The Loire Valley – Chédigny & Loches

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I don’t suppose any of the readers of this little story will have heard of Chédigny, although Loches may tickle some francophile reader’s radar as the home of Agnès Sorel, the first ever favorite royale, c’est-à-dire maîtresse officielle or ex-cathedra mistress of a French king.

Our little troupe had so far visited three of the “major” Loire castles and endured the rigors of two wine tastings in the regional AOCs of Crémant de Loire, Touraine and Touraine-Chenonceau, during which we discovered some significant differences to the wines in our Bordeaux AOCs, both in grape varieties used like grolleau, côt, pineau d’aunis, or gamay as well as the aging processes. Take a peek if you like:

Les Pierres d’Aurèle

Les Caves du Père August

On the last day in our delightful personal manor house La Chauverie in Saint-George-sur-Cher, we were preoccupied with household chores, doing the laundry, sorting the fridge content, and packing for our upcoming move to Saumur. Nevertheless, something very special was planned for lunch, a visit to the village of Chédigny, listed as a “Jardin remarquable” in the National Register of outstanding gardens, where we had a 12:45 reservation for lunch at the no less remarkable restaurant Le Clos aux Roses.

The rose-village of  Chédigny presented itself slightly subdued under an overcast sky. The beginning of May was also a little bit early, to be greeted by an abundance of roses bushes in full bloom, yet we quickly fell under the spell of crooked lanes with narrow sidewalks spilling over with untamed flora, while ancient dwellings were hidden behind the riotous growth of flowering bushes, even this early in the season. Some years ago, the then mayor of Chédigny decided to beautify the village by planting roses. Many of the less than 600 villagers followed suit. As a matter of fact, the project went so well that the village as a whole, uniquely in all of France, was awarded the title of “most remarkable garden”.

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Many of the names of the roses in the village were noted on slate boards tied to fences or walls and there were also a few poems and literary reference here and there.

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Excerpt from chapter XXI “Go and look again at the roses. You will understand now that yours is unique in the world. Come back to say adieu to me and I will make you the present of a secret.”

And the secret? The fox told the little prince: Only with the heart can one see properly. What is essential is invisible to the eye – L’essentiel est invisible pour les yeux ! I happen to have a small collection of fairy tales and children’s books, among them Le Petit Prince, though only in English and German.

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It appears the referenced passage caught my eye many a decade ago.

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38 flavors of meringues, that must be a world record! A couple of the flavors I had to look up: Barbe à papa [daddie’s beard] = cotton candy & Réglisse = licorice. 2 further flavors one might not find in an American meringue: pain d’épice = gingerbread & speculoos = spiced cookies. Both are hugely popular in Europe.

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Rambunctious Roadside Poppies

Our lunch and subsequent constitutional through the village were simply sublime and pleasurable, but eventually, we climbed back in the car and drove the short distance to Loches.

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Four meter thick walls protect the citadel.

We parked near the medieval ramparts, entering la Cité Médievale through the Royal Gate and started the short walk uphill toward the plateau of the citadel overlooking the town below. In Loches, I have to admit, we did not conduct ourselves like proper tourists. We hadn’t done any advanced research on the town and what it might offer, so when we declined to buy tickets to the triple offering of the Logis Royale, the Collégiale Saint-Ours, and the Donjon, we didn’t even know what we were missing. It was late in the afternoon and we were a bit tired – yes, we dropped the ball.

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Logis Royale

This shot was taken from the open door of the gift shop and the ticket person had minor conniptions about me right foot briefly resting on the far side of the threshold without paying for admission. I read later that this royal residence has yet another one of Queen Anne’s oratories. That’s three oratories in four castles visited, the Lady Anne certainly prayed a lot! The creatures on the staircase are not gargoyles as one might assume. They are the hunting dogs of the royal household. Aristocrats were very fond of hunting and appreciated their dogs enough to have their images cut in stone. I wasn’t allowed any closer in, so I had to edit the above picture to show the dogs, in a fashion.

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We strolled across the plateau from the royal residence to the donjon, enjoying the far view across the valley below.

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The white bell tower of l’Abbaye de Beaulieu-lès-Loches really stood out against the heavy cloud cover.
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Zoom shot

Along the way, we performed a round of pitstops at these rather pleasantly situated facilities, which were, oddly enough, forming the entrance into the church garden of Saint-Ours.

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A street leading up to the castle keep. It always surprises me to realize that regular people live in these extraordinary locations!
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A first glimpse of the donjon complex

Near the keep, we noticed a group of five objects seemingly sunk into the ground. It wasn’t immediately apparent what they might be.

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From afar, they reminded me of the paper-wasp nests we had to remove from our soffits in Costa Rica at regular intervals. The wasps constructed the one below in a gumbo-limbo tree.

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However, the objects in Loches were man-made of steel and fire rather than insect-made of fiber and spit. Walking toward them …

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… they gradually revealed their nature and purpose.

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“… and the night came …” Installation by Laurent Verrier, 2017

Architect and artist Laurent Verrier shaped five tons of solid steel rods, each one 6 m long and 30 mm thick, into geometric forms. He then retold the HG Wells 1904 short story “The Country of the Blind” in braille through soldered dots.

After this thought-provoking steely encounter, we walked back to the car passing the ruin of a house with a sad window high up under the eaves.

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Yet, when you realize the care the builder had taken in bevelling the stone window casing and installing the metal sill, you know that this is a sleeping beauty awaiting a loving renovation to its former glory. Soon, one hopes!

As planned, the next morning we drove to Saumur by way of the world famous Villandry Gardens & Castle. We arrived in Villandry around lunchtime, parked and found a bistro for a quick bite before our highly anticipated tour through the world-renowned gardens. While we ate, the already pretty glum weather deteriorated to a steady downpour with fierce, chilly winds. Not exactly the kind of atmosphere one enjoys while perambulating in a park. After some discussion, we decided to postpone the Villandry visit and drive straight to Saumur.

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A wet field across from the castle grounds near the carpark – the only flowers we got to see.

Having dropped our Villandry itinerary, we arrived in Saumur several hours ahead of the check-in time at our B&B. While loitering in the narrow lane in front of the place, trying to figure out what to do next, we were invited for a cup of tea into the home of the most lovely and generous couple, Nadine and Christian. Such a completely unexpected and very congenial interlude!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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