The wonderful Gothic cathedral there with its savage gargoyles containing drain pipes caused Gisela to say, “I think you call those ‘downspitters,’ don’t you?”
After our ‘goodbyes’ to Gisela, Wolfie and Joerg, the four of us rented a car and were on our way to the northwestern corner of France to visit Mont St-Michel.
The view was strange with the tide out showing a big apron of sand—especially strange to us Midwesterners.
Moving on, we drove south to the stones of Carnac, near a pretty beach town of the same name. These megalithic stones were placed here between 5000 and 3500 B.C.E. In this vicinity there are many of these sites, making this the world’s greatest concentration of megalithic sites. The size of some of them is awesome—the heaviest weigh 300 ton.
After walking among these huge stones, we moved on toward the town of Angers, stopping midway for a look at the westernmost chateau along the Loire valley, Chateau de Serrant. This chateau was built starting in 1546.
Angers has its own Chateau, or really a fortress, which has huge towers all around it. They were de-roofed and shortened as a delaying tactic when 16th century royal orders were received that they must be demolished. Luckily for us, they weren’t. The wide (dry) moats now have wonderful formal flower gardens in them.
Inside the fortress are the 14th century Apocalypse Tapistries, depicting the end of the world and the coming of the New Jerusalem.
There are boodles of chateau round the Loire so we could only stop at some of the most important ones in order to get back to Paris in time for our flight home. Nevertheless, we got a good overview of what life was like in these bygone centuries.
The town of Saumur has a beautiful chateau, built in the 14th century, and also some out buildings, one of which serves as a hotel. We had Calvados before dinner here, and stayed overnight. The hotel was very atmospheric, but the beds were pretty uncomfortable, a small price to pay for staying (kind of) in a chateau.
The Chateau d’Azay-le-Rideau was built by the treasurer to Francois I, but he was accused of embezzlement before the building was complete and was forced to flee. It’s a beautiful graceful building in spite of being built in 1518, only to be confiscated by Francois I in 1527. Do you suppose the ‘embezzlement charges’ were a result of the beauty of the building?
While many of the chateau had some formal gardens, the Chateau de Villandry takes the cake. The chateau was a bit ‘plain vanilla’ but oh, those gardens! How many gardeners do you suppose it takes to keep these up?
And then we came to Chateau de Chenonceau, that romantic chateau with the Cher River running right underneath the building. It’s a large chateau (aren’t they all?) but so memorable with the sound of the water rushing beneath your feet. Five women put their stamp on this building starting with Catherine Briconnet, who supervised the building of it; Diane de Poiters, Henri II’s mistress, created a formal garden and built the bridge over the river; Catherine de Medicis, Henri II’s wife, topped the bridge with a gallery; the influence of Louise Dupin spared it from destruction in the 1779 French Revolution, and Madame Pelouze restored the chateau in the 19th century.
The Chateau d’Amboise has had a checkered history. This 16th century chateau was one of the most beautiful and rich. Unfortunately in 1560 it was also the scene of the slaughter of 1200 Protestant conspirators. Their bodies were hung up on these walls and trees. The pretty Chapelle St-Hubert still exists which is said to house the tomb of Leanardo daVinci, who lived and worked here in the last years of his life until his death in 1519.
It is composed of many styles and has a Renaissance circular stairway. It also has many salamanders in gold—Francois I’s emblem.
The last chateau that we visited was the Chateau de Chambord—huge and full of salamander emblems. It had a Renaissance double stairway (actually sets of steps inside of one another) designed by Leonardo daVinci. This is the largest chateau in the Loire Valley and was built by Francois I. That’s good—‘biggest ‘til last!’
A pleasant drive then brought us to the town (and Cathedral) of Chartres. The Cathedrale Notre-Dame was begun in 1020. It sits high on a hill in the middle of town. It has a jillion artworks to find and take in;
there’s more, more to see in this church.
The South Porch sculpture was done in 1197. People have spent their whole careers studying this church. We did walk the labyrinth, a circular path inlaid in the church floor for pilgrims to walk around on their knees for penance. The stained glass windows are world-renowned and during World War II they were dismantled and hidden away for safekeeping.