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Discover the Eastern Loire Valley by Motorhome
The Chateau at Blois
A Journey Through Chateaux Country
We start our holiday in Blois, home to the famous Chocolatière Poulain, whose chocolate factory was founded in 1848, and yes we are going to take the tour! But first we have to find a parking place for this morning and our walk round Blois. There are 2 good parking places for motor homes, there is one by the river on the Quai Saint-Jean (free), and another on Rue Jean Moulin (also free) open May-September, it also has a used water emptying facility.Our first stop is the Tourist Office which is on Place du Chateau to pick up a city map and to inquire about a visit to the chocolate factory. The streets of Blois are very steep so you can take a ride on a horse drawn bus around the centre. It leaves at regular intervals from the square behind the Chateau.
The Chateau is built in the middle of the town, and consists of several buildings that were constructed between the 13th and 17th centuries around the main courtyard. Its most famous feature is the spiral staircase in the François 1 wing, that was possibly designed by Leonardo da Vinci. Blois was the residence of several French Kings, and is also the place where in 1429 Joan of Arc went to be blessed by the Archbishop of Reims before departing with her army to drive the English from Orleans.
A guided tour of the interior reveals richly painted ceilings and walls, although it is light on furniture, it is heavy on history. Archaeological and fine arts museums are housed in the Chateau and there is a gallery devoted to Robert Houdin, the great 19th century scientist and illusionist from whom the American escapologist Harry Houdini took his stage name. Catherine de Medici made herself at home here, finding it more secure than plot-ridden Paris. The supposed poison cabinets of Catherine de Medici are on view in the Chambre de Secrets. The 4 secret cupboards are opened by a lever set at floor level.A more logical purpose was to use this room for exhibiting precious objects for guests. She died here in her private chapel at Blois. Staying on the dark side there was a bloody assassination in 1588 of the enormous Duc de Guise, who despite being carved up by eight daggers took as long to fall and die as a bull!
The city of Blois was occupied during World War II by the German army, from 18th June 1940 until it was liberated by American soldiers during the last two weeks of August 1944. On both occasions, the city suffered heavy bomb damage. Before we leave for Chambord, we will have a simple lunch (reasonable prices) at Le Coup de Forchette, 15, Quai Saussaye, near the bridge.
The city of Blois is twinned with Lewes, England.
Chateau de Chambord
And the next Chateau is... Chambord
First job is to get booked in for our night stop. We found a nice camp site called La Grande Tortue. They take Camping Cheques in the low season, so at 15€ a night it wont break the bank.The camp site is in Candé sur Beuvron, on the route de Pontlevoy, D751 13km south of Blois. That done we can spend this afternoon visiting the Chateau de Chambord. The largest of the Loire Chateaux set in a 14,000 acre walled forest - the Parc de Chambord. The Parc is a national game reserve patrolled daily by mounted members of the Guarde Républicaine who are permanently billeted in the Chateau. Wild boar, stags, deer and other small game roam freely in it. French presidential shoots are often held here for visiting heads of state and VIP's
There can be few more exciting drives in France than this, as the Chateau, at first all but hidden behind the trees, slowly unveils the full majesty of its French Renaissance facade as you advance nearer. Externally this is the most breathtaking of the Loire Chateaux. It was built on an enormous scale by François 1 in the 16th century on an island with a moat around it. (Even the Loire river was diverted to make more room for it's construction), and the game reserve in the grounds. It is thought that Leonardo da Vinci assisted in the design and was responsible for the double helix stairwell that leads to the roof terrace, but not confirmed.You are free to wander round this rooftop terrace just as the ladies of King François court did when watching the royal hunt. Catherine de Medici who preferred star gazing to hunting, kept a permanent telescope up here. Firstly though, I strongly recommend that you hire an audio guide so you can get a full explanation of what you are seeing, independently without the restriction of a human tour guide.
The Counts of Blois were already hunting here in the forest 600 years before the Chateau was built in 1519. When it was used as a hunting lodge, the Chateau wasn't furnished. Whichever hunting party was staying here had to bring their own furnishings. Later occupants did furnish some of the 400 rooms, but during the Revolution this furniture was sold off. You will notice the size of the fireplaces (all 365 of them - one for each day of the year!) You would need to burn some pretty big logs or should I say trees to heat the enormous rooms with their 20 foot high ceilings. There is a 22 mile wall surrounding the forest and grounds, so wood wasn't a problem to keep the fires burning. It's hard to imagine the scale of those hunting parties, up to 2000 people with stables for up to 1,200 horses, and the large amount of staff needed to care for them. It's remarkable therefore that king François 1 only spent around 7 weeks in total there, mainly on short hunting trips. Ironically the building work still hadn't been completed by the time François died 28 years later. Truly a royal folly ! It was never cared for by subsequent French Kings as it wasn't a comfortable residence, and so was given away as a reward to deserving men of prominence. It survived the Revolution, and Napoleon continued the tradition of passing it on to one of his more deserving generals.
Interestingly Chambord the Chateau briefly came back to life in 1873 when the Count of Chambord who was offered the French crown, was all set to start out from there to Paris. At the last minute he refused over the issue of the colour of the flag (He wanted to change it to the all white Bourbon flag). Those dusty old coaches, the liveries and harnesses under glass were all intended for his state drive through the capital. They were never used.Today Chambord's main attraction is its fine art collection. Don't forget to visit the gift shop before you leave as they have some unusual items on offer. The Chateau opening times are from 9am - 6.15pm April to September, and 9am - 5.15pm October to March. Entrance fee 9.50€ adults.
Motoring within the Parc is strictly regulated, as most of the estate is a hunting reserve, but parts of the forest are open to visitors, with sign posted parking, viewpoint and picnic areas and walks to enjoy.There are also bus trips, and bikes for hire. Why not hire a boat from the jetty, or a horse from the Centre de Equestre near the Chateau.There is now a café in the Chateau grounds. The Summer events include a night-time sound and light show, (10pm start), guided walks in the forest, costumed tours for the children and a twice daily dressage display.
We have enjoyed our afternoon here and being ready for a rest, we will to make our way to our camp site for the night.
BeaugencyClick thumbnail to view full-size
Meung sur LoireClick thumbnail to view full-size
Beaugency and Meung-sur-Loire
This morning we set off for Beaugency to visit the Regional Orleans Museum in the 15th century Dunois castle.where the arts and traditions of the district around Orleans are preserved. Each of its rooms have a special theme, such as furniture, toys or costumes.
We park up on the Quai Dunois at the side of the "Val de Flux" campsite, and start walking from the bridge over the Loire, which was restored between 1978 - 1981. Walking downstream along the river bank we pass the ancient abbey then the Tour Cesar, the 11th century dungeon, being all that remains of the Chateau Dunois, before arriving at Dunois castle and the museum.We must press on as we want to catch the morning market in the Place du Martroi (the main square) to stock up on some local produce.
Beaugency is quite small and we had a pleasant walk round it's narrow winding streets, and on up to the Romanesque abbey church of Notre Dame, where Eleanor of Aquitaine annulled her marriage to Louis VII in 1152, so as to marry the future King Henry II of England.
Only two bridges cross the Loire in this area, the one here in Beaugency, and the other at Meung sur Loire both battlegrounds, well we are in Joan of Arc country! Joan commanded the battle of Beaugency that took place on 16th and 17th June 1429, this campaign was the first sustained offensive in a generation in the Hundred Years War. This was part of the Loire campaign that killed, captured, or disgraced a majority of the top English commanders and decimated the numbers of highly skilled English long bowmen.
This is a "Ville Fleurie" a town in bloom so you can see some lovely floral displays on almost every street. Now it's off to the cafe for some pancakes before we head off for Meung sur Loire.
Meung sur Loire is a small town of 6,200 inhabitants. It has a restored market, catacombs and a fine Chateau with 15 acres of French Style gardens. The Chateau is found in the middle of town, and until the 18th century it was the seat of the arch-bishops of Orleans. The Chateau itself dates back to the 12th century, but most of what remains today is from the 16th century. The dungeons once had a famous visitor: François Villon, the French poet. The gardens are worth a visit and they also have the compulsory music pavilion. From the terrace there is a good view over the Loire. This town is twinned with Lymm in Cheshire, England. We didn't stay here for long, as we have yet to find our next Campsite at Checy which is 12 km East of Orleans.
Views of OrléansClick thumbnail to view full-size
The Municipal Campsite at Checy was excellent. It's situated on the right bank of the Loire river, and good value at only 9€ including electricity. After breakfast we drive back to Orléans to find the tourist office and collect some maps etc..
Every Spring, Orléans organizes a festival celebrating Joan of Arc's intervention which raised the English siege of the city in 1429. A visit to the Maison Jeanne d'Arc is a must, to see the whole dramatic story.Then there is the Musée des Beaux-Arts if you would like to see a valuable collection of French and Italian paintings. There is also a museum of local history and archaeology which is housed in the Hôtel Cabu. But it's the splendid neo-gothic Cathédrale Sainte-Croix that dominates the townscape above the Loire. Inside the Cathedral the stained glass windows tell the story of Joan of Arc, and there are 32 18th century medallions illustrating the life of Christ.
The Place de Ste-Criox at the side of the Cathedral, is where you can hire a horse or pony for the children to ride in the adjacent 90 acre floral park called La Source, a riot of colour and a haven of rest. Alternatively take a trip around it on a small electric train to see the source of the river Loiret as it bubbles up in a large circular pool. The park takes its name from this curious natural feature. Officially the River Loire rises here. In fact its waters are diverted from the Loire almost 30km upstream. They disappear underground for all that distance before welling up again in the park. Or like us, you can take a long stroll down the Quai de Chetelet, a long promenade that runs along the North bank of the Loire.
It's been a full day here and so we are heading back to Checy for the night. Then tomorrow its off to Gien and then Briare to see the canal.
Views of GienClick thumbnail to view full-size
Up early for our trip to Gien, as it's quite a drive and we have to locate our next overnight stop first. We found a nice riverside aire de repose at St-Gondon, between Gien and Sulley-sur-Loire at the side of the Pont Janson. It's small but has all the services and they are free!!!
First stop as usual is the Tourist Office on Place Jean-Jaurès, between the Chateau and the river, (closed on Monday mornings) From the banks of the Loire with it's leafy promenade, the picturesque and interesting town of Gien, carefully restored after heavy war damage, but still retaining many curious old buildings. The town rises up the hillside to a little plateau shared by the 15th century Chateau, where young Louis XIV and his mother, Anne of Austria hid during the revolts against taxation, known as the Fronds, and the modern church, unusually both are built of brick rather than stone. The Chateau houses the Musée International de la Chasse, which has displays that cover every aspect of hunting.The church replaces a building that was destroyed in World War II, and has some very decorative brickwork both inside and out. But the town is most famous for its pottery. The Musée de la Faiencerie at Place de la Victoire (founded in 1821 by an Englishman) is the place to see the beautiful handmade tableware, vases, and other exquisitely worked ceramic objects d'art, the prices reflect the superb quality, but check out for near perfect "seconds" being sold cheaply in the Factory shop just opposite the Museum. Ceramics have been produced here for the last 180 years, and they do it so well.The site of present day Gien has been occupied since prehistoric times. In more recent history the church was dedicated to Saint Joan of Arc, as it was here that she first made contact with the dauphin's army and began her mission to liberate France.
The town of Gien was twinned with Malmesbury, England in April 2000
The Briare Aqueduct / The 7 locks at RognayClick thumbnail to view full-size
Next stop the canal at Briare
Just a few Kilometers down the road is the Canal Latéral a la Loire, one of the oldest canals in France, and until 2003 it had the longest steel aqueduct in the world. Here at Briare, the aqueduct carries the canal over the River Loire on it's journey to the River Seine, as both these rivers have different levels.The Aqueduct was built between 1890 - 1896, to eliminate the problems the river barges had crossing the river Loire at low water or while waiting for floods to subside. Interestingly the masonry abutments and the 14 piers were built by Gustave Eiffel (of Eiffel Tower fame). The piers support a single metal beam carrying a trough with more than 13,000 tonnes of water, 2.2 meters deep.There are towpaths on both sides making its width 11.5 meters. The aqueduct has lighting on each side , and each end is marked by two ornamental columns in imitation of the Pont Alexander III in Paris.The Aqueduct is now a registered historic monument in France.
We made a point of finding the Tourist Office on Place de Charles de Gaulle, to pick up some info on boat trips and places of interest to visit. Just a minute away are the offices of Charmes Nautiques who have all styles of boats for hire. We decided to visit Rogney-Les-Sept-Ecluses to see the old water staircase and to take a walk along the canal towpath. We parked our Motorhome with ease in the very large almost deserted car park by the side of the canal, well it was midweek. As with any attraction we have found a mid week visit to be easier in all aspects.
The history of the canal is provided by information boards in French, English and German, so you know what you are seeing and it is a very interesting story. Briefly the canal was built with financial support from Henry IV to develop the grain trade, and reduce food shortages. Construction was started in 1604 and completed in 1642. Between 6.000 and 12,000 men worked on the canal which connects the basins of the River Loire and River Seine. As it was the first canal to cross a watershed, It was necessary to build a staircase of 7 locks here in Rogny-les-Sept-Ecluses. By the mid 18th century more than 500 wine barges were bringing wines from Maçon, Beaujolais, Sancerre, and Languedoc regions. Other barges brought timber, coal and iron, pottery from Nevers and fruit from the Auvergne. The hauling of the barges was done by men, usually 2 to a barge. No horses involved! One can only think of the physical strength needed, not to mention the endurance,to do that job day after day.
The canal was purchased by the State in 1860, and the old 7 lock staircase was bypassed in 1887, but preserved as an ancient monument, and floodlit at night.
Our journey along the Eastern Loire has been very enjoyable, and we can strongly recommend a visit, but unfortunately it ends here, so now we are homeward bound.
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