As I’ve hinted at in my recent blog posts, my family and I took off for four days to visit the châteaux de La Loire. Each castle had its charm, and I got to brush up on French monarchical history. Loches, Chenonceau, Amboise, Clos Lucé (Leonardo Da Vinci’s residence at the end of his life), Chambord, Blois, Ussé (the castle that inspired Charles Perrault’s Sleeping Beauty), Azay-le-Rideau, Villandry, Langeais…I kind of got château-ed out. But it was wonderful and enriching and gorgeous…
What was most impressive was the combination of this world-class national patrimony and the landscapes in between. While driving to the châteaux every day, I had the chance to soak in the beautiful countryside. Instead of the south-western countryside I’m used to, I brushed up with the lush lowlands and open green spaces of this region. While sitting in the car, I had absolutely no desire to hook up to my iPod or to keep myself busy in an way. My eyes were fixed on the changing landscape, moving in an out of soft hills, hiding historical gems such as castles or villages. Such scarcely populated areas projected an image of romanticism and timelessness that made me long for immobility and simplicity. Once in the Loire valley, to get from one castle to the other, our oh-so-faithful and inhuman GPS somehow directed us through the most inconspicuous routes, on roads meant only for local farmers, winding through small villages and across great expanses of empty farmland. It seemed as if the greenery went on forever and that civilization had somehow evaporated into the light mist lingering above the earth.
And then the castles. Majestic châteaux sprouting up every few kilometers around the Loire river and its tributaries, creating a gem-encrusted landscape. The soft, rural planes studded with dramatic, civilized castles. And the architecture in the cities and small towns and villages we passed through was phenomenal. Used to the traditional toulousain brick and terra cotta buildings of my city, seeing the glimmering white and hard stone of the central-north part of France was impressive. I felt like I was in a completely different place, but with the same language. The gîte where we stayed was a marvel in and of itself. In a small village, lost in the the valley and almost void of life, our gîte was located in a typical white building in a style similar to the châteaux, and it was hidden behind the local church and a 30-second walk from a small – the only – convenience store / boulangerie around, where a brother and sister provide basic food and fresh bread for all of the inhabitants.
Countryside and castles…the perfect combination.