If there’s anything to be said for the fact that France can literally fit inside the great state of Texas, it’s that with small size comes very close proximity. Don’t like all the rain in Paris? Leave the wet capital behind and head north or south to be skiing or sunbathing by the days end.
Château de Cheverny – famous for its hunting dogs, the always delightful Adventures of Tintin and its role in one of the greatest movies ever made: Impressions de France.
The unexpected sleeper hit of our week long journey into Loire castle country was Château de Chaumont, nestled in between the towns of Blois and Amboise. Despite the overcast sky and rainy start to the morning, by the time we reached the castle door, it had turned into the perfect day. Chaumont was dressed in its fall best, with vibrant mums along the walkways and more pumpkins than you could hope to find in the entire city of Paris.
Set high against the backdrop of the Chinon forest lies Château d’Ussé. With its mix of Renaissance and Gothic styles, it’s no wonder this romantic castle of the Loire is rumored to have inspired Charles Perrault’s classic, The Sleeping Beauty. In fact, they even stage a re-telling of the famous story through (albeit slightly creepy) wax figures in one of the front towers.
Perhaps the most beautiful of all châteaux in the Loire Valley is the famed Azay-le-Rideau, built on a small island on the Indre River. Though small in footprint, this French Renaissance castle is as picturesque as they come. From the sweeping foliage and charming footbridge, to Le Miroir Enchanté, it’s no wonder even Balzac was enamoured enough to write, “a faceted diamond framed by the Indre.”
Second only to Versailles, Château de Chenonceau is the most visited castle in France, and so we made it numero deux on our Loire Valley road trip. That’s a pretty decent bragging right considering the competition, but it’s more than merited.
If you’ve ever been to Disney World, chances are you’ve been to Epcot. And if you’ve ever been to Epcot, chances are you’ve been to the French bakery (I mean really, who would miss that?). And, if you’ve ever been to the French bakery, chances are you’ve also been to the adjacent movie theater to see Impressions de France. After seeing that movie dozens upon dozens of times over the years, it’s safe to assume the entire thing will more or less make it to your bucket list. The châteaux, the tiny French towns, glittering Paris and of course, the pastries. Yes please, all of it, thanks.
So this fall, during my visit to the Loire Valley, it was like stepping directly into the movie – beautiful castles full of history, gorgeous, seemingly endless grounds, sleepy French villages and all complimented by the most perfect foliage this side of the pond. It’s at this point I’ll mention that this post is probably best savored whilst listening to this.
“Let’s go to Provence!” I said. “It will be fun!” I said.
We had procrastinated long enough that our beautiful Parisian apartment had been rented for the foreseeable future and we were left homeless at the end of our lease. We saw approximately 367 flats in the surrounding area, but paying top euro to overlook the train station in a dingy and possibly sinking apartment didn’t really appeal all that much to us. The moderatley priced, moderately livable apartments had somehow all been rented long ago (who are these organizational wizards that fly in and occupy all of Paris I ask you?). Our ‘plan ahead’ memo must have gotten lost in le post because we were stuck between a rock and a Gare du Nord come August 31st.
A few years ago while in Barcelona I was hoping to realize a longtime goal of drinking some real deal absinthe. After spending the better portion of my nights going from bar to bar asking and getting nothing but quizzical Catalonian looks in return, I arrived at the confident conclusion there must not be any in all of Barcelona. After my most recent visit however, I learned how wrong I was. Turns out all I had to do was check into the very first bar ever to open in Barcelona which, fortunately for everyone, still serves up the green fairy on a nightly basis.
There are four rockets, or firecrackers, that go off during the running of the bulls, which, if you can, are a good thing to listen for. The first shot tells you that the gates have been opened and the bulls have been released. The second one tells you that the last bull has left the holding pen. The third indicates that the first of the bulls has entered the arena and the fourth shot tells you that all the bulls have been safely enclosed in the corral of the bullring and the run is over. You might not hear the last two rockets, but you will definitely hear the first. The excitement that your heart feels at this moment is something to be experienced.