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Discover the Western Loire Valley by Motorhome
Photos of NantesClick thumbnail to view full-size
Where to Start?
Stating in Nantes, very much a river city, as it includes two channels of the Loire, three of it's tributaries and a canal! It's not immediately attractive, having suffered greatly during the second World War. The City has a very efficient modern Tram network.The moated Castle belongs to the Dukes of Brittany, and is the last of the Loire Chateaux before the Atlantic ocean. The walk around the ramparts offers excellent views across the city. Nante's most famous son, Jules Verne the science fiction pioneer, has a museum devoted to his life and works, with a Planetarium nearby as a complement. Look for the Late Gothic Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, that was begun in 1434 but wasn't finished until the 19th century, and the waterside Japanese Gardens, not forgetting the Isle de Machine where on Saturday morning you can see the amazing giant machines in action. There are replicas of people, Sea Monsters, and many more interactive opportunities including having a ride on a giant 12 meter high, 40 ton mechanical Elephant, made of wood and steel, that walks along the roadway. The ride lasts 30 minutes, and he can carry 30 passengers. A really great photo opportunity.
Parking in Nantes was easy,we chose to park up for the day at "Petit Port" a campsite easily found off the ring road (north) at exit "Port de la Chapelle" following the direction of petit port université. We were only a 15 minute walk from the Tram, so getting into the centre was very easy. There are several well signposted car parks in the centre of town, the biggest having 674 places is at Tour Bretagne, and one at the Cathedral having 406 places, all in all there are more than 5000 places to park under cover , and hundreds more on parking meters. Visit the Tourist office near the Cathedral, ask for a city street plan showing parking, and ask about a "Pass Nantes" for free access to "Relais" car parks. Other ways to get around Nantes are by bus and tram,or for a change try the river ferries, with a cruise along the Erdre, with 7 stops between St. Félix and La Jonelière. There is a ferry crossing the Loire Trentmoult to Nantes river port every 20 minutes (crossing takes just 10 minutes). Another option for the young and fit ,is the "bicloo" self-service cycle hire. help yourself to a bicycle in and around Nantes. 79 pick- up points, and 700 bikes at your disposal. Again,ask the Tourist office near the Cathedral for more details.
Photos of AngersClick thumbnail to view full-size
Moving on to Angers
As the campsite at Nantes was getting very busy, too crowded for us, we moved on and found a good overnight stop at Champtoceaux, it's 29 km NE of Nantes on the D751. The aire is situated behind the church, and by the municipal swimming pool, in Place de Niederheimbach. There are 12 places and all services are available for just 3€. The time limit here is 48 hours. We settle down for the night after a hectic day's sightseeing, as tomorrow we visit Angers, and we want to make an early start.
Angers stands on the river Maine that feeds into the river Loire just south of the city. This a University town which overflows with colourful parks and gardens,and streets full of floral decorations. In fact the city is positively obsessed with flowers! Since the 9th century it has been famous for it's slate and stone quarries. The most outstanding feature is the 13th century Plantagenet Castle fortress, with it's 17 round towers, which makes an imposing sight as it rises above the town. Angers is a great benefactor of the arts, and is at the forefront of tapestry design. The famous 14th century "Apocalypse Tapestry" outstanding in detail and colour, contains scenes that portray the last book of the Bible, Revelation, is housed here.This historic city has many curious wooden houses dating back to the 15th and 16th century, like Adam's house pictured above, the oldest house in Angers.
The equally imposing Gothic Cathedral of St. Maurice with its impressive twin spires. houses some magnificent stonework, splendid sculptures and a magnificent stained glass window dating from the middle of the 13th century. The Cathedral is best approached by the Montée St. Maurice, a stairway climbing up from the River Maine, there are a lot of steps! We found a good place to eat not far from here, the "Boucherie Café" at 27, boulevard Foch, it's open 7 days 10am - 11pm, and the family menu was just 10€
The museum of Jean Lurçat is where you will find the Contemporary tapestry "Chante du Monde". Other museums worth a visit are the Museum de Beaux Arts, which houses paintings and sculpture from the 14th century to the present day, and the Museum Pincé , which exhibits classical art, Egyptian, Etruscan, Japanese and Chinese art.
Angers most famous son was Edouard Cointreau 1849-1923, the inventor of the world famous liquor Cointreau, which is only distilled here in the suburb of Barthélemy-d'Anjou.Ask at the Tourist Office on Place Kennedy, about an Angers city pass, that allows entrance to the Chateau and other smaller castles, and many of the museums. There is also a full day guided cruise with commentary in English along the river, with visits to the wine caves for tastings, and a guided visit to a Troglodyte village, and other attractions along the banks of the Loire. Don't forget to ask for a street map showing the parking available.
For horse lovers, the National Stud Farm is nearby at Lion d'Angers, where you will see many impressive horses of various breeds, and learn about their breeding, upkeep and training. The city of Angers is Twinned with Wigan in England.
Now on to Saumur
We are heading 9 km South West of Angers now to Bouchmaine, at the base nautique on Rue de Chevriere, where we will stop for the night. There are 32 pitches here , and all the services are available, including a shower block and washing machine all for 2.60€ plus 7.50€ for an overnight in high season, but free of charge from 1/10 to 30/4.
There are collections of Troglodyte dwellings carved in the cliffs around the Loire river, and in the 12th century many families would have lived here. We are now taking a detour on the D761 towards Doué-la-Fontaine to Rochmeniere to see the Troglodyte village.The village comprises of 2 ancient farms with furnished dwellings and outbuildings containing old agricultural implements There is also a farmyard complete with animals (they conserve some ancient breeds of poultry here), and even an underground Chapel. There is also a modernised Troglodyte house to show that it's still possible to use this type of dwelling today. The Troglodyte Village is open from 9.30am to 7pm daily from 1/4 to 1/11 (the rest of the year weekends & holidays only) It is closed during December and January.. The entrance fees for 2010 are 5€ adults, 2.60€ children over 7 years and students.
We found some free parking for our motor home on the riverside, and if you are visiting the Cadre Noir there is also free parking in their very large car park on Rue Beauepaire. Saumur is famous for several things. The first one is of course the magnificent 14th century Chateau, home to the Dukes of Anjou in the Middle Ages, and a bastion of Protestantism in the 17th century, that towers over the town and overlooks the river Loire.The Chateau now houses the Decorative Arts Museum and the Horse Museum. Don't forget the Saturday morning market that's held in Place de Roosevelt.
Saumur is home to the French National Riding School and is France's military and equestrian centre, and for almost two hundred years the cavaliers of the re-enactment of the Cadre Noir have been the pride and joy of this city. Founded in 1828 it gets its name from the black uniforms that are still used today. It is one of the most prestigious horsemanship schools in the world.There are about 50 horses and a team of elite riders (around 22) some being Olympic champions who hold riding galas and other equestrian events from April and on to the end of summer, usually every Thursday morning at 10.30am, and special 3 day weekend events throughout the year. The Tourist Office on Place de la Bilange is the fist place to visit for your street map of Saumur, and information on all the events happening in and around Saumur. This is a good place to find a great choice of cafés where you can enjoy a coffee before setting off to see the sights. Many good restaurants and some well restored, interesting old buildings can also be found in the old town. There is the Gothic church of St.Pierre, and the towns oldest church Notre Dame de Nantilly, which contains a 16th century tapestry collection.
Well we must press on as it's getting late and our next stop at Avoine, just 12km north of Chinon in the direction of Bourgueil. The site is well equipped with all the services available for 5€ plus 3€ if you stay overnight. There are 11 pitches here and it suits us for tonight.
The Chateaux of Ussé and Azay-le-RideauClick thumbnail to view full-size
In the heart of Chateaux country
There are so many Chateaux around us it's hard to choose which ones to see as it's impossible to see them all, seeing too many would give us Chateaux fatigue. We have picked out the Chateau d'Ussé for our first visit today. This Chateau was a fortified stronghold in the 11th century built of wood. The site passed into the hands of the Comte de Blois who rebuilt it in stone. By the 15th century it was a ruin, but it was soon transformed in the 1460's. because of heavy debts the Chateau was sold in 1485. (It seems that nothing changes!)Soon after the chapel was added and completed in 1538, so we see the mixture of flamboyant Gothic style and Renaissance motifs. What we see today is a rebuilt 15th century chateau with a 16th- 17th century aspect. In 1885 the Comtesse de la Rochejaquelein bequethed Ussé to her great nephew, the Comte de Blacas, and today the chateau belongs to his descendant.
A tradition maintained at Ussé is that this was the castle Charles Perrault had in mind when he wrote "Sleeping Beauty". Famed for it's picturesque aspect, Ussé was the subject of a French railroad poster in the 1920s, and was one of several that inspired Walt Disney in the creation of many of the Disney Castles.
This afternoon we are going to the Chateau at Azay-le-Rideau which is quite near. This chateau was built between 1515-1527, it's one of the earliest French Renaissance chateaux. It's unusual as it's built on an island in the Indre river and it's foundations rise straight out of the water. As with many of the Loire chateaux this one also had a chequered history. When Gilles Berthelot, who was Treasurer General of France under King Francis I, and mayor of Tours, who began the reconstruction, was suspected of embezzlement, he was forced to flee from the Chateau in 1528, and the King confiscated the property and gave it to one of his Generals as a reward. (Even back then crime didn't pay!)
The most remarkable feature of the chateau is the central staircase (escalier d'honneur) that meets you when entering, it was inspired by the staircase at Chateaudun. The chateau is surrounded by a 19th century English Parkland style garden that contains many specimen conifers, Atlas Ceder, Bald Cypress and Sequoias from the New World.
Over the centuries the chateau has changed hands many times, until the beginning of the 20th century when it was purchased by the French Government and completely refurbished with a collection of Renaissance pieces.
We have enjoyed our day and now we are on route to Amboise for our overnight stop.
The Leonardo connectionClick thumbnail to view full-size
Amboise and Clos Lucé
At Amboise parking our Motor Home near the Chateau was so easy as there is an Aire, (dedicated parking for Camping Cars) close to the Camping de L'ile d'Or in front of the Chateau, on the N152, between the 2 bridges. The price for a full day (24 hrs) was 9€, and services if needed were 2€. There are also services offered at Camping de Limeray, Le Jardin Botanic.
We walked to the tourist office to get some maps and we found that we could buy a Chateau "Pass" for a one off payment and choose which Chateaux to visit. We arrived at Chateau Amboise to find out some of its history, and like many other Chateaux in the Loire valley it started life in the middle ages, but was rebuilt in stone in the 11th century. It was improved and extended over time, then on 4th September 1434 it was seized by King Charles VII of France, after its owner, Louis d'Amboise was convicted of plotting against Louis XI, and condemned to be executed in 1431. He was later pardoned but the King kept the Chateau. The Chateau has had an interesting past, Henry II and his wife Catherine de'Medici raised there children here along with Mary Stuart (the child Queen of Scotland) who was promised in marriage to the future French King Francis II.In 1560 during the French Wars of Religion, a conspiracy by members of the Huguenot of Bourbon against the House of Guise that virtually ruled France at that time, was uncovered and stopped by a series of hangings that took a month to carry out. At the final count, 1200 Protestants were hung and strung from the town walls, hung from the iron hooks that held the pennants and tapestries on festive occasions. The Royal Court soon had to leave town because of the smell of corpses! During the French Revolution the greater part of the Chateau was demolished, and more was pulled down in the 19th century by Emperor Napoleon Bonapart. The final damage was done in 1940 during the German invasion. Don't miss the son et lumière presentation that brings back to life François 1's glittering court of those days.
King Francis I was raised at Amboise, and during his reign, in December 1515 to be exact, he became patron to the great artist and engineer Leonardo da Vinci. He invited him to live and work in the nearby brick and stone house Clos Lucé that was connected to the Chateau by an underground passage. We were told that Leonardo spent the last 3 years of his life here working on astonishing engineering drawings. There are 40 of these, featuring machines resembling an aeroplane, a helicopter and an army tank, that have been turned into a grand display of three-dimensional models such a Leonardo himself never saw in his lifetime. We are told that he is buried in the Chapel St. Hubert which adjoins the Chateau.
It is interesting that after Leonardo's death, King François 1 of France bought the famous paintings of the Mona Lisa and the Virgin on the rocks.
We have spent a great deal of very enjoyable time exploring the Western Loire valley, but sadly now we must return home as our holiday is over.
The next holiday will be a trip through more Chateaux Country, the Eastern Loire valley, and the Touraine, "The garden of France" where Vineyards are plentiful.
I hope you enjoyed this journey and will visit my next hub on the Eastern Loire.
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