Tag Archives: chateau

The big chill – from St Boil to Cluny

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Day 3 dawns. Almost. Autumn’s chilly fingers extend across the landscape and smart people stay indoors, cranking up the central heating.

Cream-coloured beef cattle huddle in frost-powdered fields, watching with characteristic bovine disinterest as two crazy, blue-lipped cyclists pass by.

It doesn’t take much convincing to take a detour for a guided tour through the Chateau de Cormatin, a magnificently restored castle in Bourg.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Afterwards, we stop for a quick bite in the town, disturbing the grumpy old woman taking a ciggy-break behind the bar. She serves us with nicotine-stained fingers and a bad attitude.

We don’t hang around long – which is probably the intention.

As we begin the second half our our journey, the sun bursts through the hazy clouds. It’s one o’clock.

Who let the dogs out…?

We’re happy to arrive in Cluny, to stretch our legs, give our butts a rest…and gape at the lion-esque dogs that are out in force.

There’s a Leonberger club meet here this weekend and they are everywhere.

Yes, even at dinner in our posh hotel restaurant.

And it’s not like you can sneak these pooches through the door in your handbag.

I’m wishing they’d been here in time to share the first course of our ‘gastronomique toure de Bourgogne’. I’ve decided to live dangerously (for a vegetarian)…

In the candlelight, the dish looks harmless enough. Like something coated in neopolitan sauce. EB could have mentioned that shaved beef is actually raw beef – except he wouldn’t get the last laugh.

But in the absence of a Leonberger dinner companion, he has to eat mine so we don’t offend the chef. Ha! Who’s laughing now?

Raw victuals aside, the meal and the service are superb. Flawless presentation is one of the many things the French do so well.

So impressive. Which will be us tomorrow, cycling the last and longest chilly, hilly stage of our trip… Now, where’s that nurofen?

à demain

A river somewhere: paddling the Dordogne

After three duck-weather days, the sun peeps out from behind the clouds this morning and gives us a wink and a nudge.

It’s a sign. We jump in the car and head to Couleurs Périgord, one of the 23 canoe hiring places along the Dordogne.*

They are open, and we’re soon on our way to our drop-off point in Carsac, 22 kilometres up-river.

Apparently there can be up to 6,000 canoes on the river on summer days.

The Dordogne is slightly wider than a four-lane carriageway, so I’m guessing it would feel a bit like a freeway at peak hour. Joy.

Today, the air has a distinct chill and the sun is weak so, for us, this is the best time to be on the river. We are alone out here, just the way we like it.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

…the Dordogne from the Château féudal de Beynac

Like every hire kayak, this one is built tough. And heavy. It weighs at least 56 and a half kilos. Well, maybe not, but it moves like a slug and we’re happy we’re going with the flow…

We paddle past delightful stone villages and under bridges, past castles high on the cliffs, and chateaux nestled in amongst the trees.

The river is flanked by lush green forests, splashed with Autumn reds and golds. The water is so clear, we can see fish of all shapes and sizes darting beneath us.

Every now and then, we catch a flash of cobalt blue as a tiny kingfisher swoops down from the trees to snatch les poissons du jour.

The trip is supposed to take four hours, but that doesn’t account for the outboard motor in the back of our kayak. That’s EB, who has no off-button.

So two-and-a-half hours later, we round the last bend of the Dordogne to face the incredible view of Beynac and the Château féudal de Beynac towering above it.

Yesterday, we were up there looking out across the valley (pictured). The river view is so much more impressive.

Ahead, between our landing place and us, is a small flock of rather large ducks. More like a gaggle of geese.

These things are enormous, and stretch out to appear even bigger when they spot two dangerous and slightly soggy intruders.

Three of them swim towards us, necks outstretched, furious and protective of their young. The leader opens his bright orange beak and lets out a powerful hiss.

There’s no giving them a wide berth. They paddle faster than us, especially when we’re laughing too hard to paddle at all.

Luckily their hiss is worse than their bite, and a couple of waving paddles keeps them at bay until they’re satisfied they’ve put the fear of le canards in us.

It’s times like this I wish had a waterproof camera. Damn.

At the end of our paddle, we are slightly chilled but ridiculously happy – and we feel one of those leisurely people-watching afternoons in a Sarlat café coming on.

As soon as we peel ourselves out of these wet clothes…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

*Couleurs Perigord are fabulous – friendly, helpful and they also offer de l’escalade et de la spéléologie (caving and rock climbing).

Let’s hear it for the girls…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

The Chateau de Chenonceau

Never say never. My sister suggested we go and see the Chateau de Chenonceau – and who am I to argue with someone who should really be writing guidebooks?

We went, and she was absolutely right (thanks, sista).

The promos say it is “a chateau loved, managed, and protected by women” and it clearly is.

Katherine Briçonnet built it in 1513, Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medici added their creative flair, and later the beautiful Louise Dupin (who strongly believed in the equality of men and women) saved it during the French Revolution.

In World War I, the chateau became a military hospital for the French Resistance and the kitchen was transformed to cater for this new development.

It’s no surprise it’s referred to as the ‘Ladies Castle’. It’s stunning structure, intimate interiors and the gardens, labyrinth and moats surrounding it all bear the touch of a woman.

It is lovingly preserved, with fresh flowers in every furnished room – and stepping into the kitchen takes you back a few centuries. It even has probably the world’s first pizza oven – well, a baker’s oven, but it’s not much different from the ones we see today.

And there are only a couple of deer and boar heads hanging around the place. Which is so much more restful than those drafty hunting lodges…

Yes, yes, men can be so dull at times. But they do make good drivers, apparently.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

…spanning the Cler River

From chateaux to wine caves…

As we drove into the Loire Valley yesterday, we were stunned to see the lavish chateaux everywhere. We expected vineyards and quaint villages. Instead, these ‘getaway lodges’ for the rich and powerful litter the countryside.

You could spend days here visiting chateaux, and some people do. We popped into Chambord Chateau for a look around…

Copyright: Louise Ralph

Chambord Château: just a humble hunting lodge really.

Chambord’s tricky staircase… and EB playing Where’s Wally (aka Where’s Poppy Frank)

Set on a mere 13,000 acres of forested parklands, complete with rutting stags and more, the chateau has enormous fireplaces in every room – but it still looks like a drafty, uninviting old place to stay in.

Which is probably why King Francois I didn’t spend much time there after it was built.

Chambord’s double helix staircase was brilliant. Two open parallel flights of stairs are wrapped around a hollow core.

So EB and I could enter the staircase on the same floor, but from opposite sides, and we could see each other walking up and down…but we’d never cross paths. Spooky.

Copyright: Louise Ralph

That one’s going straight to the pool room, Henry.

And then there’s the pool room… I mean, trophy hall.

These (pictured) are just a few of the ‘decor peices’ hanging around the chateau.

This is probably the best-known chateau in the region, but there are better – or so we’re told.

One chateau was enough for us, and all those stairs had worked up a thirst…

But finding cellar doors that are open on a Thursday afternoon – that’s the real adventure.

We finally came across the Cave des Productuers de Vouvray, and took the tour to find out about the methode traditional and (of course) try the fabulous final product.

Hmmm, chateaux or caves? We are definitely bats…

PS: We’re staying in a chateau ourselves for a few days – Chateau les Muids. But this one is way smaller and only has one deer head on the wall. Phew…