Chateaux de la Loire and some mustard
27 March 2017
This was another chateau day. After all, this is chateau country in France! We drove to Blois which was the royal residence for seven French kings. The Royal Chateau was a unique mixture of different styles as the rulers and the the fashions of the times changed. The oldest portion of the chateau is the Louis XII wing, and it is made with bricks. It has an impressive double-barreled ceiling, painted blue with gold fleur-de-lis. There is even a replica of Louis XII’s throne, and we, of course, gave our best royal impressions.
The next wing was built by Francois I. He married Claud, the daughter of Louis XII and Anne of Brittany. His wing was ornate with intricate facade details and a most elegant spiral staircase. One of the reasons I wanted to visit this chateau was it seemed to inspire elements of something a bit closer to home: The Biltmore House in Asheville. The staircase, the steeply pitched dormers are some of the influences that seem to inspire the Biltmore House.
Another interesting bit from the royal palace is the heraldry. Each monarch had his own emblem, motto, and monogram. Louis XII was represented by a porcupine, because they could shoot quills like arrows to ward off enemies. Francois I was represented by the salamander, because during that time, it was thought salamanders could survive fire and even spew fire, like a dragon. The message to enemies was clear: I can withstand your attack, and use it against you. We also see the mark of Henry III and Catherine de Medici, like we saw at Chenonceau. Catherine de Medici is said to have spent her final years here.
We wanted to squeeze in one more chateau before closing time, so we headed over to Chambord, just a little further east from Blois. Chambord is the largest of the Loire Valley chateaux. It is impressive, built in the shape of a Maltese cross. Francois I was responsible for its grandiosity. He transformed the royal hunting lodge into the chateau, with over 400 rooms, 364 fireplaces, and a roofline of spires, chimneys, and cupolas that looked as busy and elegant as Gaudi’s more modern styled rooftop sculptures at Casa Mila in Barcelona.
Last entry to Chambord was at 1630, and unfortunately for us, we were just a little too late to be able to go into Chambord. We won’t miss it on our next trip! We did, however, walk the grounds, marveling at the scale and appreciating the undertaking to build such a place. We enjoyed a bite to eat at the onsite cafe, and we took plenty of pictures of the exterior and grounds without having people in our imagery.
The drive back to Noizay was a little over an hour, and I enjoyed taking in the scenic French countryside. The trees had not yet exploded with the canopy, but there were these round green clusters [for lack of a better word] that dot the tree line. It almost looks like mistletoe hung in all of the trees, and I suppose it actually could be mistletoe, but we were not sure. It gives an almost Dr. Suess quality to the aesthetic. I spotted a wild pheasant along the edge of a recently plowed field. It was brilliant red with a green collar and long tail feathers that shone in the late evening sun.
It had slipped my mind that we saw a large group of pheasant hunters yesterday on our first drive to Amboise. There were easily 30 men in blaze orange vests, standing about every 10 meters around a brushy low-land, with rifles [or shotguns, hard to tell from our vantage point] in front of them.
For dinner, we picked up something light from the local market, and we walked up to the top of the hill to watch the sunset over the vineyards there. It was a wonderful evening.
We also met Jerome for the first time, and we gave him and Marie a bottle of the 2013 Coming Home. He hurried inside, and returned with a bottle of sparkling Vouvray made by a friend of his with whom he had worked on our troglodyte. It is so exciting; I can’t wait to sample this bottle from a small producer, a gift from a friend. Marie-May is a French teacher, who has worked in Peru and England. At the time of our visit, she was pregnant and her due date was the week following our visit. The couple is currently renovating two additional troglodyte dwellings and working on their own home. The additional gites will be available for rent, to expand Jerome and Marie’s b&b business.
28 March 2017
Today was a travel day. We drove from Noizay in Loire to Beaune in Burgundy, and it is about a four hour drive. We got up, showered, packed, and said our goodbyes to Jerome [we did not see Marie]. He gave us a quick tour of one of the gites they are building. It is going to be just as nice as the one in which we stayed. They were super nice, and we enjoyed visiting with them.
In the car we went, Dianne took the first shift. She got us to the A10 and a few kilometers down the road before her sleepiness took over. She said her eyes were just so heavy, she could not keep them open. We stopped at a rest area, took a break, then I took over the driving. We drove the rest of the way without stopping, with just a few delays for construction along the way.
We had just a little difficulty finding our flat. Our GPS took us directly to it, but we failed to recognize the turn she was telling us to take. The ‘road’ is in the wall; there is a narrow passage with a gate! We stopped at the Lidl in the neighborhood, and Dianne walked around the corner and saw the space pictured on Airbnb, and recognized how to get there. We arrived at our flat a little after 2p, met our hostess, Lara, who was just finishing cleaning the space. She was a bit flustered, I think, that we arrived before she finished. The previous tenants had stayed later than they were supposed to stay, and I think that threw her off. We had a nice chat with Lara, then she left.
It was a little thrilling to drive through the facade of the three story buildings lining the D947, the main street. Once behind the buildings, we were in a quiet private space where our garage apartment is located. Lara and her husband are both architects, and they had designed and built the home and the Airbnb in which we stayed. Lara made several suggestions for places to visit, wines to taste. Dianne asked her if she was from Beaune, and she said, “No, but my husband is. He was born in the Hospices!”
We had not eaten anything beyond our yogurt cups we had at Noizay, and I was feeling pretty hungry. So was Jeff! We walked back over to the Lidl, and found some cheese bread, or literally, French bread pizza. We were thrilled to have something to snack on, and we were very excited about the flat. It was the perfect home base for our time in Burgundy. It was very centrally-located and it was easy to walk to all of the old town of Beaune.
Our tourist event for this day was the Moutarderie Fallot [mustard factory created by the Fallot family]. Fallot was only 50 meters from our flat, so we walked through the gates of our flat, turned south on D974, and crossed the street about 75 meters down, and walked back up the sidewalk on the other side. The building is even painted [what else?] yellow.
The tour was absolutely fascinating. Catherine was our guide, and she explained the history of Edmond Fallot and the differences between Dijon and seed-style mustards. Dianne even got to make a little run of mustard; it was terrible, but only because when first crushed, the mustard seeds have a bitterness. It dissipates after about 24 hours. Moutarderie Fallot is the last of the mustard houses making mustard in the traditional method, with stone grinding wheels. We did a tasting of four mustards, the Moutard de Bourgogne, a new AOC designation to distinguish Dijon mustard from Burgundy from Dijon mustard from the rest of the world; the cassis infused; terragon-infused; and Provençal, with red peppers and basil. They have multiple offerings but my favorite still remains the traditional Dijon mustard, of which the AOC is one version, along with the moutardie en grains [with seeds]. The AOC designation has several requirements, not the least of which are that the mustard must have been grown in Burgundy, and the factory that produces the mustard must also be in Burgundy.
After our tour, we were hungry and walked into the old city of Beaune to find some chow. The first place we stopped, La Lune, is the #1 TripAdvisor rated place for this area, which we discovered after-the-fact when I went to TripAdvisor to write our review. They were completely booked for the evening, but we made a reservation for Wednesday.
We walked on into town, and wondered about a bit. We ended up a place we both knew to be a tourist trap, and while the food was not bad, it was not good either. Dianne had onion soup and a salad, and I had escargots and beef Bourgogne. We ordered a bottle of Bourgogne-designated red, and it was a disappointing bottle. I left there feeling a bit let-down, both in the experience and in myself for going into a spot we knew was designed to capture tourists. Almost everybody will do that at some point; you get hungry and tired, and you just want something to eat.
We walked back to the flat, and hit the rack. We were pretty exhausted, and we both slept hard.
*The 27 March entry comes directly from Dianne’s travel journal with just minor editing for verb tense. 28 March is a mixture of both journals with the really interesting stuff coming straight from Dianne.