The Marathon of the Châteaux

Sunday – Monday, September 28th – 29th, 2008

Sunday we packed up and moved further west down the Loire to Amboise. But first, we got down to business and started by visiting the largest of all the châteaux, Château de Chambord. The château began as a hunting lodge which was torn down in 1519 and Chambord begun building to a design attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. It was completed in 1537 by 1,800 men and two master masons. A year later, François I began building a royal pavilion with a connecting two-story gallery and his son Henri II continued the west wing with a chapel, finally Louis XIV, the Sun King, completed the 440-room château in 1685. It is purported the château has 365 fireplaces. Who could count them; the stairs alone will kill you.  This massive château is not one to miss, check it out at

Our next stop, Château de Cheverny, has no defensive elements such as towers, walls, or a moat. It is privately owned and quite beautiful with its gilded beams, ceilings and panels. If you are around at 5 pm you can watch the 70 hounds get fed. The trophy room, which has over 2,000 pairs of antlers was closed. Go to to see the stunningly elegant interior rooms.

Château de Villesavin,Tour-en-Sologne, built in the 16th century was our next stop. We found this privately-owned château in very rough shape and in need of extensive repair work. There were two rooms filled with marriage gowns, suits and 300 marriage globes which were somewhat interesting for about 10 minutes. Other than that, if you are in the area, take a pass on this château.

On to the Château Valcençay, , built for Napoleon’s foreign minister Talleyrand as a place to entertain and impress guests and foreign dignitaries. After touring the interior and grounds, we drove to Les Minimes,, our home in Amboise for two nights, and enjoyed a light dinner in the town.

Monday, September 29th

Millie, our GPS, who we had become fond of due to her accurate directions and ease of use, apparently went out drinking Sunday night and was hung over Monday morning when we asked her to guide us to the gardens of Villandry. We knew it was west of us, near the river, so were not surprised that she sent us west on the north bank of the Loire. We were a bit concerned when she directed us to get on the A10 Autoroute heading towards Paris, but assumed it was a shortcut. Our concerns grew when she then had us take the first exit off A10, and immediatley get back on heading south. Surely, there was a reason. We really began to worry when she sent us east on A85 away from Villandry. When she directed us to head north, effectively sending us back to our starting point, it was time to go manual. The “Bevigator” took over and we quickly were back on track and arrived at Villandry. Instead of a 30-minute drive, Millie’s directions had consumed over an hour of driving time.

We parked the car, got some black coffee for Millie, and headed into the gardens of Villandry. These are the best known gardens in the Loire, stretching over acres of land, with elaborate designs, ponds, and streams surrounding the château. Given that we both have “black thumbs,” we were surprised that they let us in, but we spent the better part of an hour strolling through the grounds.

Then, it was on to one of the Loire’s best wine villages, Savienierres, set along the banks of the Cher River. The finest white wines of the Loire come from around this small village, including Nicholas Joly’s famed Coulee de Serrant. Nearby is the tiny village of Berthenany, and a restaurant that Marc Refabert had told us to try. Au Bout du Monde, which means “at the end of the world”, is hidden beside the “main road” in this miniscule town. Although the sign outside said it was closed Mondays at lunch, there were people inside, so we hopped in. The setting was casual and comfortable, the food terrific, and the wine list extensive and affordable, all as promised by Marc. We both had the pork done in three fashions, which was wonderful. The wine was – of course – one of Joly’s Savinierre’s and was fantastic, and inexpensive.

After the meal, we turned on Millie again to give her another chance. We knew the way home, so it really was a test, and she was on her best behavior, although her accent did seem a bit more clipped. We half expected her to tell us that our last turn into the hotel was “brilliant.”

At 4:30 it was time to head to Vouvray to meet Marc and Catherine for a wine tasting at Philippe Foreau’s Clos Naudin, one of the two best Vouvray vineyards. Now it was David’s turn to have a navigation breakdown. Because there was construction with some roads blocked, we missed the turn to the vineyard and drove around in circles for over 30 minutes. Calls to Marc went unanswered, and we continued to drive aimlessly until we came across a wine tractor and asked the driver for directions. Two turns later, we pulled up in front. We thought we could hear Mille snickering as we closed the door and headed into the caves…

We found Philippe, Marc, and Catherine deep in the caves (no cell reception) tasting wines and not the least worried about our absence. We tasted several extraordinary wines and explored the caves a bit. Then Philippe brought out one of his private collection gems, a 1947 Vouvray that was one of the best we have ever tasted. Amber color, incredibly sweet, but still fresh despite over 60 years in the bottle.

Following our tasting, we followed Catherine to their house in Tours, and then went out to an early, and unremarkable dinner at a local restaurant, Brasserie Bure, picked – according to Marc – because it was one of the only places open on Mondays. The company was enjoyable and the wine (a red Chinon) good. After dinner we bid farewell to Marc and Catherine until October 18th when we will meet them for dinner at Joel Robuchon’s restaurant in Paris.


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