Farewell to the Loire

Saturday 14th February 2009, Pocé-sur-Cisse
Valentine's Day and I woke to find a heart shaped lump of smelly goat's cheese smothered in black mould nestling beside me on the pillow. I despair!

First thing this morning Rosemary rang to reassure us they had reached home safely after an uneventful journey to Caen and a smooth ferry crossing. In England it seems the morning frost is still lying heavily, so perhaps they did a good thing escaping to France for a few days.

It has been the brightest, sunniest day since we've been here and there was even a degree of warmth in the sunshine that meant we could dry the washing in the garden! In Amboise it had brought the crowds out to stroll through the picturesque streets and cluster around the ice rink that has been set up beside the river. It has real ice and today it was packed with young people skimming, slithering, sliding or sprawling - depending on their ability. Everyone was thoroughly enjoying the experience.

Fun on the ice, Amboise

We've discovered the Château de Pocé has its own wine label and have bought a bottle of red and another of white to try out on our friends Susan and Ray who are coming for lunch with us tomorrow.

Local wine, Pocé-sur-Cisse

We returned to Clos Lucé this afternoon to explore the gardens, which we'd missed on Thursday. It was well worth going back as throughout the grounds there are working models of Leonardo's inventions and panels explaining his ideas. We played with an Archimedes screw, a shaduf and a paddle boat, climbed inside an armoured tank, crossed a folding military bridge and clambered around in a treadmill. The gardens were attractive even now but in high season would be filled with plants depicted in Leonardo's notebooks. Several ancient buildings can be seen in the grounds, in particular a water mill, a priory and a dovecote.

Former priory building, Clos Lucé

Dovecote, Clos Lucé

Below are a couple of photos taken around our house. There are several interesting old pieces of carved heavy wooden furniture hand produced by craftsmen known as ébenistes. Such bespoke items are still popular here even today.

19th century decorated Breton cupboard

Carved bookcase dated 1888

We were particularly interested by several heavy brass vases around the house. Our friend Peter realised they are actually made from used gunshells! Closer examination showed them to be German and dating from the First World War.

Brass vases made from recycled shell cases

Sunday 15th February 2009, Pocé-sur-Cisse
It has been another bright, cold, sunny day, warm in the sun but icy elsewhere. English friends Susan and Ray from Loches came to lunch, a leisurely affair that took best part of the afternoon. Afterwards we took a short walk through the grounds of the castle, showing them the splendours of the village. They are the last visitors we shall have here before we leave. From now on our diet will consist of using things up so meals will really become challenging!
The local wine we bought yesterday worked very well with lunch today so we'll have to buy a few bottles before we leave.

Ray, Susan and Jill after feeding the ducks at the château, Posé-sur-Cisse

Monday 16th February 2009, Pocé-sur-Cisse
There are only a few days left now before we return to Caen en route to England for Modestine's MOT and to see Kate on her return from her South American adventure. Her emails have become personal messages rather than accounts of travel. Apparently the pace has been so hectic she has been unable to keep up the momentum. I know exactly what she means. She assures us she is keeping notes and will write up the account once she is home again, so there may yet be more to come.

Today we returned to Blois, this time to visit the château. We have seen rather a lot of them recently and while each is spectacular, entrance fees are not cheap, but who knows when or if we will pass this way again and Blois is reputed, quite justifiably as we have seen, as being one of the more spectacular and important ones.

Equestrian statue of Louis XII above the entrance to the castle, Blois

There is so much to see in the castle that we were there until it closed. Surprisingly it is cheaper than the others we have visited and also includes the fine art museum housed in the flamboyant red brick wing constructed by Louis XII and his wife Anne de Bretagne between 1498 and 1503. This has paintings, bronzes and sculptures by artists of international repute including Rembrandt, Rubens and several other Dutch master painters.

Flamboyant brick and stone façade, 1498-1503, Château de Blois

Detail showing the emblem of Louis XII, Château de Blois

Fireplace with the initials of Louis XII and Anne de Bretagne, Château de Blois

The château is built around a courtyard and each wing is an outstanding example of a different architectural style – mediaeval, late gothic, renaissance and classical. It was restored from the mid-19th century after it had fallen into decay following the French Revolution when it was used as an army barracks. Duban, the architect responsible for the main restoration, seems to have been given a fairly free hand with the decoration which is a marvel of polychrome painted ceilings, walls and mouldings with brightly tiled floors and rich fabrics that are often only an assumption of what may have existed during the 16th and 17th centuries.

François I was responsible for the building of the Italianate renaissance wing, 1515-1524, constructed in white stone a mere 15 years after the gothic wing of Louis XII but totally different in appearance. It is particularly noted for its magnificent octagonal external staircase.

Bronze of François I, Château de Blois

Staircase and renaissance wing, Château de Blois

Renaissance staircase, Château de Blois

Detail of the renaissance staircase, Château de Blois

Restored fireplace showing a salamander and an ermine - emblems of François I and his wife, Claude de Bretagne. Château de Blois

Another impressive fireplace showing the emblem of François I, Château de Blois

Royal apartments, Château de Blois

Royal apartments, Château de Blois

In complete contrast again is the classical style of the Gaston d'Orléans wing constructed between 1635 and 1638 by François Mansard. Inside there is a magnificent staircase decorated with classical sculptures. Above it is a huge, double vaulted roof.

Classical façade of the Gaston d'Orléans wing adjoining the renaissance wing of François I, Château de Blois

Looking up into the double cupola from the base of the staircase in the Gaston d'Orléans wing, Château de Blois

On the corner of the courtyard stands the oldest part of the castle, the huge 13th century seignorial hall, all that remains of the original mediaeval fortress. Inside, the walls and archways are impressively painted in reds and browns while the vaulted roof is painted bright blue and decorated with gold fleurs-de-lys.

Restored and decorated interior of the seignorial hall, Château de Blois

Ian usurps the French throne in the seignorial hall, Château de Blois

Gargoyles in the lapidary museum, Château de Blois

The castle is notorious for the murder, in the bedroom of the Protestant king Henri III, of the Catholic Duke de Guise on 23rd December 1588 during the French Wars of Religion. There is a collection of 19th century paintings depicting this and the events surrounding it.

Bedroom of Henri III where the Duc de Guise was assassinated, Château de Blois

Duc de Guise and Henry III, Château de Blois

The castle is furnished throughout the public areas with paintings, bronzes, tapestries, ceramics, chests, four-poster beds, oak tables and chairs.

Possibly the room in which Catherine de Medici, widow of Henry II died, Château de Blois

A few general additional views of Blois.

View of the town and the Loire from the Château de Blois

Bridge over the Loire, Blois

Cathedral seen from the river, Blois

Plaques commemorating the birthplace of the magician Houdin and the site of Auguste Poulain's first chocolate factory, Blois

Wednesday 18th February 2009, Pocé-sur-Cisse
Yesterday we were up and off early to Loche, a very pleasant mediaeval town on the river Indre about 40 kilometres from Pocé. Ian had an afternoon appointment with the director of the project with which he is involved recording 18th century French book trade personnel. Thus we had a few hours to rediscover the town, which we first encountered in 2005, before his meeting. Please see that account for more about Loches. We climbed up the steep cobbled streets through the gateway to the castle complex on its sheer cliff above the town. It has a daunting, impenetrable donjon, 36 metres high, the tallest in France.

Loches seen from the river Cher

The castle dates from the 11th century and was frequently visited by royalty. Although it does not look at all a feminine castle from the outside, it is strongly linked to three women. Jeanne d'Arc met here with the dauphin, the future Charles VII and persuaded him to travel to Reims to be crowned King of France. Agnes Sorel was the mistress of Charles VII and lived in the castle at Loches. Her rather attractive tomb is in the nearby church of St. Ours. Inside the castle is the oratory of Anne de Bretagne.

Tomb of Agnes Sorel, Loches

The church of St. Ours dates from the 11th century. It has a beautiful Romanesque entrance decorated with curious animals. Although damaged, it still retains vestiges of its polychrome colouring. Beside the entrance is a hollowed column from a gallo-roman temple used as a baptismal font. Inside, the church is unique in France having two tall hollow pyramids known as dubes built into the roof. Presumably this gives the church a particular resonance. (We feel we have seen exactly the same thing somewhere else but cannot recall where, possibly Italy.)

Porch of the church of St. Ours, Loches

Baptismal font formed from a gallo-roman column, St. Ours, Loches

The town clustering around the base of the castle hill is entirely mediaeval with quaint corners, narrow streets and weathered, ornately carved façades which now house administrative buildings and archives collections.'' Amidst these curious streets we found a pleasant looking restaurant, "l'Entr'acte" with a stream of obviously regular customers. It is perhaps one of the best paces we've discovered for eating during our travels. We only wanted dish of the day, which was just as well as we were incapable of finishing it all! We had chicken covered with ham cooked in a tomato and herb sauce with tiny meatballs. Over the top was a thick blanket of bubbling hot cheese and fresh parsley. It was accompanied by hot dishes of pasta cooked in cream and smothered with yet more cheese! With it we had wine and bread and, after, a coffee each. Our bill was 20 euros. The service, food and ambiance were all excellent.

From there we waddled with groaning tums to Ian's meeting at the nearby Grand Café des Arts. Leaving him with a kindred spirit to discuss the finer points of French bibliography I spent a delightful and uncultured hour browsing the shops until it was time to rejoin them for a coffee. Their official business finished we sat together chatting until our new friend, a charming and colourful Frenchman, who lives in Paris but has a holiday home in the region, took us on a guided tour of the town's charcuteries and menswear shops, both of which seemed very important to him. His mobile rang and his wife sent him on an important mission to buy a tin of paint for the bathroom, so at this point we all went our separate ways. It was a very enjoyable day in every respect.

Today we have been preparing to return to Caen, gathering our belongings from where they seem to have spread all over the house and garden. Will they all fit back into Modestine? It has been really warm and after a trip to the internet café in Amboise we went for a final coffee in our favourite bar before returning home for a supper of everything left over cooked up together in the remoska. Believe it or not, a delicious meal can be made from bits of pork, mushrooms, half a tin of French chestnuts, onions, garlic, carrots, apricots, cream, any left over bits and bobs in the fridge together with the scrapings of a few jars in need of emptying. I frequently panic about what to cook when we have visitors whereas I'd have been proud to serve this to anybody. Even Ian commented on it - after a bit of prompting! Unfortunately I'll never be able to cook it again as I've forgotten quite what went into it.