loire valley, part two

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After we peeled ourselves away from our cozy cave cottage, we picked up the Lundquists to explore the Loire Valley by daylight. We got detailed notes from the hosts at the b&b where they had stayed, for where we should go. We spent the rest of the day deciphering scrawling handwriting, and perfectly charming suggestions like:

"Go to the little town of Amboise. You'll see a bakery. It has delicious chocolate. They also have pastries, and you will think they look really good, but don't eat them. For pastries you need to walk just down the block to this other bakery where they have the best pastries and macarons in the valley. In fact, they call him the "King of Macarons." Definitely eat those!"

So yes, we drove to Amboise- a tiny town at the foot of a castle with winding streets, where we navigated the bakeries in the misty rain. We had crepes for lunch, chocolate truffles from the first bakery, macarons and eclairs from the second bakery, and then proceeded to continue down the road buying a pastry from every bakery we passed. Christyn and I got pretty giddy while looking at the rows and rows of bright macarons behind the glass, and perhaps disappointed the pursed-lips of the French woman behind the counter when we only ordered a couple- because we had to save room to try each and every window we passed! Sam, says he ate the best eclair of his life and still continues to talk about it to this day.

To be honest, I have never actually been a huge fan of macarons. I always thought they seemed a little dry, and I would much rather enjoy a thick, fudgy brownie. But, OH! These macarons made any of my past experiences look and taste like cardboard. These macarons were soft and fresh and came in every flavor of the rainbow. And some of them were dusted in gold, or sprinkled with some sort of magical sugar. They were heaven. But, like Cinderella magic, if you waited too long to eat them or tried to hoard them in your bag they dried up and turned to pumpkins.

We also ran across this beautiful soap shop in Amboise:
1) La Maison du Savon de Marseille- We spent probably too long in here, but perhaps just the right amount of time? There were rows and rows of soap from wall to wall, and all the smells were just mild enough that you didn't feel a headache coming on from over exposure. The soaps are all-natural and beautifully designed. I had about fifteen in my hand and Sam talked me down to four- cocumbre and noix de coco being my favorite.

After leaving Amboise, we took more advice from our friends' hosts and drove to see some castles, which I was the most excited about. We were only a few hours from Versailles, but it made more sense to visit a smaller château so that we wouldn't be overwhelmed. So, we went to see:

1) Château de Chenonceau- It's called the "Château des Dames" or "The Ladies' Castle" because of the women who lived and cared for it, and protected it during war times. These women were pretty notable, actually- Catherine de Medici being one of the most well-known, as well as Diane de Poitiers and Louise Dupin. The history of the château is completely fascinating. When we arrived, that shrubbery-lined road in the misty rain just set off every "Ever After" fantasy I've had as a girl. The château is small, and so perfectly digestible. We were able to to wander each and every room, flipping through the descriptions in our booklets. The rooms are each decorated very differently, for each of the women that lived in them. Catherine's room is covered in Coco Chanel-esque monograms, Diane de Poitiers' room is a soft flowery blue, and Louise of Lorraine's room is a mournful black for the years she spent behind dark curtains after the death of her husband. I loved that each room had such a distinctly feminine touch. Also, they keep the rooms looking beautiful, but you don't feel like you are walking through a cold museum either. Nothing is really roped off or covered in plexiglass. Many of the rooms had a warm, roaring fire in the massive fireplaces, and every single room had the most gorgeous, gargantuan floral arrangements- which I learned later were grown in the gardens. And, when you walk into that gallery with the checkerboard tile, and the sweeping windows- Ahhh! The château itself sits in the River Cher, and the gallery spans the width of it. During the French Revolution, Louise Dupin preserved the castle because it was used as a bridge, being on neutral territory. (She also had a literary salon, which hosted great writers of the Enlightenment.) The gallery was also transformed into a hospital during World War I, and again was used as a bridge to transport people from Nazi territory on the opposite side of the river. Also, one of our favorite parts of the castle was the basement where, in the kitchens and servants quarters, sit old copper pots and butcher blocks with centuries of wear. This château will always have a place in my wispy, romantic heart.

2) Château de Chombard- This is the second largest castle, right after Versailles, of course. We did not get the chance to go inside, but it was worth the short drive to walk the grounds. This place was so massive, it completely blew my mind. We didn't have much time, but just enough to walk around and pretend like we were on some sort of movie set. 

Sadly, our Loire Valley day came to a close and we had to start driving back to Paris. I think that the excitement of seeing Paris may have been the only reason I could have possibly pulled myself away!

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