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Entries about tourist sites

Château d' Azay-le-Rideau

sunny 20 °C

After leaving Villandry we drove over to another nearby village to visit Château d' Azay-le-Rideau, completed in 1527 and built on a small island near the banks of the Indre River with its foundation rising straight out of the water. Here's an aerial shot to show how it sits in the river.

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After floating back down to earth, we parked the car in a VERY crowded lot about a half mile away from the chateau and walked through a portion of the village. This fellow caught my eye as he lay sprawled on the front step of what is perhaps his master's or mistresses' shop, looking relaxed and unconcerned with tourists streaming past.

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But first, our stomachs were ready for lunch so we decided to enjoy a midday repast at this restaurant/cafe not far from the entrance to the chateau. The restaurant portion is inside the ivy-covered building, while a nice outdoor cafe is underneath the trees and umbrellas you see in the photo below.

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We opted to dine in the outdoor cafe to take advantage of the beautiful day and nice weather. After I took a couple of pictures of Cindy and her mom at the table, a woman seated at a table behind us offered to take a picture of all of us.

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After a very enjoyable lunch, we left the cafe and walked about a quarter-mile to the entrance of Château d' Azay-le-Rideau.

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Here, Cindy and her mom stand at the entrance, listening to the audio guides that help you learn the rich history of the chateau.

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This is from the courtyard looking to the right side of the chateau.

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And this is from the bridge (see aerial shot) looking back toward the courtyard and chateau.

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One of many bedrooms in the chateau.
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Here, Cindy and her mom are in one of the rooms where the lord of the chateau would hold court or entertain honored guests.

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One of many beautiful fireplaces throughout the chateau.
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Here is a view of the courtyard from the third floor.

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All too soon it was time to take our leave of Château d' Azay-le-Rideau and return to our cottage so we could begin packing everything up in preparation for our departure early the next morning. Later in the evening we drove into Loches for dinner, then returned to the cottage and retired for the night. Our time in France would come to an end the next day when we boarded our flight to return to the U.S., but we had two weeks of photos, videos, and wonderful memories to bring home with us.

We hope you've enjoyed traveling with us by way of this blog and thank you for reading along.

Au revoir!!

Posted by WorldQuest 06:10 Archived in France Tagged tourist_sites Comments (2)

Château de Villandry

sunny 20 °C

Friday morning; our last full day in the French countryside, indeed in the country of France itself. I find myself torn between the desire to find a way to remain in this beautiful country and the desire to return home to the U.S. I am glad that Cindy and I decided to do the whirlwind tour of Paris during the first week and spend the second week at a more relaxed pace here in the Loire Valley, where it has been peaceful, calming and restful.

We have scheduled our final 2 chateaus to visit for this day, since they are within a very short driving distance of each other. We still need to get an early start and make sure that we leave early enough to arrive at the first stop just as it is opening to the public. This is a plan that has worked well at the other chateaus we have visited, as the tour buses typically start arriving about an hour after opening, so we get a head start on beating the crowds that will swarm in later.

Château de Villandry was completed back in 1536 and was the last of the chateaus built in the Loire Valley during the Renaissance.

Here's an aerial shot of the estate.

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And a video of when we first arrived.

Cindy and her mom in the courtyard.
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One of many dining rooms.

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Cindy and her mom looking out a second floor room of the chateau to part of the garden.

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One of many bedrooms.
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Those winding staircases that seem to be in every building ever constructed in France.

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Up on the roof there was cat. We assume it walked up the stairs as there didn't appear to be any other way for it to get there.

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Looking out over part of the gardens.

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Looking back and down to the courtyard.
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What is it they say about cats and curiosity?

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Our feline friend up on the edge of the battlements on the roof. Thankfully she never indulged her apparent desire to try and leap to the next roof and instead let me take her down off the edge and carry her over to the stairs where she walked down to the first floor.

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Down off the roof and on one of the walkways that overlooks the gardens, Cindy and her mom pose for a picture.

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Looks like we accidentally took a picture of some homeless guy.

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Cindy and her mom walking through the tree-lined path.

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Here's a shot from the middle of the garden looking toward the castle. The black arrow is pointing to where we stood on the roof earlier.

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Cindy and her mom walking through the grape arbor.

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Walking down one of the stone stairways in the garden.

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A shot from the far end of the garden looking back to the castle.

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I had so much fun with my new camera. Here is just one of dozens of shots I took with birds, bees and butterflies flitting or landing on the flowers in this beautiful garden. Look at the detail and how you can see the bee pollinating the flower!

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Cindy and her mom at the "wall of roses".

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As we were leaving, I took this shot of the castle with the sun peeking over the top.

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As we were leaving crowds were arriving and gathering around the area which served as an entrance and exit. Cindy and her mom wanted to stop into the gift shop (which was, of course conveniently located by the exit) and I decided to use the opportunity to avail myself of the restroom facilities. I walked into the men's room and, taking note that there were no urinals on the wall, stepped into a stall and closed the door. Once again, I was struck by the differences in French toilets, as this one had no seat to sit on. Fortunately, I didn't need to sit. I could hear female voices in the restroom and assumed as I was in a unisex bathroom. I had heard of them but had not been in one as of yet. I finished my "business" and stepped out of the stall and stepped to the sink to wash my hands, only to find several women staring at me. It then hit me that it wasn't a unisex bathroom, it was the ladies bathroom. I washed my hands quickly and got out of there as fast as I could, walking past the entrance to the men's room that I had missed right next door.

By now it was about 11am. We left to drive to the next village to see our final castle of our French adventure.

Next post: Château d' Azay-le-Rideau

Posted by WorldQuest 13:13 Archived in France Tagged tourist_sites Comments (3)

Château de Chambord

NOT the French Black Raspberry Liqueur in the Pretty Bottle

overcast 20 °C

Thursday morning as we prepared to leave the cottage, Cindy's mom discovered she was not feeling well and decided she would remain at the cottage recuperating rather than go to Château de Chambord with us. I was a little uneasy about leaving her alone while Cindy and I were 90 minutes away, so we left one of our cell phones with her and called a few times while we were gone to check in on her.

So much so that she probably got tired of us calling her, lol.

Chambord is the largest of the Loire Valley castles, but it was never more than a hunting lodge. King François I (remember him from Château de Amboise?) built the castle in the style of French Renaissance architecture that blends traditional French medieval forms with classical Italian structures and design input by the great Leonardo da Vinci.

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Riders display their equine skills around the castle and in special shows each day.

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Cindy in front of Château de Chambord.

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Leonardo da Vinci designed this very special staircase in the shape of what we recognize today as the double-helix of human DNA. The fact that it is double allows you to see someone else on the other staircase, but without ever meeting him. Some speculate that this allowed the king to go up and down without meeting his servants.

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Looking up the inside of the double staircase.

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Cindy and I, each on a different staircase, taking photos of each other.

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One of the outside courtyards.

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Water drain spouts shaped like gargoyles.

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Intricate ceiling design in one of the hallways. Aren't you glad you didn't have to dust that?

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Here we are on the uppermost floor after walking up the spiral staircase.

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Looking out over the grounds and the hunting forest.

Cindy with the horse field in the background.

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Cindy with the hunting grounds in the background.

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Walking back downstairs in another section of the castle, we found the room where they bring parts of the castle that are deteriorating from age and weather and attempt to restore them. It was a pretty cool section and I'm still not entirely sure we were supposed to be there, but it was fun to see.

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As we were leaving I spotted another drain spout on the ground floor with the gargoyle design.

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After leaving the castle, we enjoyed a nice lunch at an outdoor cafe at the entrance and did a little shopping at the outdoor market that was also nearby.

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I couldn't leave without taking a giant leap into the air above the castle to get this aerial shot.

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We drove back to the cottage to find Cindy's mom feeling much better and enjoyed a nice dinner out later in the evening.

Next post: Château de Villandry and Château d' Azay-le-Rideau

Posted by WorldQuest 18:46 Archived in France Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Château de Amboise and Le Clos Luce

"Art is never finished, only abandoned." Leonardo da Vinci

overcast 17 °C

Wednesday morning we enjoyed a nice breakfast in the cottage and watched a little news on the satellite TV, since we were up so early because we had a full day ahead of us. One thing we noted was that, in France this year and in Scotland the previous year, other countries have a much more international flavor to their news, as opposed to the United States. In 30 minutes, we would see stories on France, Great Britain, Spain, Russia, Japan, China, Vietnam, Portugal and the U.S., instead of mostly French news and one or two pieces on other countries. It was really quite refreshing and reminded me that I should go back to watching BBC news when I'm home, to get a fuller picture of world news.

Every Wednesday in Loches is "Market Day", a tradition dating back to medieval times. In fact, all of the towns in the Loire Valley area have Market Days on various days of the week, but the Loches market day is the oldest, largest and most renowned. Area farmers, craftsmen (and women), bakers, wine makers and businesses all bring their wares and set up stalls that fill the center of the town and nearby smaller streets each Wednesday from 8am until 1pm.

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And of course Cindy and her mom wanted to go to it.

As it turned out, I didn't mind because I had plans as well. We had lost Internet access at the cottage, so I was going to drop them at the market and take my laptop to a copy and printing business I had seen in town that advertised "Internet Access" to post my blog and check e-mail. Unfortunately, when I arrived the young lady on duty told me they no longer offered that service, even though a sign stating they did was plastered on their front window. So I had to go looking for Cindy and her mom in the mass of people at the market ahead of our pre-arranged meeting time. On the plus side, we had activated the "international roaming" feature on our cell phones for just this sort of possibility, so I simply called Cindy, found out where they were, and soon we were reunited.

After about 2 hours, we left to drive to Amboise, which was about 40 minutes away. The Château at Amboise was originally built in the 11th century and the surrounding land was expanded and added onto through the years. In 1434 it was seized by Charles VII after its owner had been convicted and executed for plotting against the King. In 1492 extensive rebuilding of the castle began, first in the French Gothic Flamboyant style and later in the Renaissance style.

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The Château at Amboise is probably most famous as the childhood home and favored royal castle of King François I who was crowned King of France in 1515 and reigned until 1547. François I is considered to be France's first Renaissance monarch and it was during his reign that France made impressive cultural advances.

But Amboise, and the nearby (500 meters) manor house Clos Luce, are also famous as the places where Leonardo da Vinci spent the last 3 years of his life. In December 1516, da Vinci accepted François' invitation to live at Clos Luce free of charge in exchange for simply being available to talk to the King, who had a great interest in the arts, sciences and philosophy. Leonardo lived and worked at Clos Luce until his death on May 2, 1519.

Upon his death, da Vinci was buried in the church of Saint-Florentin, which was part of the Château Amboise. During the reign of Napoleon the church was in such a ruinous state that the engineer appointed by Napoleon had it dismantled and used some of the remaining stonework in remodeling Château Amboise. Some 60 years later, during excavation of the land where the church had stood, workers found a complete skeleton of a man along with pieces of stone which were inscribed with letters found in da Vinci's name. That skeleton was entombed in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert, which is next to Château de Amboise. Below are photos and a video of the chapel and his tomb.

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Here is another view of Château de Amboise. Unfortunately, as in most castles, photo and video cameras are not permitted inside the castle. However, you'll see in the video clip after the photo, that I snuck a little shot inside later.

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Château de Amboise is built on a small stone mountain, overlooking the Loire River. This shot is from the courtyard looking down river. You can see the bridge, which replaced the original ford, and observe how the small village grew up around the castle and crossed the Loire River.

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Looking upriver in the background, with Cindy standing at the edge of a high castle turret.
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A small memorial garden and statue to Leonardo da Vinci near the back of the castle grounds. History says that the King had an underground tunnel built in the mountain upon which Château de Amboise sits that ran from the castle to the manor house, Clos Luce, where da Vinci lived, and used it often to visit the Renaissance Man who had become his friend. Twenty years after his death, François was quoted as saying, "No man ever lived who had learned as much about sculpture, painting, and architecture, but still more that he was a very great philosopher."

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Cindy and her mom on a turret on the opposite side of the castle which overlooked the main town of Amboise.

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Here's a shot of the cafe across from the castle where we ate lunch before going to Clos Luce. The black arrow points to where we sat.

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Rather than take the tunnel, lol, we walked the quarter mile to Clos Luce up this street.

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The route we were taking ran parallel to the mountain that the castle sits upon. If you look closely, you can see past this entranceway to where a home was built into the side of the mountain..We saw several of these, some much older than others, along the way,

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Here is Clos Luce, the manor house where Leonardo da Vinci lived the last years of his life. I could not get a good photo, so this is from a post card that I scanned and it allows you to see the entire front of the house. To the right you can see a portion of a hallway that is shown better in my next photo and the video clip below it, and there is another wing of the house behind what you can see in this first post card scan.

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Again, no photos or videos allowed inside the house (and they even had cameras monitoring each room), but the house is full of da Vinci's notes, paintings and scale models of his inventions, as well as showing how he and his entourage lived while at Clos Luce. It was, for me anyway, awe-inspiring to walk through rooms he had walked in, touch walls and doors he had touched and stand in the study this great thinker and artist had worked in during the last days of his life.

You know how, on those psychological tests they give (I've taken WAY too many of them, lol) they always ask, "What person from history would you like to meet and talk to for an hour?". Well, ever since I was a young child, my answer has always been either Albert Einstein or Leonardo da Vinci. I stood in those rooms at Clos Luce and, in my mind's eye, watched him working and living and felt, in some small way, like I HAD been able to meet him.

500 years have passed since he lived, and we still view him and his genius with awe.

Here are two photos showing the other wing I mentioned above.

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The gardens around Clos Luce are full of beautiful flowers. Here, Cindy and her mom admire some of the stunning roses.
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Though the castle marathon is more for Cindy than for me, I absolutely enjoyed this tour of Château de Amboise and Clos Luce, and the insights it provided into the last years of da Vinci's life. Now, more than ever, I want to go to Florence and Milan in Italy to view his life and work there.

Next post: Château de Chambord

Posted by WorldQuest 19:20 Archived in France Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Chateau de Chenonceau

sunny 23 °C

Tuesday morning we awoke refreshed and relaxed, ready to explore and tour one of the most beautiful chateaus in the Loire Valley region, Chenonceau. Chateau de Chenonceau is about an hour's drive from our cottage and we wanted to get an early start so as to try and avoid the crowds that typically arrive in tour busses.

One interesting thing occurred before we left the cottage. Cindy got up first to get a shower and while I laid in bed waiting for her to finish, I heard footsteps and creaking of the stairs on the stairway that went downstairs. When Cindy came out I told her that her mom was up because I heard her go downstairs. Cindy opened our bedroom door and, seeing her mom's bedroom door still closed across the small hallway, lightly knocked and called out "mom?". After a few moments her mom answered the door and when Cindy told her that we thought she was already up because I heard her on the stairs, she told Cindy she had just been awakened by Cindy's knocking.

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Now Cindy's convinced the cottage is haunted. But wouldn't a ghost just float down through the floor, rather than walk down stairs? And even if it did walk, it wouldn't have any weight to cause the sound of footsteps or creaking because it's a ghost, right?

Anyway, after some lively breakfast table conversation about that subject (between the two of them; I just rolled my eyes and shook my head), we were off to visit Chenonceau. Cindy had figured out how to operate the onboard GPS system and programmed in our destination, though I still brought along the map just in case. However, no worries, we arrived without a problem except for where a new roundabout had been installed and the GPS didn't know about it. But it was well-marked and we stayed on course and DID arrive before the loaded tour busses.

In 1243 the original castle was built on this site on the banks of the River Cher. The Royal Treasurer Thomas Bohier bought the old castle in 1512 and destroyed it to build on the site. While Bohier was in Italy on business for the King, his wife Catherine Briconnet was in charge of the beautiful design and construction in the Renaissance style of the Chateau and completed it in 1521. Chenonceau is not the largest or the most historically significant castle in the region but it has touched the hearts of many across the centuries.

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After the deaths of Bohier and his wife. the castle belonged to King Francois I and later King Henri II’s mistress, Diane de Poitier, to whom he gave it as a gift though this was against royal rules. Diane captured the Kings heart completely. A wild and beautiful ‘hunting goddess’, she was said to regularly swim naked at sunrise in the River Cher, and then riding throughout the nearby forest on her grey Stallion. Diane was devoted to her King and the beloved Chateau and it was she who commissioned the arched bridge gallery that crosses the River Cher and the formal gardens.

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When King Henri II died, his wife, Catherine de Medici forced Diane to leave Chenonceau under royal rules, but gave her Chaumont in exchange. After taking possession of Chenonceau, Catherine de Medici had the bridge gallery that was built by Diane covered, and added another two floors above it. She also added her own garden.

This was surprising. Here we are, 4,450 miles from our home of Orlando, Florida, which is in Orange County (so named because the entire region used to be covered with orange groves) and at the entrance to Chateau de Chenonceau in France we find...orange trees!

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More of those swallow's nests under overhangs of the castle. Except these are piled one on top of the other, resembling some kind of swallow condos.

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Cindy and her mom sitting on a bench at the castle entrance with the River Cher in the background.

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As is the case with most castles, no video cameras are allowed and photos may only be taken with the flash off. Some of these will not be as good as they could have been, but they will give you an idea of what the inside looked like.

Here is the chapel/prayer room.

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A royal bedroom. all of the bedrooms (8 or 9 in Chenonceau) in ALL of the castles look pretty much the same, with the only difference being the decor. They all have a canopied bed, an armoire, a fireplace, chairs, heavily draped windows and tapestries or paintings on the walls. Most of them have intricately designed ceilings.
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One of my favorite pictures of Cindy; in fact I have it as the "wallpaper" now on my laptop screen. We were in the study and she was looking out the window to the River Cher. The lighting was absolutely perfect for the environment of the castle and I snapped this when she turned as I called out her name.
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The bridge gallery, looking from the castle side to the end on the other side of the river.

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Here's an outside view of the bridge gallery. The bridge gallery has some interesting history, apart from its construction by Diane and additions by Catherine. In World War I, it served as a military hospital. During World War II, the River Cher marked the boundary between free and German occupied France. The bridge through the castle became both a method of escaping occupied France, and a way for Resistance fighters to sneak back across into occupied France.

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Going downstairs, we entered the service areas of the castle. Here is the room where game was butchered for meals.
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Here is the kitchen, taken from the top of a short set of stone steps.

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And a view of the same kitchen from the opposite corner.

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We then walked upstairs to the second story (which is as high as the public can go) and out to the stone balconies that overlook the entrance at the front of the castle.

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By this time the hordes of tourists were arriving as we left the castle and headed for the gardens. Here's Cindy's mom trying to snag a few grapes off the vine.

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Cindy and her mom, sitting at the entrance to the garden with Chenonceau in the background.

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A still shot of the fountain.

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Looking from the far end of the garden up the River Cher toward Chenonceau.

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On the opposite side of the entrance near the other gardens, Cindy's mom and I with the original medieval tower behind us and the castle behind the tower.

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Cindy and her mom at the entrance to the other gardens.
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Entering the small forest near the front of the grounds, with the garden and castle in the background.
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That is one big Christmas tree!

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Cindy and her mom in front of a decorative arbor.
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Chenonceau also has a wine cellar on the property. Here are three photos I took while we were down in the cellar. We bought some bottles of wine here that were very, very good.
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It was about 1:30 by this time and we were hungry, so we went over to one of the cafes on the grounds and enjoyed a nice lunch sitting in the dining area outside. After that, we took a leisurely ride back to the cottage, enjoying the countryside, before arriving "home" around 4pm.

Next post: Amboise and Le Clos Luce

Posted by WorldQuest 07:36 Archived in France Tagged tourist_sites Comments (2)

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