with roughly the same interior layout. There were some small museums about the different royal owners over the centuries, as well as the history of the building itself.

Of course, being the devout religious beings that they were in that time, there was a large chapel built into one of the wings. Again, it was quite a simple room without too much overt decoration.

It was a little bit of a surprise to enter the top floor and find a modern art gallery! However, the chateau was soon closing, so we skipped past it to get up close and personal with the roof.

It was the right decision, as it the spires and chimneys were even more beautiful up close. There was an absolute abundance of things to capture my attention, which I would have indulged had I had the time.

The view of the surrounding land was also pretty awesome, especially the manicured rear gardens, and the forests that seemed to stretch beyond sight.

But, sadly it was now 5PM, and that meant that we were being carefully herded towards the gift shop/exit. The sun set with a whimper, and the fog seemed to come from nowhere, filling the area with a new sense of mystery.

We made a quick walk around the grounds, returning back to the van on the opposite side of the same canal that we walked along earlier. The light was fading exceptionally quickly, and by the time we got back to the van, it was completely dark – thankfully smartphones have torches built in.

Once again I was amazed at the utter abundance of camping options here in France. There were several within a short drive, all free, and many with water/waste facilities.

Day 233

Daily weather report: Fog.

We had camped near Château de Cheverny. We weren’t that interested in visiting, but since we were in the area, it seemed rude not to. We parked, and went to go have a look, expecting something like what we saw yesterday at Chambord. However, the chateau was hidden behind a large wall and thick trees. If we wanted to see the chateau, we’d have to pay an €11 entrance fee.

We continued driving, following the Loire River towards Tours. It was a beautiful drive, even if it was still very foggy and grey. The river looked like it must be quite formidable at its peak, though at the moment, it was well below the high banks that have been built to protect from flooding. It looked wild, with sandy beaches and islands along the way. Even with the current temperatures, I was a little jealous of the groups of people exploring on kayaks.

Every so often, there would be an immense château overlooking the river. They were large and imposing, and a sight to behold – even in this dull light.

After Tours, we entered beautiful woodlands. It was an orange world, with the road and ground covered in dead leaves, and the last few still desperately clinging to the now mostly bare trees. Seasons are still somewhat of a novelty to me, and I find the colours of autumn absolutely enchanting.

Around lunch time we arrived at Château d’Azay-le-Rideau. I had read that it was also one of the most popular chateau in the region, with a spectacular bridge crossing their moat. Once again, we were foiled by a large stone wall, and thick trees. Once again, it was €11 to enter the grounds, and we just didn’t feel it was worth it. We had a quick peek through gaps in the trees, and it was pretty, but not compared to Chambord. It’s why I think the best should be saved for last – like when we did the Trans Siberia Express, finishing in St. Petersburg, rather than Vladivostok.

Château d’Ussé

It was certainly a little deflating driving to visit these buildings, and then not being able to see them (without paying €22 entrance fee for the two of us). However, we hadn’t given up just yet. Our last stop was only a short drive further. This chateau, Château d’Ussé, was said to be the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty.

This one we could see from the outside, however, it wasn’t quite the Sleeping Beauty castle that we had in mind – that would be Neuschwanstein in Bavaria. There were some nice turrets, but overall, it appeared quite blocky and basic. But, it was the inspiration for the story, not the castle that Mr. Disney used in his animation of the story.

I tried to get a little closer to the chateau, however, it was closed until March next year. Once again, we left empty handed, but at least we had a decent glimpse at the castle – and once again, we remembered how amazing Chateau de Chambord was.

Onwards to Brittany!