Saturday, November 5, 2016

Sleeping Beauty chateau

The chateau d'Ussé in the small village of Rigny Ussé is said to have been the inspiration for Charles Perrault's fairy tale - La Belle au Bois Dormant - the Sleeping Beauty.  With its many turrets and the forest behind, it's easy to see why.

There has been a chateau on the site since 1000AD, when it was a defensive property. Over the centuries it has been transformed and extended, and it was in the 17th century that it began to take it's current form as a place of residence and it is now owned by the Duke of Blacas and his family.

A visit includes traditionally furnished state rooms, an exhibition of Belle Epoque costumes, stables, the dungeon and of course, scenes from the Sleeping Beauty tale.

In the village there is a café overlooking the chateau and a pleasant riverside walk.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

l'Abbaye de Fontevraud

Fontevraud village is dominated by the abbey buildings - founded in 1101 it is steeped in history. Most of the main buildings have been painstakingly restored and the areas open to the public are full of rich architectural features and centuries of history.

Highlights include the tombs of Richard the Lionheart, and his parents Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henri II, the beautiful cloister square and the unusual kitchen with its many chimneys - from the outside it looks a little like stone pineapples.

In 1792, after the French Revolution, the last abbess was removed from the site and Napoleon Boneparte ordered it opened as a prison in 1804; it had the reputation of one of the toughest in France. During World War II members of the Resistance were imprisoned here and the prison finally closed it's doors in 1963.

Since then the renovations and 'remodelling' of the site mean it is now a fascinating stroll through time with something for everyone; there is an iPad visit for children and art exhibitions and displays in the cellars.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The area's rivers

We are in the Loire Valley, so of course, the Loire river is a dominant feature. It's the longest river in France (1012km) rising in the Massif Central and reaching the Atlantic ocean at St Nazaire, near Nantes.  When it passes through our area, it is wide and regal - flowing deepest in late spring, with the snow melt run-off from the upstream mountains - and even when the river levels are low in summer, revealing islands and sand banks, it is still deemed too dangerous for swimming.

There are other rivers to see too, though; the most notable are the Vienne, Indre and Cher - all tributaries of the Loire, and all with their unique charms and character.  The Vienne runs through Chinon; it's gentler-flowing and ideal for the canoe trips you can take from there.  The Indre passes near Chateau Ussé (the 'Sleeping Beauty' chateau) and looks like a moat as it flows round the chateau in Azay-le-Rideau.   The chateau of Chenonceau - the most visited in the Valley - straddles the river Cher; there are great reflection photos to be had if the light is right.