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Touring France 2001

Our holiday last year was so successful we decided to do a repeat, crossing the Channel by Hoverspeed SeaCat. Compared with Eurotunnel the SeaCat worked out slightly cheaper, but the crossings are less frequent and there is more chance of delays due to weather. We drove from Calais to Reims and then to the Campanile Hotel at Chalons en Champagne, which was part of our package. Our first meal in France was their 101ff menu with buffet starter and desert, and a main course of saumonette.

Friday 12 October was our wedding anniversary, and we had booked to stay at the Chateau d'Ige. This excellent hotel is part of the Relais and Chateaux Group. To quote from their brochure "Fortified by the Counts of Macon in 1235, the feudal Chateau of Ige stands in an old park full of exuberant vegetation surrounded by meadows, woods and vineyards." For two night we had Laurier again; a pretty room with the classic design of material on the walls, bedspread and curtains. For the third night we moved to the Tour de Guet. Click for larger image Dating from the 13th century, it must be the oldest room we have ever stayed in on holiday. The large entrance lobby led to a bedroom with a four poster bed, two chairs and table and a separate bathroom, and then a spiral staircase led upstairs to a sitting room with two chairs, table and divan.

We ate in the red dining room. For dinner there is a choice of the 205ff menu or the 275ff/325ff menu. We chose the 325ff menu. This meant we had a starter, fish, meat, cheese and dessert, as well as the usual extras of an appetiser and a pre-starter, and a pre-dessert. These extra courses - sometimes little portions of foie gras, snails, hot and cold soups, small chocolate mousses or apple pies, each in eggcup sized portions, make the meals here special. We began with foie gras de canard mi-cuit; followed by bar (sea bass) poelee; then perdreau (partridge) roti and carre d'agneau roti mijote de l'epaule aux epines (lamb chop and shoulder); the excellent cheese plate with raisin bread; and finally the hot souffle au Grand Marnier. Local wine is very reasonable - we had a bottle of Macon Ige Vieilles Vines. Click for larger image

With two whole days to look forward to, we borrowed a book about Romanesque churches from the hotel, and headed north. We took a circular route, stopping at churches at Blanot, Chapaize, Lancharre (very sadly run down with damp and mould), La Chapelle sous Brancion, Ozenay, Grevilly, Bissy la Maconnaise, and Saint Gengoux de Scisse.

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We ate in the original dining room, having sat with the menu by the fireplace. Sitting in the comfortable armchairs it was nice to have the fire, but fortunately it was cooler at our table in the corner. We both chose from the 205ff menu, which still included all the nibbles and pre-courses. We began with poelee d'escargots, then sorbet au macon, followed by filet de canette rotie (very nice duck), cheese, and dessert. The hot chocolate pudding was memorable.

Click for larger image For our second day, we headed south. Our route passed through more vineyards than in the north. We began with churches at Verze, and Sologny where consecutive paint layers are being uncovered back to the 15th century. Then we went looking for views, visiting Pierreclos, Cenves, St Verand (lavoir), and Fuisse.

We ate dinner in the blue dining room, just off the original dining room. It was too warm to go and sit by the fireside, so we went straight to our table. We chose the 275ff menu, with foie gras de canard mi-cuit, and the carre d'agneau rotie mijote de l'epaule aux epines. With it we drank Chiroubles.

After an excellent breakfast in our tower we reluctantly headed south. We were aiming for Beaujolais. We arrived at the Cave de Julienas just before they shut for lunch at 12. We bought some wine and carried on through grapevines to Fleurie and Chiroubles.

Click for larger image We were now not far from Mere Biquette at Saint Pons, so we rang ahead to book a room. It is a difficult narrow road to the hotel. When we arrived we settled into room 27, the same as last year, and sat on the patio watching the sun set. The dinner menus here are at 100, 140 and 165ff. We chose 165ff, starting with the local speciality caillette aux herbes maison, followed by saute de biche, cheese and assiette surprise (=4 portions of different desserts, 10ff extra). We had a nice peppery local red wine, Cote de Vivarais, from Roums.

The next morning we headed west towards Ruoms to look for the vineyards. We stopped first at Lavilledieu. In the summer tourist season there is a little train here, from Viaduct 07. We decided to spend the day exploring the Ardeche river, and the villages on its banks. Click for larger image We began by driving to Vogue. This is a delightful old town, dating from the Middle Ages. The old chateau on the hilltop, with its four towers, was built in the typical style of the area. Constructed in the 17th century, it contains the remains of a 12th century keep. Then we took a slight detour to visit the older village of Balazuc. There has been a settlement here, perched on the clifftop above the river, since early times. The roman road between Alba and Uzes passed through the village, and brought prosperity. The chateau dates from the 13th century, with a keep dating from the 10th century.

Click for larger image Continuing through Ruoms we reached Vallon-Pont d'Arc, the gateway to the famous Gorges of the Ardeche. The road alongside the river has many bends, and clings to the hillside above the river, passing through a number of tunnels. Click for larger imageSuddenly we found ourselves at the Pont d'Arc, an immense natural archway, 66 metres high, over the river. We stopped at many viewpoints, and admired the twisting, turning river beneath us.

Too soon we emerged onto the plain, and drove to Venejan, a quiet little village in a winemaking area. We walked up to La Sainte Chapelle and the nearby Windmill, from where there is a good view of the Chateau. Click for larger imageThe Hotel-Restaurant Lou Caleou here is good value, and we would go back there again. Our simple room was 280ff, and the standard dinner menu was 95ff each for buffet starter, magret de canard, buffet cheese and buffet dessert.

The next morning we continued south, taking the autoroute from Nimes to Sete. For a foreign driver, Sete is a nasty large coastal town. There were lots of one-way streets, complicated by detours for roadworks. But beyond the traffic problems, the town had pretty canals with lots of boats - a mix of pleasure boats, fishing boats and large Ro-Ro ferries. The trafffic problems are amplified because Sete is actually an island, with many bridges, sitting between the Mediterranean sea and the Etang (Lake) of Thau and the Canal du Midi.

Click for larger image We finally escaped the traffic, and stopped to recover on the beach at Sete Plage for our picnic lunch. We continued along the edge of the coast, passing windswept tourists on empty beaches. Our next stop, the town of Agde, was only 25kms ahead. Agde is just west of the Etang de Thau, on the banks of the River Herault. We were looking for the famous round lock of the Canal du Midi. The lock is unusual because it has three gates not the usual two; it is where the Canal du Midi meets a short canal arm which leads directly to the River Herault and the sea.

Click for larger image Another 20kms and we were on the outskirts of Beziers, searching for the Pente d'Eau and Neuf locks. Click for larger imageNow just seven locks, they descend 13.60 metres over a distance of 280m. Beside the locks is the pente d'eau, a startling blue machine in a concrete ditch. This mechanical water slope was completed in 1983. It consists of a concrete ramp in which a wedge-shaped pool of water containing boats is pushed up or down the incline by a pair of engines attached to a mobile gate. The lockkeeper said that his pente d'eau had been "en panne" (broken down) for 18 months, but the other pente d'eau further west at Montech was in working order. We stopped to watch a boat working its way up the flight of locks.

It was getting late, and we were not far from Castelnaudary, and the Hotel du Canal. We managed to get a ground floor room with a view onto the Canal du Midi. The hotel has no restaurant, so we ate at the Hotel-Restaurant Le Siecle. From their 150ff menu we chose Foie Gras poelle aux pommes, cassoulet, cheese, and soufle glacee. Cassoulet was invented at Castelnaudary; it is a classic warming dish of white haricot beans, pork, Toulouse sausage and either duck or goose. Two kirs and the red house wine was only 62ff. Excellent value.

We decide to stay a second night. We saw from a boating guide that the area around Naurouze, just 12kms to the east, looked interesting to explore, so we set off. The Canal du Midi was begun in 1666 and completed in 1681. The designer was Pierre Paul Riquet, and his descendants built the Obelisque du Riquet as a memorial to his work. It was in a magnificent park which included a huge octagonal settling basin for the water coming down from the Black Mountains. At an altitude of 190m, this is the Partage des Eaux - the summit level of the Canal du Midi. On the edge of the park we found the first lock descending towards the Atlantic, aptly named the Ecluse d'Ocean.

Just 2 kms below the Ecluse d'Ocean is Port Lauragais. The port was dug out when the A61 autoroute was built some 20 years ago, and must be unique in having a motorway service area and a hotel as part of the canal facilities.

We had been so impressed with dinner that we decided to eat again at Le Siecle. But we chose the simpler 120ff menu : Foie gras and Gesier de gibier (another local speciality) as starters, followed by magret de canard and loup (fish).

Click for larger image The following morning we took the main road to Toulouse, then headed north to Montech. There is a working pente d'eau and five locks at Montech, on the Canal Lateral a la Garonne. Like the pente d'eau at les Fonserannes, it consists of a concrete ramp in which a wedge-shaped pool of water containing boats is pushed up or down the incline by a pair of engines attached to a mobile gate. Here the two engines are based on diesel-electric railway engines. Originally entering service in 1974, they descend 13.30 metres over a distance of 443m. It was reported that 9,800 boats have used the pente d'eau by the end of 1999. Montech is also the junction of the Canal du Midi and the Canal de Montech which has 11 locks and is just 10 kms long. It goes to Montauban. The canal was closed in 1990, and the port at Montauban was de-watered and the staircase locks 10/11 down to the Tarn were empty.

Our final visit for the day was to Moissac. The River Tarn and the Canal du Midi go through the town together. There is a lock from the canal down to the river on the edge of the town. And to the south there is the impressive aqueduct, by Cacor lock.

Having completed our visits, we drove back to Montech, knowing that the Hotel le Notre Dame was open, but their restaurant was closed. We were advised by the hotel to eat at the Caf de l'Avenir, just 5 minutes walk away. For 107ff (5 each) we had a nice freshly made pizza, a Toulouse sausage with chips, and a half litre of local wine.

From Montech we were aiming for Tarbes and Pau, so took the cross-country route to Auch. While driving through Mauvezin we saw a local market. We stopped, bought sweet southern tomatoes, and admired the village. Then we continued to Auch. There was easy parking along the banks of the River Gers. We climbed up the steps towards the cathedral and found a delightful medieval town, with narrow pedestrian streets. There was also a market and we bought a small tin of foie gras.

We continued to Soumoulu, betweeen Tarbes and Pau. When we arrived we were told that the Hotel du Bearn was closed, but would re-open at 18.00. We booked a room, and said we would return. With over 3 hours to spare, we decide to drive south into the mountains beyond Lourdes. We drove over the Col de Tourmalet, with excellent views towards the Col du Midi.

At the hotel, dinner from the 135ff menu was good. We both began with a plate of Charcuterie and Foie gras, followed by magret de canard aux peches, and entrecote grille palois. Both with lots of fresh vegetables. Dessert was a gratin de fruits - fresh mixed fruits with yellow sauce then grilled, accompanied by icecream in a homemade biscuit shell. For local wine we chose Madiran.

We bought bread opposite the hotel before heading towards St Jean Pied de Port. We had great fun with the GPS driving down the narrow country roads, without a real map. There were supposed to be several viewpoints on the road, but it was difficult to park to admire the views. When we reached the summit, the Col d'Osquich it was very, very busy. There were coaches and hundreds of cars, parked on both sides of the road. Everyone was carrying binoculars. We crawled slowly through, taking turns with vehicles trying to come from the opposite direction. We wondered what was the reason for all the chaos.

Passing through St Jean Pied de Port at 12.30 it was also very busy, but we had expected that. We found the road to Iroulegy (home of the excellent local white wine), and went in search of peace and quiet and vineyards. We had our picnic lunch at the Table of Orientation, just off the main road. We continued along the road to St Etienne in the hope of seeing more vineyards, but were disappointed. We drove south towards Spain to Aldudes, and overshot to a viewpoint just 1 km before the border. We walked to get a better view of the mountains, and passed a number of shooting hides. Now we realise that the hundreds of people at the Col d'Osquich were waiting to see the annual migration south of the palombe (wood pidgeon), and that these shooting hides were probably for hunting the same birds.

Click for larger image The traffic in St Jean Pied de Port was much better when we returned. We were able to park just a few yards from our hotel Les Pyrenees. This is another member of the Relais and Chateaux group, and is a Relais Gourmand. The chef is Firmin Arrambide, and he is deservedly famous. Accommodation is not expensive, and there is fine food. We were persuaded to pay extra to park in their garage because Monday would be the market day, and street parking was forbidden. St Jean Pied de Port is an ancient walled town, and the centre is pedestrian. As early as the 12th century there was a chateau-fort here. It was always a major stopping place on the pilgrims route from France to Saint Jacques de Compostelle, crossing the Pyrenees to Roncevaux in Spain. We struggled up the hill to the citadel, the Forteresses de Vauban. We then descended along the Rue de la Citadelle, along the Rue d'Espagne, and across the River Nive to the ramparts. We passed the Fronton (a pitch where the local Basque ballgame of pelote is played) and then crossed the so-called Roman bridge before turning back to the hotel.

For dinner we chose the 320ff menu. We began with nibbles while we thought about the menu, followed by pre-starters once we had decided. Our starters were la terrine de lapereau, and la salade de lotte. The salade de lotte was presented as a large flower, with the vegetables making the stem and leaves. This was followed by the signature dish : les petits poivrons farcie a la morue (salt cod). Then le civet de chevreuil au vin d'Iroulegy, and finally les madeleines tiedes sur fondu d'abricots for dessert. A dish of petit fours accompanied the dessert. We had half a bottle of Iroulegy white followed by half a bottle of Iroulegy red.

Click for larger image The next day we left the car in the hotel garage and explored on foot. We had a map with walking routes, and we decided to try the Etchaine path through the vineyards above Ispoure. Ispoure is just 1km away, and is the home of Domaine Brana, one of the largest Iroulegy winemakers. We strolled into the village, past the Fronton, and then headed uphill through the vineyards. We eventually reached a picnic spot and viewpoint with its Table of Orientation.

Back at the hotel, for dinner we decided to choose from the a la carte menu. We wanted to get to the large dessert platters, so missed a starter. We began with Foie gras frais poele aux pommes, and the special of the day : la palombe. This was the famous migrating woodpidgeon which everyone gets so excited about. We then had the local fromage de brebis, and then the assiettes of 5 desserts (one chocolate, the other not).

We were now starting the final stage of our holiday, up the west coast of France, through St Jean de Luz. We bought bread, local brebis cheese, and slices of basque gateaux in Cambo les Bains. Then it was on to Ascain and a detour to the Col de St Ignace, from where the little tourist train goes up to la Rhune. This genuine vintage train was built at the beginning of the century, and the journey up to 900m altitude takes 35 minutes, at just 8kph. Then there is the option of taking the footpath back to the terminus. We continued onwards and descended to St Jean de Luz. We had not intended to stay there, but the combination of a clean empty sandy beach and a delightful port tempted us, in spite of the difficult detours in the one-way streets due to road works and promenade improvements. We found a hotel on the seafront with private parking, the Hotel Villa Bel-Air. We were offered a very nice room, overlooking the sea with a private balcony. The hotel apologised that its restaurant was now closed, but there were plenty of restaurants open in the old town, and within easy walking distance.

Click for larger image Click for larger image We parked the car and strolled into the old town. St Jean de Luz was the location for the marriage of Louis XIV and Marie-Theresa, the Spanish Infanta. The Maison d'Infante, where she stayed before her wedding in 1660 overlooks the port. The marriage took place in the Eglise St Jean Baptiste. You can see the doorway, now filled in, through which the royal couple entered the church. Inside the choir is surmounted by a superb glittering golden altarpiece, completed in 1670. We crossed the bridge to Ciboure, passing the house where the famous composer Maurice Ravel was born. We continued to the corner, with a view of the main beach, before retracing our steps. Now with a boaters view of the port, you could see the two white towers, one with a red stripe and the other green, which helped them aim for the narrow entry to the port and safety.

We had already spotted a nice restaurant, the l'Alcade, which advertised palombe. We made sure we were one of the first to arrive for dinner, in case they had only limited numbers, and enjoyed our fish soup starter followed by two palombes, with a bottle of Iroulegy wine

The next morning we stopped at Capbreton for our picnic on the beach. The beach was beautiful sand, except for a number of large concrete blocks, presumably from the war, and now returning to the sea. Then it was onwards to Bordeaux. We already had a hotel booking and we had some spare time so we took a detour to visit Arcachon. Arcachon is world-famous for its oysters. We stopped at Arcachon Port - just to look at all the oyster beds. It had been 15 years since Pauline last visited Arcachon on business, and the town had grown. We managed to find the promenade road, and stopped and admired the beach.

Then we continued towards Bordeaux. The Hostellerie des Criquets was just to the north, at Blanquefort. Our room was large with a double and a single bed, and had a balcony overlooking the road. We had the offer of half board, but when we saw the restaurant and the menu we decided to take their 30 euros (195ff) menu : Pate de Foie gras miCuit, sorbet, fish (sturgeon and perch), cheese and a fine pear dessert. For local wine we had red Cote du Bourg.

Click for larger image Click for larger image We were keen to visit La Clariere Laithwaite, at Sainte Colombe, just east of St Emilion. We have been a Confrere for ten years, purchasing cases of their wine from 1988 onwards. Arriving at La Clariere at 12.00, Helene asked us to return after lunch because she could not leave the office. Meanwhile she suggested we visit Castillon-la-Bataille. It is nearby; the La Clariere wine is Cotes du Castillon. We spotted picnic tables down by the river Dordogne and settled down for lunch. We took a meandering route back through the vineyards, passing the old church of St Hippolyte, and then through the pretty village of St Emilion. We had an interesting visit to La Clariere. We began outside. The grapes are grown in several areas, but basically surrounding the original main building. There are now two buildings, with a private house between them. The grapes are the usual mix of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Like all the best vineyards, at the end of each row of vines has been planted a red rose bush. In this case Lili Marlene. Then we went inside. Originally kept at ground level, the barrels are now kept in the cellar, a set of serious tunnels from past quarrying under the house - good for temperature and humidity control. We were able to taste the LC2000 which was maturing in french oak barrels. We saw the Presbetyre2000, from the old vines of the new Laithwaite property. There is also Garage White, still in barrels for bottling later. We were visiting at the same time as the mobile bottling lorry, so we could watch the bottling of the Garage Red.

At the hotel we continued with the 195ff dinner menu, but this time with moules, followed by perch and chicken, cheese, a repeat of the pear dessert and an alternative of lemon mousse. Having been on the edge of the white Entre Deux Mers region at La Clariere, we chose that with dinner.

We awoke to a misty morning, but headed north into Grand Cru Classe country, hopeful that the weather would improve. We aimed for Margaux, and then turned left through Moulis to Listrac. This area was not previously known to us, and we wanted to explore. Then we turned back to St Julien Beycheville. On the road from St Julien Beycheville to Pauillac, the pretty Chateau of 2e cru classe Pichon Longueville (Baron) is on the left. Click for larger image Continuing into Pauillac there was a sign to 5e cru classe Chateau Batailley, a name we recognised, so we turned in search. The chateau dates from the 19th century and is named after a famous battle between the French and the English in the 15th century. Continuing towards Saint Saveur we reached Chateau Liversan. Although an ordinary Haut Medoc, we have enjoyed many bottles since our first purchase of the 1973, which we enjoyed so much that we purchased cases of the 1976 in bond. At the entrance it is mostly converted stables, but at the end of the garden we caught a glimpse of the chateau. Click for larger image We planned to turn back at the edge of Haut Medoc, so our last stop was a picnic lunch on the banks of the River Gironde. The Gironde is wide and in the mist we could not see the opposite banks. We continued along the banks of the Gironde, noting that there was a lot of parking on the verges both sides of the road, and at regular intervals a landing stage with a raised circular net.

The weather was improving. Our next stop was at Chateau Talbot, a 4e cru classe near St Julien de Beycheville. We have enjoyed their wine in the past, as well as the cheaper second wine Connetable du Chateau Talbot. Still continuing towards Bordeaux we saw signs off the main road at Siran to Chateau Giscours. Chateau Giscours is a 3e cru classe. There are traces of a 14th century building on the site, but the present chateau dates from the 19th century. We had been wondering about Chateau La Lagune, and found a sign to it between Macau and Ludon, when we were almost back at Blanquefort. It is the closest Grand Cru Classe to Bordeaux, and is 3e cru classe. The 18th century chateau hides behind ornate gates, on the edge of the road. We buy their wine occasionally, usually for celebrations and Christmas. We still remember the 1973, bought with Chateau Liversan from Army and Navy in Camberley, which was our first experience of a quality Bordeaux wine.

Click for larger image It was just 17.00 when we drove through the gates of the Chateau de Nieuil, and our little 3-storey tower. We quickly decided to stay for two nights, and to take the half board option. This meant we could eat anything off the a la carte menu, either a starter and main course, or an entre and main course. Click for larger imageAfter our welcome drink, there was just time for a quick walk around the garden before dinner. We stopped to note a plaque on the wall by the front door which showed that the Chateau de Nieuil was originally built by Francois I as a hunting lodge in the 14th century. It then comprised three guard towers and a small central fort. In 1834 there was just one tower and a larger chateau. It is this tower which we had as our appartment.

The restaurant was full for dinner. We began with two kir royales (made with Taittinger Relais & Chateau House Champagne). We chose starters of foie gras chaud de canard aux pommes, followed by the special fish for the day, dorade royale, and mijotee d'oie, then cheese, and a choice from the dessert trolley. We were encouraged to take portions of several desserts. For wine we chose a Sancerre.

Click for larger image Click for larger image An enormous tray for breakfast arrived promptly in our tower at 09.00. We managed to struggle through most of it, but kept two of the little pastries for later in the day. Our day trip took us north from Nieuil to Confolens. Confolens has two bridges over the River Vienne, and one is very old. We parked in the centre. Being Saturday there were market stalls selling vegetables, live chickens ducks and rabbits, and cheeses. We bought a square goat cheese and some tomatoes. Click for larger image We continued north along the riverbank to St Germain de Confolens. Again there is an old bridge across the river, but the highlight is the ruined chateau, looking down on the village.

This was our turning point, and our first stop heading south was at Esse. It is advertised as a picturesque village, and we admired the church of St Etienne with its chestnut roof. We continued south to Lesterps, and parked in the square, next to the church. The church is all that remains of the original Abbey. The Abbey flourished from 1032 until 1567 when soldiers pillaged it, setting fire to the monastery. Only a small part of the monastic buildings, the parish church and its belltower remained. Subsequently the Abbey church deteriorated until in 1815 its stones were for sale. To secure the parish church, a new wall was built which later was replaced by the semi-circular abside. Next we visited Brigueuil, a hilltop fortified village, dating from the Middle Ages. Of the original formidable 11th century fortress, only the main East gate and the West gate, the church of Saint Martial de Brigueuil, and the keep remain. The square keep was originally 44m high and seven storeys, but only two storeys remain. Outside the East Gate is the Pyramidal fountain, dating from 1820, and built with stones from the Abbey of Lesterps. Click for larger image Continuing towards Nieuil we stopped to visit the chateau of Rochebrune. It dates from the 11th and 12th century, and has four round towers. The chateau is furnished but we knew it would be closed to visitors in October. However there was a public footpath through the grounds, so we could admire the outside.

The hotel was very full tonight for dinner, with a large group eating in the breakfast room, as well as a full dining room. We chose fish starters (dorade royale and blanquette de barbue aux huitres de marenne-oleron), followed by boeuf poelee, cheese and desserts. We had half a bottle of red St Nicholas de Bourgueil, in preparation for visiting the area of Bourgueil on the Loire.

Click for larger image After breakfast we left for the Loire. The visit around Saumur takes one hour and is guided. Visitors are able to wander around the ground floor, including the underground prisons, on their own. The views along the River Loire in both directions are very fine. Visiting the first floor furnished rooms was strictly supervised. The two guides locked each room carefully, and made sure that no photos or videos were taken. The second floor is a Horse Museum, including the skeleton of Flying Fox, winner of the Derby in 1899.

We continued east, heading for Usse. When we reached the bridge across the Loire to Bourgueuil, we turned south, for the Hotel-Restaurant de la Giraudiere, at Beaumont en Veron. It is built around a 16th century pigeonnerie, with a separate manor house for accommodation, and surrounded by vineyards. The dinner menu at 120ff was reasonable, although waitress service was brisk.

Click for larger image We awoke barely able to see the car in the morning mist. We crossed the bridge over the River Indre at Usse, and followed alongside the River Loire to Langeais and its chateau. The entrance is across a drawbridge, into a courtyard overlooked by the ruins of the original 10th century fortress. Visits are self-guided. There is a marvellous collection of XV and XVI century tapestries. The furniture and wood panelling is either original or copied from originals. Many four poster beds have been installed, also copied from original designs. Enormous trunks and chests are everywhere. The floor tiles, which vary from room to room, were designed from examples of 15th century patterns. One notable event is recorded by a tableau. It was here that took place the wedding of Charles VIII and Anne of Brittany in 1491, and thereby Brittany became part of France.

Click for larger image It was still misty later when we arrived at Villandry. We love the splendid terraced gardens at Villandry and enjoyed our walk in spite of the weather. The gardens were designed on three levels - the water garden, the ornamental garden and the potager. The vegetable garden is particularly fascinating with its stunning displays of designer cabbages, leeks, beetroot, and a few pumpkins for Halloween. All these are planted into geometric patterns, surrounded by neat short hedges.

Click for larger image Our final visit for the day was to the 16th century chateau of Chenonceau. It has a number of beautiful fireplaces, and is well furnished, with XVIth and XVIIth century tapestries and period furniture. The only crowded part was the downstairs kitchens, and that was because access down the staircase and through the narrow doors was a problem. In contrast, the long gallery, built by Catherine de Medici over the bridge on the River Cher, was deserted

Exhausted, we arrived at Chambord and checked in to the Hotel du Grand St Michel. This time we had room 18 with a view over the car park to the chateau. For dinner we chose the 140ff menu. For starters we had a nice agenois salad, with lots of fresh green salad leaves, agen prunes, ham and goat cheese, followed by filet de canard with potatoes and vegetables, then the cheese plate and finally individual lemon meringue pies.

Click for larger image Unfortunately it was still very misty the following morning, but we visited the Chateau de Chambord anyway. The keep, the central building of the chateau, is a focus for any visit. Click for larger imageIn the centre is the famous double-turn spiral staircase, which is a masterpiece. Around this staircase radiate 4 rooms in the shape of a cross, which divides each of the three floors into four parts. So, in principle, this part of the chateau is easy to visit. There are then the extra corners, for example the Francois I suite, and the display of horsedrawn carriages. We spent 2 hours working our way around.

It was soon time to head north, and we wanted to find a hotel before we reached Rouen. We turned off the main road at Acquigny, looking for Cailly sur Eure. Click for larger imageEventually we succeeded, with the help of the GPS, and checked in to the Auberge des Deux Sapins. Our room was plain but good value. We walked over the bridge and stared down at the River Eure. The area was full of springs, and some were feeding watercress beds. The restaurant was very nice, and we chose the dinner menu at 145ff. For starters we had moules marinieres a la crme (an enormous bowl of over a hundred little mussels) and terrine de Coquilles St Jacques (two large slices), followed by brochette de poisson beurre blanc, then cheese, and finally tarte aux pommes. We chose cider as the local speciality, instead of wine, just 45ff.

In the morning, we retraced our steps to the main road and set off towards Calais. We looked for a RestArea (Aire) for lunch, and stopped by a modern windmill at la Baie de Somme. It was windy and we wondered about the wisdom of having a ferry crossing. We decided to head directly for the Calais Hoverport and came back on the 16.00 SeaCat.

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Presentation revised: 4th August, 2020