Tuesday, May 21, 2013

New Video with Authentic Bike Footage from the Loire Valley!

I was able to pull together the best bits to make a new video of my Loire trip, People!

This one doesn't have lots of detail on Chenonceau, but you can see that here at my Chenonceau video.

Did I mention that DiscoverFrance.com did an amazing job? Altogether, this deluxe trip was a very good deal. We only got lost a couple of times, but the Garmin they lent us fixed that, although in certain lights, it was almost impossible to see the screen.

The food at each hotel was some of the best I've ever eaten, and I've eaten me some pretty fancy damn food, folks! More on the food later.

But the route was really amazing. It took us through lovely countryside and often brought us into town along places just lost in time. I had no idea so much medieval stuff was still left in France. But if you don't bike this area, you will miss out on much of its charm. The first time I visited here was on a bus tour, and it was great to see these places at all, don't get me wrong, but you have no idea just how much beautiful old stuff they have everywhere here. Little mills and towns along the winding rivers. It's so quiet and pretty, and you never know when you're going to come upon some thing amazing. You could probably keep going here year after year and not run out of new castles and villages and churches to see.

Bourgueil and Chinon, local Loire reds - very good - at Le Prieure, Chenehutte

Veal at Le Prieure

Souffle with sorbet at Le Prieure

Town of Langeais viewed from Langeais castle turret

A glass of Sancerre at Langeais castle
The local wines are unusual, and delicious. The local fresh vegetables and cheeses are so much fun to try. I am a firm convert to the wonders of the Loire, and to France as a destination! I'll be coming back and exploring much more!

Please enjoy the video!

And don't forget to comment below and let me know what you think, or ask questions!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Loire Valley: Amboise and Le Choiseul

One of the reasons I love to travel is that new places offer a sense of wonder, a moment of openness, a sense of exhilaration. Exquisite landscapes, spots that seem to transport one back centuries, delicious food—this latest trip to France included many.

So now, how to share them with you? How to give you just a taste of what Paris and the Loire were like for us? After our trip to France I have over 1600 images and hundreds of GoPro video clips to sort through, so I've started breaking things up by day, and I thought the first day of the Discover France (discoverfrance.com) Deluxe Loire tour would be a nice place to start.
Amboise Chateau
Amboise is a town along the Loire topped by a chateau with Gothic and Renaissance elements. What you see today is actually only about a quarter of the size of the chateau at its height. Due to the bloody aftermath of a Huguenot conspiracy that left the chateau festooned with corpses, the place fell into disrepair during the age of the Louis XIV, the Sun King. But in its heyday, the Renaissance king Francois I, a contemporary of the English king Henry VIII, grew up here. In the early years of his reign he made many improvements, turning it into a showplace.
Portrait of King Francois I, who made the Loire very fashionable for chateau building

Amboise, with the ramp up to the Chateau at left
Francois brought Leonardo daVinci to his court and set him up with an atelier in Clos Lucé, a charming brick and half-timber house that was connected to the Chateau by an underground tunnel. At that time Leonardo was designing cutting edge weaponry and machines, as well as architecture and art. When he moved to Francois's royal court, he brought the Mona Lisa with him, which is how it came to be in the Louvre.
Leonardo's Last Home, Clos Lucé

Turrets and towers of Amboise Chateau
Amboise afforded us many many wow moments. The power of the castle looming over the sweet little village on the river - pictures barely do it justice. To arrive in Amboise we got off the train and walked down to the river, crossing the bridge - all recommendations of Rick Steves, by the way.

View of Amboise from the bridge across the Loire
And if you don't know who he is, go to his website, RickSteves.com, and then when you get the chance, watch his travel show on PBS. The man is a genius, because he has made the charms of traveling to Europe much more accessible to us chiefly monolingual Americans. His guidebooks are an invaluable resource. His tips save you frustration, needless waiting on line, and open up unforgettable experiences.
Pennants flying at Amboise Chateau
Because history passed it by in the 1600s, the town of Amboise retains a medieval charm. On a major corner is the well-known chocolatier and patisserie, Bigot. As you can see here, they play the Leonardo theme to the hilt.
DaVinci-Inspired Chocolates in Amboise at Patisserie Bigot
Frozen Desserts at Patisserie Bigot

Pastries at Bigot
More to eat at Bigot

Beautiful little houses, Amboise
If you are an architecture fan, you won't run out of eye candy in Amboise. So many little adorable houses.
Room at Le Choiseul, Amboise
Le Choiseul, our hotel, managed to be humble and four-star all at once, homey and comfortable with lots of little buildings, a pool, and a pretty garden. Our room was in the Hermitage, and it had its own little patio. And even though it was up against a fairly busy road running along the Loire, it managed to be quiet.
Brasserie in Amboise - order the petillant, the local fizzy wine. It is delicious, has a flavor profile more like prosecco than Champagne, and it's reasonable.

Sunset over Chapel St.-Hubert, where DaVinci may be buried, at Amboise

Leonardo on an Apocryphal Bicycle -
the bicycle sketch in his notebooks is believed to be a fake.

Amuse bouche at Le 36, Le Choiseul
The food at Le 36, the restaurant at Le Choiseul, was exquisite, bordering on molecular gastronomy. Of all the very swanky food we had in the Loire included - yes, included - in our bike tour, this was my favorite. The view from the restaurant was lovely and peaceful, over the river and its island.

I could say much more about just this one place, but I will stop here, as I dream of returning to the Loire.

Cheers, Beauty Fans!

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Chinon and Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc Statue in Chinon Keep
We're back in Los Angeles now, and a bit sad because it looks like our girl cat Little, who was wasting away when we left, might not make it much longer.
Mister left, Little right
Mister left, Little right

The boycat, Mister, kept waking me up to get petted last night, but I was glad to do it. Thank goodness he is healthy, glossy, fat and pretty, having been well cared for by our wonderful friends at Acme Pet Care. They took Little to the vet while we were gone because she was not doing well, and we'll be grateful to Sara and Andrew forever. If you live in the Los Angeles area and need pet sitters, they are the best. Click the link above to check them out.
Langeais Chateau
Sun over Langeais Chateau in Exquisite France!
All in all, this was an amazingly trip. We have fallen in love with France. It is an incredibly beautiful country, and we've only seen a small bit of it. We know there's much more to explore. I could try to tell you how many chateaux and medieval villages there are in the Loire Valley, but I think you have to go there to believe it. It really knocked us over, and I invite you to discover it. It is a truly magical place. I also think it would be a great area to take school-age children who are learning about European history. But don't see it too quickly. Budget at least a week to soak it in. I'm planning to do a separate post just on the chateaux we saw, and recommend a good plan of how to tour them. Since I've also been to Chambord and Blois in earlier years, I think I'll have a lot of nice tips for you.
Tower at Chinon, France
Tower at Chinon, France
But in this post, I'd like to talk about Joan of Arc and Chinon.
Bridge between towers at Chinon
Bridge between towers at Chinon
A view from the Castle of Chinon of the town and the Vienne River beyond
A view from the Castle of Chinon of the town and the Vienne River beyond
The Vienne and countryside from Chinon
The Vienne and countryside from Chinon
Chinon is a pretty town that still retains a lot of its medieval character. It sits above the Vienne River, a tributary of the Loire. The keep sits high over the steep slate roofs of the medieval quarter, with gorgeous views of the countryside on all sides. It is a wine town, and you can see the neat rows of vines curving along the soft hills when you look north from the castle.
Maiolica plate with scenes from the life of Joan of Arc
Maiolica plate with scenes from the life of Joan of Arc
Beefy Bourgeuil and Delicate Chinon Wines
Beefy Bourgeuil and Delicate Chinon Wines
Our guide told us that in France, Chinon wine, especially the reds, are famous. They have a soft, fruity but slightly minerally quality and are a light red similar to pinot noir, pairing well with veal and game fowl. The types of grapes in it are Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, but coming from this unique terroir, they are quite different from Bordeaux. Do try Chinon when you are in France, because it's not terribly easy to get here in the USA. It's not too expensive, and it's delicious.
Chinon Royal Apartments
Chinon Royal Apartments
Inside the royal quarters at Chinon, there are several rooms with large scrims upon which are somewhat under-edited films about the various historic lords of Chinon. The films do cry out for a bit of a Monty Python parody, intercut with a Jean-Luc Goddard-style closeup of a medieval cigarette. We thought we could detect the coconut Foley doubling for horse hoof clopping sounds. Expense was spared.
Medieval Chinon
Medieval Chinon
Joan of Arc (1412-1431) was a mountain girl who heard the voices of saints, and who ended up putting a French king back on the throne by commanding armies and winning battles. She was then captured by the Burgundians, who sold her to the English, who convicted her of heresy, and burned her at the stake in Rouen. She is that rare thing in history, a medieval woman who appears to have completely transcended the limitations imposed upon her gender. And for that reason, I've found her fascinating since I was a little girl. She was canonized in 1920, and became one of the patron saints of France.
Art Nouveau Joan of Arc
Joan of Arc War Saving Stamps Poster
Joan as a War Saving Stamps Poster Child
The French gave a statue of her to New Orleans, where it now stands on Decatur. When I was little, I saw the film about her that starred Ingrid Bergman, and that was it - I was a confirmed Joan of Arc fan.
Ingrid Bergman as Joan
If you don't know who Ingrid Bergman is, then stop reading this right now, go watch Casablanca, and come back. You're welcome. Later, check out her performance in Gaslight. Wow, she was good.
Inside the royal apartments up in Chinon castle is a room devoted completely to Joan and her legend. There is a tapestry showing the incident, which took place right in Chinon, in which she recognizes the dauphin (the heir apparent and eventual Charles VII) even though he has tried to trick her by disguising himself in humble clothes and his valet in royal garb.

Joan recognizes the Dauphin in Disguise
It was she who helped convince him to take back the throne. There are many St. Joan statues, plates, and even false relics in the castle. There are interesting displays showing many depictions of Joan, from the one contemporaneous sketch, to the many romantic depictions of the Maid up to modern day.
Art Nouveau Joan of Arc
St. Joan a la Art Nouveau

Chinon Fortress Guard Tower
Chinon Fortress Guard Tower
I believe that Joan's popularity is so great because there are few female heroes in history, and the human psyche craves female archetypes. And in medieval France, in particular, male-dominated Christianity replaced goddess-worshipping Gallo-Roman paganism, leaving a void. Apparently in the 1400s there was a courtly fashion in France for female prophets and seers, and Joan was simply one who made good. There's an enigmatic appeal in the figure of a teenage peasant girl putting on armor and convincing a king to take back his throne, in a nobody who could somehow frighten the powerful English elite enough for them to condemn and burn her as a heretic. She must have had charisma, and a gift for words, and maybe she did have something of the purity and piety Bergman portrayed in the film.

View of the River Vienne from the Chinon Keep
 When you visit Chinon, give yourself time in the castle and grounds. It has several towers to explore and many evocative vistas. Unless you've taken the right drugs, avoid the historical films and save your energy for the room on St. Joan.

Tower at Chinon
Tower at Chinon
And if we do lose our sweet Little too soon, I know she'll go and sit at St. Joan's gentle feet, and purr her dear loud purr there for all eternity.

Our Girlcat Little
Cheers, and Vive la France!

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

A Soupcon of the Loire, and a Touch of Paris

Raining in Paris, and this town has us so tired, we got the punchy giggles on the hop-on-hop-off tourist trap bus today. Drinkig progressively more cheap good white wine to justify drying off in bar after bar on the way home. Much more on this later, but for now, how about some nice bike footage of France? Click above.

A few random shots from our desultory travels.

Very Fancy Beret
Cute Boy in Front of Famous Book Store
Did you hear? Napoleon died, and thought this subtle resting place was fitting.


Berthillon Gianduilla Orange and Spice Cake on Isle St. Louis

Thanks for stopping by.

Love, BeautyJones!