There she is! Rosa Bonheur. Self portrait. Gutsy artist for her time!
O Catherine de Medici, I love you and hate you at the same time!
O Chenonceau, beautiful chateau of the Loire Valley.
The chapel at Chenonceau
It’s called “The Three Graces” but it’s really a portrait of three of the King’s mistresses.
Portrait of Diane du Portiers, courtesan to King Henry II.
Here’s a strange tip. It’s hard to get ice and a cooler in France. Not a priority. So, if you want your drinking water cold, simply hold it against the air conditioner for 10 minutes. It will cool down enough to enjoy a cooler sip.
The grand entrance to Chenonceau reminds me of Louisiana plantation homes.
Driving down country roads in the Loire, you come across beautiful Chateaux, such as this one.
Stopping by the Loire River for a short break.
Big white draft horses. Love them!
One of the sons of Catherine de Medici’s room.
Inside the Chateau Blois where Catherine di Medici would pray, (just outside of her bed chamber)
The king’s chamber.
The Roman couple, one of the few statues at Blois. Beautifully created.
Blois Castle. Four distinct architecture styles are merged together.
Chateau at Blois
The real thing. Rembrandt Van Rijn, the meditating soldier. I was literally 2 inches away from the painting, contemplating brushstrokes, and then a few feet away, contemplating the magnificent talent.
Since I was 12 years old I wanted to be a famous artist like Rosa Bonheur. She was a woman, amongst so many male artists. And she painted horses. Lots of horses. I lived and breathed horses when I was 12 and wanted to own one, as well as paint them, over and over again.
A critic once said of her “with it there is no need to gallantry; she makes art seriously, and it can be treated as a man. The painting is not for her a variety of petit point embroidery” I think the demands of motherhood and the daily work of a wife and mother would make it impossible to retreat to your studio and ignore the rest of your life.
I did attend college, (did not finish) but enjoyed the fine arts, graphics and art history classes that I was a part of. I’m forever grateful to my professors and the time I took to really learn (especially the history) I believe it made me really appreciate the scope of art and architecture that I was able to absorb over the last few days.
Where to start!
BLOIS: Chateau. This is actually a combination of four architectural styles. It took hundreds of years to reach the point where you see it today. It may not be one of the more popular chateaux to visit, but I did my research, and I think this is surely one of the most important, historically.
It was the residence of 7 kings and 10 queens of France! The Royal Chateau of Blois is a site reminiscent of the power and daily life at court in the Renaissance, as do testify the royal apartments, furnished and embellished with magnificent polychromatic decors.
As you walk through the myriad of furnished rooms and artwork, the drama of court life and the stories of these people come alive.
I particularly became entranced with Catherine di Medici. She was an Italian princess, who married a French Prince, heir to the throne. Now, I do not claim to be an historian by any means, but what I learned is that she did give the King three male heirs, lost two twin girls to a horrible childbirth, where the legs of one of the children were broken in utero, and then both children pulled from her both. They both ended up dying, and Catherine never bore any more children. She also endured the several mistresses of her husband, in particular Diane du Poitiers, who her husband trusted in acts of state. Apparently he would sit on Diane’s knee in court, play his guitar and play with her breasts. He had the beautiful Chateau Chenonceaux built for Diane and several of his other mistresses. After his death, Catherine arrived at that Chateau, kicked those women out, put up some religious pictures of Jesus and Mary, and her own portraits of course, redesigned the bridge over the river into a ballroom so his son could have some parties. She also decided to rule France from there, for a period of time.
I’m looking into this particular history more. I find it really fascinating. This also happened during some horrible religious wars. Catherine initially was open to the Protestants and some of the theology that they were bringing forward, but then seriously changed her mind. She was a major player in the St. Bartholemew’s Massacure …. From Wikipedia:
The St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, which began two days later, has stained Catherine’s reputation ever since. There is no reason to believe she was not party to the decision when on 23 August Charles IX ordered, “Then kill them all! Kill them all!” The thinking was clear. Catherine and her advisers expected a Huguenot uprising to avenge the attack on Coligny. They chose therefore to strike first and wipe out the Huguenot leaders while they were still in Paris after the wedding.
The slaughter in Paris lasted for almost a week. It spread to many parts of France, where it persisted into the autumn. In the words of historian Jules Michelet, “St Bartholomew was not a day, but a season”. On 29 September, when Navarre knelt before the altar as a Roman Catholic, having converted to avoid being killed, Catherine turned to the ambassadors and laughed. From this time dates the legend of the wicked Italian queen. Huguenot writers branded Catherine a scheming Italian, who had acted on Machiavelli‘s principles to kill all enemies in one blow.
Oh, sweet Lord, Catherine, I was starting to really like you, and being sympathetic to your stand against all those mistresses, and then you get all postal and anti-ecumenical on me! What would Jesus say?
Driving country roads along the Loire is not the only way to tour this area. You could skip all that beauty and just stay on the highway. …… NOT.
The challenge of driving country roads is that sometimes you have to be patient. Sometimes you have to stop, pull over, dip your feet into the cool, quickly moving river of the Loire. There can be curves and corners that challenge you as other cars share the one lane between you. I can only imagine a tour bus showing up around one of those corners.
We only visited two Chateaux. We did it in one day though. I looked at many brochures that offered two, three and even four visits to various Chateaux in one day. I can’t imagine that. I think two was enough. And if I had even more time, I’d have only done one, and absorbed even more.
Because I was limiting us to two chateaux to visit, I chose Chenonceau and Blois. There are so many beautiful chateaux to visit, but Blois was important historically and Chenonceau has an amazing story and is to my eye, the most amazing (although it’s really not that large.) The most famous of all the chateaux is Versailles, but I just could not bring myself to standing in hours long lineups.
Apparently Chenonceau is called the Chateaux of the women, because of the many mistresses, (and queen Catherine de Medici, of course) who resided there. One of my favorite things about this place was the basement. (kitchen) As a cook, I could appreciate the myriad of ovens and pantries, the bouchon (butchery) and the room that the servants broke bread together. As it was over 30c that day, I thought how extremely hot that room must have been, as several cooks labored over stuffed quail and roast pig with rosemary, and breads of every sort, and sweets. Unimaginable.
Two days from now, Gary and I celebrate 41 years together as man and wife, or woman and husband. Oo la la. Over most of those forty years, we’ve celebrated at the same restaurant, and drank the same bottle of wine. Ackerman’s vin rose. As it turns out, it appears we are way more French than we thought, because in August, the rose wine is THE wine to drink. There were many years I felt a little foolish ordering a rosé when really that wine had gone out of favor with wine drinkers. We all embraced the deep, smoky, rich reds such as the Shirah, Barolo, and others. But tradition is tradition.
As such, it was a no-brainer, that while in the Pays du Loire, we would visit the Ackerman’s winery and caves in Saumur, west of Tours.
Ackerman’s produces several sparkling and still wines from local grapes, of course, and employ a champagne method for their sparkling wine. We went on the wine tour (in Francaise) but were able to pick up much of what the absolutely lovely tour guide had to say. We were already familiar with the method used for creating that lovely bubbly wine, as we’ve been on more than a few wine tours.
But the beautiful surprise was at the end, when we were able to go through the caves area that some artists used to build a fantasy installation that literally blew our minds. We loved the play of color and light and themes that they used to pull us into a world simply unimaginable. (At least in MY imagination, thank God for theirs!) Gary and I played down there for such a long time, that when we entered the purchasing and tasting area, we realized the rest of the group were already halfway through the tastings. No problem, though, the Ackerman’s staff were more than happy to help us choose several wines.
I chose another Sancerre, as well as five other bottles, which we will have to drink before we leave? Quelle domage. Too bad. So sad. Do you want some cheese with that wine?
Mais oui! Yes please!
The Rembrandt. I had to upload this, because the non-use of flashes does not do our actual picture justice at all.
More of the kitchen at Chenonceau
Gathering entrance at Blois Chateau
A show and shine at Ackerman’s in Saumur
Art exhibit in the caves.
Just a small representation of the art exhibit. Amazing.
Lovely tour guide, Marion.
Upside down wine glasses illuminated by led.
Inside the caves. A representation of wine storage. (just for tour) The actual wine storage is extremely large.
Wines of the Loire Valley
The Winery Ackerman, one of the first wineries of the Loire to produce enough to sell internationally.
I wanted more than anything to get a full field of sunflowers. Of course they were everywhere, but this was taken at 130km an hour, the slowest we stopped during this section. Insert sad face here and and cheese to my whining.
More of the car show at Ackermans.
It wasn’t a big show and shine. I think what it really was were around 12 car enthusiasts on a trip together. Very nice.