The Hotel Diderot is big on jam. There’s a massive great cupboard full in the breakfast room and guests are encouraged to try some of the stranger flavours. I’m not the biggest jam fan in the world so I tried the traditional Chinon breakfast of baguette spread with sheeps cheese, walnuts and honey. It was quite nice but not something I’d swap Vegemite on toast for.
After breakfast we headed over to the town of Azay-le-Rideau to visit the chateau. Of course, we HAVE to visit the chateaux when we’re in the Loire. Mirinda likes to tick them off. In fact, she’s asked me to make a list (on the blog) of all the chateaux we’ve visited including when. We shall see.
The day started awful. Following rain over night, the morning hadn’t really improved. Rather than improve, the weather had clearly gone along with the forecast on Mirinda’s iPhone, figuring it was a lot easier than making its own mind up. The subsequent rotten weather accompanied us all the way and saturated us a number of times.
Fortunately, the chateau is an inside visit…mostly.
In order to truly appreciate the majesty of Azay-le-Rideau, one has to cast one’s mind back to 1501 and a young chap in King Louis XII’s employ. He was the royal financier, responsible for the king making lots of money out of the poor miserable population who actually did the work. His name was Gilles Berthelot. We need to feel a bit sorry for poor old Gilles. His position was of such importance that he was immediately made part of the aristocracy (not bad for a son of an accountant) and, because of this, he had to live in the right sort of place.
Subsequently he bought Azay at a bonus price from poor, down on his luck Charles de Boisjourdain. The first thing Gilles did was to flatten the modest structure that was there and commence construction of his turreted sleeping beauty fantasy. It all started in 1513 after Louis XII elevated the status of the domain to a castellany…which is like the council making an area industrial so some wealthy person can exploit a bit of property for his own nefarious needs.
All was going okay until Francois I came to the throne. He suddenly realised that all the royal accountants had some pretty fine houses and wanted to know where the money was coming from and why it wasn’t in his vaults. Then following Francois’s defeat at the hands of Charles V at Pavia, there was great need for some ready cash. He needed to find some sort of embezzlement and you’ll never guess what…he did. And so, Francois bought down the accountants and filled his coffers at the same time.
As for the chateau, poor old Guy had everything confiscated and sold. It was purchased by a chap called Poton (his full name was Antoine Raffin but apparently he preferred Poton)…and so it goes.
The chateau went from hand to hand by fair means or foul for a very long time. And then someone from the art department of Walt Disney saw it and thought it would be perfect as the model for the castle in the animated Sleeping Beauty and it became great again.
But enough history (it was a big, full day of history and I don’t want this post to drag on forever), as interesting as it is, and into the chateau.
We almost missed a downpour and started up the stairs to the attic, where the tour starts. Massive oak beams hold up the incredible weight of the roof and bats live in the vast area, though they were nowhere to be seen. This was possibly because it was daytime but it could equally be because of the American woman taking flash photographs (strictly forbidden). She was clearly very, very important…or illiterate. Her other half looked like a complete meathead so maybe the latter.
Anyway, tourists aside (and there were a lot of them to move to the side) we wandered through the halls and rooms, gradually heading downwards. From my favourite bit of graffiti in the entrance to the wall-walk…
…to the painting of Jacques Louis de Beringhen, who looks rather effete in his attempt to appear warrior-like and romantic.
We thoroughly enjoyed it all and even managed to leave the chateau during a lull in the rain. Our luck even held as far as the cafe where we sat inside for a coffee as the rain once more fell. By the time we left, the rain had slowed to a drizzle. I just wanted to pop next door to check out an old church which has aliens carved into the façade…
…and which, the Rough Guide claims, is sadly missed by most chateau visitors. We had a brief stay before hitting the road back to Chinon.
On our way out this morning, we spotted a big Chinese restaurant and decided it would be fun to have Chinese for lunch. And it was delicious. It was an ‘all-you-can-eat’ buffet which included fresh ingredients if you wanted the chef to prepare them for you in the wok. I jumped at the chance to have a plate of fresh veg and noodles, cooked perfectly before my eyes. It was exactly what my body needed. It’s not that the French food has been all that rich and creamy (we discussed this earlier and came to the conclusion that most foreign food is much better in the country of origin) but there’s been a decided lack of greenery.
By the time we left the wonderfully massive Chinese restaurant, the rain had stopped and blue sky had appeared in the distance. Bob expertly (though incorrectly) predicted we had about an hour before the rain returned so, given the choice, I decided we should visit the famous Royal Fortress of Chinon.
Referring once more to our outdated Rough Guide, back in early 2010, this tourist site wasn’t much cop. The clock tower housed a woeful collection of Joan of Arc stuff and that was about it. In the last four years, it has been transformed into an amazing visitor experience.
Armed with a small guide book containing a small chip, we headed for the Royal Quarters. Apart from the rather arty films which really annoyed Bob, the rest of the story was easy to follow as we travelled from the Counts of Anjou to the Plantagenets to Joan of Arc then back to the Romans.
(Actually, I have a theory about Joan of Arc which I’m going to post about later.)
The fortress, which dominates the Chinon skyline clearly sending out the proper sort of message to the lowly peasants, is made up of three distinct castles. The Middle Castle is where the Royal Quarters and the clocktower are. Fort St George, the oldest bit is where you buy your tickets. Fort Coudray is at the end of the natural promontory and looks down towards the Loire River. It’s a massive area all up and most enjoyable.
Naturally I had to climb the clocktower and Mirinda took my photo.
Having wandered all over the three castles, we returned to the Hotel Diderot for a well earned rest.
For our final night in Chinon we dined al fresco at a rather trendy place called Cafe Artes (because the place we wanted to eat at was closed) and slowly strolled back along the back streets.
Back to St Malo tomorrow…