The Stockwells visit the very warm toilets

We were under strict instruction to be ready to leave at 10am. At 10am three of us were. We left the Lodge at about 10:15 for le Château des Dames at Chenonceau.

The château spans the River Cher and was built in the 16th century by Thomas Bohier and his wife Katherine Briconnet replacing the existing fortified mill. They retained the donjon which they called the Marques Tower, fancying it up a bit and it now houses the souvenir shop. The piers in the river, upon which the château is perched, were also part of the original mill.

Outside the tiny, very warm ticket booth I joined the big milling queue while the Stockwells visited the very warm toilets. I waited along with a shivering French woman. And we waited. And waited a bit more…until a scrawny looking chap popped his head out of the booth and said something in rapid French. The head vanished into the warm depths. The milling crowd in front instantly dispersed – like the Red Sea before Moses – and the French woman and I stepped forth into the warmth. Stupid crowd. They were part of a tour group. The French woman and I exchanged exasperated glances. Fortunately exasperated glances know no language barriers.

In perfect French (I copied the women in front of me) I asked for four tickets. The woman behind the counter replied in English. Dammit! When she asked me my nationality (presumably for some publicity collecting reason) I said, in a very strong Australian accent “Australian”. Afterwards, Mirinda said I should have said I was French.

As you approach the château through the gateway you see a long line of trees, which I presume were planted in order to create a long straight avenue. Unfortunately the trees decided NOT to grow too straight which would have seriously upset the original gardeners.

Line of trees leading to château Chenonceau, Loire, France

From end on, the château is not that impressive as it spans the river. The weather was icy cold as we wandered around to the river side to see the château in all its glory. Bob and Claire decided it was too cold and wisely decided against it. Mirinda and I froze while viewing it.

Chenonceau is most famous for being built and run by women. Seven of them, in fact. Catherine de Medicis was probably the most famous but Diane de Poitiers had the greatest influence. In all, there were seven and two of them were queens. Diane was the mistress of Henry I and was given the château by him. Until he died, when with great satisfaction and a delicious sense of revenge, Catherine turfed her out.

The saddest room of all is the bedroom of Queen Louise. She was married to Henry III, who was famously gay. She loved him dearly and after his death, she had her room painted black with the inclusion of silver women’s tears, the fleur de lis, death skulls and crowns of thorns, around the walls and on the ceiling. It is a remarkable (if somewhat dismal) room which, when you know why, immediately seems sad. Louise dressed in the official French white for mourning and surrounded herself with nuns for the rest of her life at Chenonceau. It would be safe to assume she died a virgin.

The château now is a stately monument to the French aristocracy and viewed for its architecture, artworks (of which there are many) and ability to subjugate the masses into building anything, anywhere for those with the most power. The sort of place which makes the French Revolution perfectly understandable.

Easily my favourite painting (among the hundreds) in the house is The Three Graces by Jean-Baptiste van Loo (1684 – 1745). Apparently the models were three sisters from Nesle and Louis XV had sex with each of them, though at separate times. Well, according to the guide book that is.

The Three Graces by Jean-Baptiste van Loo

Having toured the entire château and visited the souvenir shop, we headed back to the car, deciding against the gardens as the snow had now started. Very light snow, it should be noted. One step above sleet, actually. I’m sure the Inuit have a name for this sort of tiny, speckly snow but I’m not aware of it.

It was definitely time for lunch (we narrowly missed a dreaded Starburst moment) so we drove the 500 feet into the village of Chenonceau and sat at tables in the Hotel de Roy. I think Roy was out.

The dish of the day was bison so, naturally, I had the dish of the day. Following the cidre I ordered and subsequently enjoyed, I was given a complimentary glass of delicious red wine from the region as well as a couple of glasses of a sancere which was truly delish. For dessert I had crepe Grande Marnier, just to round off my alcoholic consumption.

The drive back to our château was pretty uneventful until we reached Mettray. We had been reliably informed (by a map and an entry in the folder of the lodge) that there was a grocery store in Mettray. Anyone going there, expecting same, will be sadly upset. There is NO grocery store in Mettray. Plus everywhere in Mettray there are signs which state that the place is shut until mid January. As we were close to running out of tea bags, this was a desperate situation.

We drove over to St Antoine de Roche and found a market which drew a sigh of relief for its supply of tea bags. All was well. Both churches, in both towns were closed in the general manner of French villages.

Back at the Château du Plessis we enjoyed tea, coffee, beer and pastries. A little later I cooked the strange stuff we bought from the deli in Sees. I wish I hadn’t. After a lot of deliberation and a little tasting, we surmised it was some part of a pig as yet undiscovered. And, boy, should it remain so. It doesn’t bear description. Fortunately the scrambled eggs, lardon and sliced ham were all just fine.

And then we discovered the unpalatable truth. Bob had left his German grocer’s hat in the restaurant at Chenonceau. His hat of many European sojourns, warm friend to his head. It was sad in La Château du Plessis that night, by golly. Damn near wake-like.

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