Wednesday, July 05, 2006

A Day of Château-ing

This past weekend saw the arrival of friends from northern California: my former colleague Nancy, her husband Bruce, and their twin boys Michael and William. They stopped in the Loire Valley for two nights on their way from Italy (Florence and Venice) to Paris.

When they arrived they were pretty tired, having taken an overnight train from Venice to Paris, switched trains (and train stations) to head to Vierzon where they rented a car and drove the 45 minutes to us. They needed showers and a washing machine! We ate a bite, then drove up to one of our local wine producers to load up (40 liters) on gamay, rosé, and chardonnay - the chardonnay being a vin-de-pays and not and A.O.C. wine.

The boys thought the winery was cool, especially tasting and watching the guy fill our "cubis" with wine from the barrel using a hose that looked like a gas pump. When we got home, guys got a quick lesson in bottling and corking and within minutes we had over 4 cases bottled and on the rack.

The we fired up the bbq out back and grilled duck sausages, chipolatas (pork and herb sausages) and merguez (spicey lamb sausages) which we ate with frites after our entrées of tomatoes with vinaigrette and basil, cucumbers in cream with chopped chives, grated carrot salad, and beets with vinaigrette and shallots. It had gotten dark by dessert time (around 10:30/11:00 pm) and we moved inside for a selection of tarts and eclairs that we had purchased at the local bakery earlier.

Since our house has only 2 bedrooms, we had set up our tent in the back yard for the boys. The guys were really excited about "camping out" after having spent nearly 2 weeks in hotel rooms. The weather cooperated with hot days and clear skies and Michael and William had the back yard to themselves.

Our "backyard campsite" with the vineyards stretching out behind.

On Sunday, after a fine breakfast of croissants, pains au chocolat, and tartines of baguette with butter and preserves, we headed out to see some Loire Valley châteaux - precisely what you must do while in the Loire Valley.

First up was Chambord, the biggest and perhaps the most famous of the local castles. I was expecting a mob scene - huge tourist attraction, Sunday, fabulous weather. But amazingly, it was pretty quiet. I wondered if all the French tourists were sleeping off hangovers from their celebrations the night before when France beat Brazil in the world cup football tournament...

Our friends Nancy and Bruce, and their 11-year old twins, Michael and William, at Chambord.

We explored the castle and took careful note of which king slept where and when without bothering to wonder why.

Next we headed to the much smaller, lesser known Château de Fougères-sur-Bièvre. It's a 15th century version of a medieval fortified castle, and can be easily seen in less than an hour. But first we ate lunch outside the château at a local auberge where we feasted on salads and sandwiches.

From Fougères we drove over to Chaumont on the Loire and strolled around the grounds - after going inside two castles already the boys were a bit wary about seeing more stairs, fireplaces, beds and such. Next up, we drove back to the Cher valley and parked on the back side of Chenonceau and walked along the pathways up to the château. Of course, the entrance is on the other side of the river, so we didn't really "do" this castle, but we had a nice walk and got great views of the place nonetheless.

That evening, our guests treated us to dinner at a local restaurant that operates inside an old cave carved into the limestone banks of the river valley. There are a few such restaurants here and there around the region and this one is basically a steak-frites kind of place with a huge wood-fired grill. Both boys are really into food and they had a great time with the cheese course. I've rarely seen 11-year old American kids ask for goat cheese and blue cheese and a little red to wash it down with! We got home at midnight after stopping to see the château of St. Aignan all lit up.

They left on Monday, after breakfast, to head up to Paris for the week. It was a quick visit, but we had a great time!

1 comment:

  1. More wine already??? I happen to know that you just bottled an entire tankload of wine in March... Bon appetit!
    Chris P


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