Taking you on a tour of the Loire River Valley, where we spent a week with family for Christmas! Warning: lots of castles, cheese and wine ahead.
Bonjour mes amies!
Taking a little break from recipes and wellness to share a recap of the first part of my trip to France over Christmas and New Years. We stayed in a little town in the Loire River Valley with my dad's side of the family - dad, stepmom, brother and sister-in-law, aunts and uncles, cousins, step-niece...it was a packed house! The Loire River Valley is where the kings of France traditionally lived, so it's littered with dozens of chateaus.
Scott and I flew in overnight and arrived bright and early in Paris. The house where we were staying in was about 4 hours away, so we rented a car. Poor Scott, on his hour of sleep and jetlag, made the drive while I slept in the front seat, popping up every half hour or so to make sure we hadn't driven off the side of the road.
About halfway down, we stopped in Orleans, the ancient capital of France, for coffee, beignets, and pictures.
We arrived midday to our house in Monthou sur Cher. Since the rest of the group was out exploring, we took a nap then went for run. We stayed in this gorgeous home that was build right next to the ruins of the castle that once belonged to the Duke de Guise. And if that wasn't amazing enough on it's own, there was a horse farm next door. Y'all, a horse farm! Between being in Joan of Arc country and having horses to play with, elementary school Rachael was having the best week of her life.
The next day, we all drove out to the town of Loches to explore the town and castle. Being the day before Christmas Eve, it was really quiet, so it felt like we had the town to ourselves. After a late lunch at a cute little restaurant in the main city square, we went wine tasting. When in France! Snagged ourselves a bottle of the most amazing, inky dark red wine and a bottle of Sancerre.
The next day was Christmas Eve, so we celebrated by (surprise!) more wine tasting...this time at 10:30 am 😬 Our wine tasting at Domaine des Tabourelles was a pretty unique experience because it was all done underground in a troglodyte cave made from a thousand year old touffa stone quarry, the type of limestone used to build the chateaus in the area. Our tasting started with a tour of the caves and learning it's history - it had been used for 100 years for growing mushrooms, then for hiding refugees during WWII before being converted for storing wine. Then we got to taste the most delicious wines paired with food, including the best goat cheese I've ever had.
From there, we drove out to Amboise, the town where Leonardo da Vinci lived and is buried. We had the most amazing lunch, with one of the top 5 salad's I've ever had, then spent the rest of the afternoon touring the castle, perched above the Loire river.
Back at the house, we enjoyed our traditional Christmas Eve feast, minus lobster because it was ungodly expensive. My uncle whipped up a couple different types of mussels, which the hubs and I can finally eat again after a very unfortunate episode of food poisoning. Then we had a smorgasbord of different French cheeses, pates, and sausages, followed by waaaaay too much vino with my sister-in-law. Let's just say we were not the first ones up Christmas morning.
After dragging ourselves out of bed, we celebrated Christmas with French toast and Secret Santa. Then we went off to tour a couple chateaus that were open for Christmas day. We started off at Cheverny, which has been owned by the same family, descendants of a marquis, since the 1600s - they actually still live there in the wing on the left side of the house! The highlight was seeing their kennel where they have over 100 hunting dogs. We actually saw them out on a hunt the day before, of course dressed up in the most fabulous hunting attire.
Afterwards, we visited Chateau de Chenonceau, which was my absolute favorite of the castles we visited. It was basically the girl power castle, designed by a woman and essentially run by women since it was built in the 1500s. Diane de Poitiers, King Henry II's mistress, lived there until his wife, Catherine de Medici took it away from her upon the king's death. It cracked us up going from castle to castle and reading what they wrote about the two women. Some castles were clearly #TeamDiane while others were totally #TeamCatherine.
The setting couldn't be more gorgeous, build over a river with the water running underneath, and the history was SO fascinating. In WWII, one side was German occupied France and the other side was free, so the castle, which was a military hospital at the time, was also used to sneak people out of the occupied area.
When we finally made it back home, we enjoyed a big Christmas feast. We had roasted prime rib, a honey mustard roasted salmon, mashed potatoes, braised kale, and salad with the yummiest dressing. Here's a trick - throw a little orange marmalade in your usual vinaigrette. SO good! Oh, and there was cheese and pate...per usual.
The next morning, we all drove out to Chateau Chambord, which was the hunting lodge for Francois I. Because, you know, we all need 400+ rooms in a hunting lodge.
Next stop was Blois, where we first fueled our hangry bellys with a casual meal and beers at a bar, then explored the chateau. The chateau was kinda a hodge podge of different architectural styles as it was built up over the years. We also got to see Henry III's bedroom where our neighbor, the Duke de Guise, was assassinated. We got a little freaked out and worried if we stirred up his ghost!
The next day, we hit up...more chateaus! Can you sense a trend ;) We started in the town of Chinon, where we spent the day exploring the ruins of their castle then the medieval town. Being the Joan of Arc fangirl that I am, I really geeked out in Chinon where I got to see the ruins of the room where she first met with King Charles and convinced him to give her an army and got to stand on the well where she once stood. Like I said, major fangirl.
While we were walking around the medieval town, we stumbled into the most adorable little French restaurant and enjoyed a tasty three course meal.
After spending most of the day in Chinon, we went to visit Abbey Fontevraud, a UNESCO World Heritage Sight and monastery build in the 1100s.
For our last morning in the Loire, we visited a few more chateaus around the Indre river. First up was Chateau d'Usse, the inspiration for Sleeping Beauty. It was closed for the holidays because the duke who owns the castle was staying there, or so it seemed from the smoke rising from the chimneys. Even though we didn't get to go inside, it was SO stunning to see it under the early morning light.
Next we visited Chateau d'Azay-le-Rideau, which was like a mini Chateau Chenonceau, built into the banks of the Indre River. Sadly they were doing renovations on half of it, but it was still gorgeous. Maybe someone can photoshop that out for me?? ;) Afterwards, we grabbed a yummy pizza lunch at a restaurant inside an ancient looking building in the town square.
The last castle we went to that day was Langeais, where you could climb up the walls of the 10th century keep.
Back at home, we all went out for our last family dinner together at Le Nanteuil in nearby Montrichard. We started with a round of kir royales, my favorite cocktail, then sat down to a delicious 3 course meal. I do love the French-way of enjoying 3 course meals!
The next day Scott and I headed out on our own for Mont St-Michel followed by New Years Eve in Paris. I'll be back next week with a recap of that side of the trip!
Have you been to the Loire River Valley?