The Loire!

A fabulous day today!  We breakfasted at La Roseraie and then got away about 9ish.  A very lovely old house but, by god, it was hot at night.  We slept with both windows open, the fan on max, and I soaked a towel in cold water, wrung it out and then fell asleep with it draped over me….   in 32C type weather you need a/c for a good night’s sleep.

Anyway, a most enjoyable drive on roads surrounded by vineyards got us to Chaumont-sur-Loire by about 11.  Wow!  What a place…  firstly it is on a hillside bluff overlooking the Loire, one of the premier rivers of France.  The countryside around is a mix of dense hunting forests and vineyards.  The chateau is a turreted gothic style castle  surrounded by a beautiful park, laid out in the English style (undulating tree planted landscaping rather than the much more formal classical French style).

We first toured the chateau using their very excellent audio guide.  Although the original parts of the place date back to 1000AD, and it was famously the home of Catherine of Medici and Diane de Poitiers, most of it was developed under the auspices of the very rich, very fashionable and very eccentric,  Prince and Princess de Broglie who lived there from about 1875 till 1938.  During that time, almost anyone who was anyone in French society visited and the audio guide was full of very amusing anecdotes of the extraordinary extravagance and frankly rather odd lifestyle of the Princess and her friends.  After the Prince died in 1917, she rattled through her enormous fortune very rapidly and was forced to sell off everything in 1938, including the chateau which was donated to the state.  Anyway, it is a staggering, huge house but with surprisingly small, habitable rooms and surrounding it all are amazing views down to the river or to the park.

The chateau is both a permanent site for art exhibitions and also the location for a series of annual art exhibitions.  Individual artists are given locations within the chateau and its outbuildings to set up artworks which in some way reflect the site.  This definitely gave interest to some of the rooms.  The stables at Chaumont are particularly famous because at one time they were the most lavish, the most luxurious in the world.  You can certainly see why.  Each horse had its own named stall with sink, feeding trough, décor…. there was a circular indoor riding arena; the harness and tack room is amazing with all equipment made by Hermes.

Not only is there the chateau, the art, the landscaped park to visit, but in the summer a section of the park hosts an international garden festival.  This year there were 23 different themed gardens to visit, for example Lewis Carroll, Japanese, Korean, a Witches Garden, Halucogenic plants, Space Garden etc etc.  We had a good visit to each one but by then the heat was pretty gruelling and I must confess I would love to visit again on a cooler day.

We tottered out at about 3pm, not having really seen everything…  Another time….

Our journey then took us on D roads across country to the north to a small village near Le Mans, and the very wonderful Hotel de France.  Hotel de France.  This historic hotel is at the centre of the small town of La Chartre sur le Loir, and has a history of hosting famous motor racing teams who compete in the 24 hour race.  Many dignitaries have stayed here including Steve McQueen and the Kennedys.  The hotel bar is decorated with signed pictures of the famous drivers and fans who have stayed in the hotel and the car park is often filled with glamorous and historic cars.  In fact some of the racing cars have been prepared at the hotel.   Staying here is like stepping back into the 1930s so we were pretty excited to arrive.

The hotel did not disappoint.  To put it plainly, it is simply a fabulous place where you feel not only cossetted but most welcome.  it isn’t expensive.  We were in the cheapest rooms at 90 euro per room per night but they were still exceptional.  And best of all – air conditioned!!!!!  We spent a couple of hours relaxing in their swimming pool which was so welcome at the end of a long hot day and then got changed and went for dinner.  Now, the restaurant of the hotel is justly famous and rated the best in the whole area.  Unfortunately, like nearly everywhere else in the area, it does not open on a Monday night.  So, only the bistro was available, but that was more than good enough.  We had an outside table on the square and went for the 2 course table d’hote dinner at 12.50 euro.  I had mixed hors d’oevres to start and then a massive rib eye steak and chips.  There were desserts on offer too but I was too full up.  We had started with ice cold rose for me and beer for Bob, and John ordered us a very nice bottle of local chardonnay (no one could face red on such a hot night).  We ended up with big glasses of Armagnac as a digestive as the sun went down.  The little town is straight out of history.  I doubt it has changed much at all in 100 years.  Could easily spend a week here, doing day trips out and around and returning to the comfort of the hotel.  Honestly if you get the chance to visit this part of the world, I highly recommend it, particularly if you have an interest in cars and motor racing..,,……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….l…l.

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