Bike Ride to Villandry

One of our favorite days in France we biked 36 km to visit the chateau of a neighboring town, Villandry.  We set off around 11:30 am, after seeing the small Fine Arts museum in Tours.  While the art wasn’t really worth the admission price, a visit to the museum gardens rewards one with the chance to behold a giant Cedar of Lebanon.  Just knowing that Biblical authors were in awe of this tree was enough to spark my interest.  The feeling of astonishment I had when I saw the 200-year old mammoth arbor didn’t compare with the curiosity I felt beforehand.  Never pass up a chance to see such natural beauty.

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Fine Arts Museum, Tours.  The cedar is just to the left… I guess Andrew didn’t get a picture of the tree itself?

After speeding through the art museum, gaping once more at the tree, and renting our bikes for the day, we pedaled south of Tours, over the Cher River, past the municipal pool, and into the sprawling park along the banks of the river.  Even though the wind blew directly in our faces, and the biking turned out to be more difficult than we bargained for (wrinkly faces and gray hair sped past us easily), we loved the exhilaration of physical activity, and the ability to see the pristine countryside.

Once in the tiny town of Villandry, we refueled with sandwiches and ice cream, then entered the castle grounds.  Chateau Villandry is really renown for its gardens.  The acres of traditional French gardens surrounding the castle are what visitors come to see.  Reflection pools, rows and rows of lime trees, a hedge maze, and a potage garden all await those who stroll through the greenery.

 

On the way back to Tours, we stopped in a little town along the river for a break.  In a green field underneath shade trees, two locals had set up a refreshment cabin, selling drinks, crepes, and waffles.  We sat together under the shade, drank apple cider, read our books, and watched the people out enjoying their Sunday afternoon.  Seeing families and friends together outside, relaxing together on a Sunday, playing cards, swimming, biking, makes me appreciate how important it is to take a rest day at least once a week. It seems that much easier in places like France, where almost all shops are closed on Sundays, so that people aren’t tempted to go on with their daily chores and shopping.

Reflecting on the trip with Andrew, we both agreed that our day biking in the fresh air was one of the highlights of the trip for us.

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Visite a la fabrique de Cointreau

I wrote a post in FRENCH for the blog that the language school runs.  I am posting the translation here, but you can hop over to the CLE blog to see the original!

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We love the Chateaux of the Loire region, but we are interested in the wine and spirits the region offers as well.  So, when we discovered that the Cointreau factory isn’t far from Tours, I absolutely wanted to visit. I like making a margarita on the weekend, and learning about new cocktail preparations.  And, since Cointreau, an orange liqueur and the original triple sec, is so expensive at home, we’ve never even purchased a bottle, even though every cocktail recipe that requires triple sec suggests Cointreau as the highest quality option.  So I thought an afternoon at the factory would prove to be interesting.

For the excursion, we rented a car, since we wanted to see different parts of the region that are difficult to access without one.  After a visit to the town of Angers, we took the car to the outskirts of town where the Cointreau factory is located.  I made a reservation by telephone (all in FRENCH!) before arriving, since it is obligatory to have a reservation in order to complete the 10 euro tour and tasting.

The guide explained the ingredients in Cointreau to us:  three different types of dried orange peel, neutral alcohol made with beet sugar, and water.  The whole factory smelled like fresh, sweet orange.

After the visit, that we completed in FRENCH!, we enjoyed a tasting of three different types of Cointreau.  First, we tried a long drink cocktail called the “Cointreau Fizz,” that was made with Cointreau, fresh lime juice, and sparkling water.  Not as good as a margarita, but also less potent, and refreshing for a hot day.  Next, we tried a few sips of Cointreau Blood Orange, and Cointreau Noir.  If you like cocktails, and want to experience a unique visit to the region, I recommend the Cointreau factory.  And, the best part, you can buy a bottle of Cointreau for about half the price of a bottle in the US.

Azay le Rideau

For Andrew’s birthday last week, we decided to make the most of our afternoon after class.  First, we ate a formule of gallettes and crepes for lunch, washed down with apple cider from the Brittany region of France.  If you ever visit Tours, we can highly recommend lunch at Le Timbre Post.  Featuring a neat small space adorned with memorabilia through the decades from the Poste (mail delivery system) in France, and staffed by two efficient men: a server, and a chef, the restaurant serves lacy buckwheat crepes stuffed with ham, emmentaler cheese, mushrooms, and sunny side up eggs.  The dessert crepes are simple and delicious: sea salt caramel, 72% dark chocolate, or butter and sugar.

After lunch, we took the local train to visit Azay Le Rideau chateau.  We didn’t realize that the chateau was a 2km walk from the train station, but that worked in our favor, as we walked off a little of our lunch, and revived after dozing sleepily in the sun on the ride over.

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While we didn’t have any expectations for the chateau, it has ended up being one of our favorites!  A “reasonable” size mansion, surrounded by a gurgling stream and an English garden, provided the perfect afternoon to celebrate a birthday.  I especially loved the chaise longue chairs in front of the chateau.  While the grounds of other castles in the region feel distinctly off limits since they are so carefully manicured, this property invited guests to rest a while, enjoy the view, read a book, and disconnect in a way that set it apart from some of our other visits.

Canoeing on the Cher River

Friday afternoon, Isabelle, the director of CLE Language school, led a group of students on a canoeing adventure.  We canoed 12 km down the Cher river, paddling underneath one of the most impressive chateaux of the region: Chenonceau.  Though we didn’t go inside to explore the interior, it was obvious our vantage point from the river provided the best views of the castle from the outside.

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I felt like Pocahontas bravely kayaking into uncharted territory: “It’s just around the riverbend!”
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Chenonceau: We paddled underneath!  Also, this castle was used as a hospital during WWII. Pretty cool!

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Les amoreux – as Isabelle and Marc say

I paddled in front and Andrew directed the canoe.  I’m sure that I did quite a bit more paddling than Andrew.  Every time I turned around to check, he was taking a quick break!

After the 3 hour adventure on the water, Isabelle efficiently guided us to the nearest riverside garden bar.  With an overlook of the water, a drink in hand, and a snack, we were quickly revived.  We tried a few of the region’s specialties, including pulled duck (it looks like BBQ pork), fois gras, and goat cheese with more duck meat mixed in.  We both decided we’ve had enough duck for the trip!

If you ever visit the Loire Valley, a water ride on one of the rivers, whether by boat, canoe, or kayak, is definitely recommended to take advantage of the best views and breeze from the water!

Chinon

On Saturday an unlikely group took a train ride together to visit the small ville of Chinon. A man originally from Taiwan, now relocated to Boston where he practices general medicine, a nurse practitioner from Washington DC, Barbara, a Swiss teacher studying in Tours as part of her professional development program (WOW!), and Bill, from Australia, joined us as we ventured to Chinon, a tiny town on the Cher River.

Highlights from Chinon included a relaxed four-course lunch with our new companions, and learning how to geo-cache with Barbara.  The view back on the chateaux and the town from the opposite side of the Cher river was spectacular, too.   After visiting the chateaux (which we preferred viewing from the exterior, as opposed to the tour inside), and after losing a member of our group who wandered off unknowingly, we all recognized that our growling tummies could be put off no more.  Thankfully, on our way to lunch, Andrew relocated Jack enroute to our destination, and our group of 6 reunited. Lunch at Au Chapeau Rouge started with a petit amuse bouche, followed by a fois gras portion for both Andrew and me.  For the main course, fish from the river Cher, along with mushrooms and other veggies, arrived bathed in a burgundy sauce.  After our cheese plate, my favorite course arrived:  chocolate ganache with saffron ice cream.

 

We all decided that quick spin through town would help us digest our rich lunch and wine, so off we went, me as “madam-guide” as Bill dubbed, and Barbara ever snooping around for a geo-cache treasure. We even took advantage of the Chinon Jazz festival while visiting. Even though rain interrupted the jam session, we enjoyed jazz on the river, too.  A lively group played melodic jazz music in the afternoon from a boat parked on the Cher, and when weather threatened to end the party, the group just moved under a cluster of trees, and started again.  Most interactively, they proceeded to lead the crowd on a jazz march through town, stopping every 200 meters or so to finish a song, and then moving along through the streets again, so even folks who opted to stay home could hear the music from their windows and balconies.

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Jazz dans le bateaux
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Jazz dans la rue
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Should we eat at Chapeau Rouge? Should we not? Where do we go?

Most impressively, though our group of wayward traveling friends were almost all anglophones, we managed to speak mainly French the whole day!  While Andrew thinks the amount of distressingly poor French might have caused him to regress in his abilities, the comprehension level was just about right for me!  Anyway, I appreciate how others are willing to play along with the immersion experience, and recognize that when learning another language, the other second (or third, or fourth) language learners can often be the most sympathetic listeners, and provide the most appropriate input.

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I think the look on my face explains just about how well we communicated during our time together!

Le Chateaux de Langeais

After morning class, we zipped over to the Hardouin boulangerie (our favorite bakery in Tours – it comes highly recommended), bought baguette sandwiches for lunch, and set off for the Tour train station.  Our afternoon adventure took us 25 km from Tours to a small town in the Loire Valley called Langeais.  Once we crossed the Loire River, the train arrived to the Langeais station in minutes, and from there, the Langeais castle was a 5 minute walk away.

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Flowers blooming everywhere!
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Le Chateaux de Langeais

IMG_2822IMG_2812Langeais is smaller than Tours, but offers an easy afternoon getaway.   The garden featuring plants from medieval times caught our attention especially.  People in the middle age munched walnuts to keep their hair from falling out, and cooked onion to settle the flatulence caused by legumes.  We took notes so we’ll be able to incorporate some healthy habits into our diets!  We’re looking forward to comparing Langeais with the Chateaux de Chinon, which we’ll see tomorrow. For now: Je vais au lit:) A bientot!

L’ecole Française

Our first week at CLÉ French language school in Tours is almost over!  We calculated that today we probably experienced 10 hours of French immersion (6 hours of class + 2 hours at dinner + 2 hours with other students).  I’ve learned a ton of vocabulary, but of course can’t quite fashion all the words together to make a logical sentence every time.  By dinner time, my ability to express a thought in a complete sentence was fading!

A day in Tours at language school starts about 8 am at breakfast.  After using my back teeth to jackhammer through toasted pain for breakfast, we scurry off to school (about a 12 minute walk).  Class takes place in the morning – two 1.5 hour sessions cushioned in the middle by a short but sweet café pause.  On Tuesday and Thursday, everyone returns to the school for afternoon workshops, amounting to 6 hours of class on those days. Atelier caught me by surprise – this vacation includes more hours of schooling than I realized!

This week, our afternoons have included lunch en restaurant, sandwiches on the terrace, a jog along the Loire, a beer or two in Place Plumereau, a visit to the Cathedral St. Gatiens, and strolls in the old ville.

We are staying with Marc and Armelle near the center of Tours.  Dinner each evening is ‘al fresco’ in full view of their blooming rose garden.  Armelle prepares dinner for 7:30, and so far we have feasted on the French versions of grilled sausage, chicken pasta with mozzarella, eggs and sausage, white asparagus, roasted fish, lots of salad, fresh fruit, and a gateaux a citron.  A bottle of rosé always shows up at the table, too!

Tomorrow, to celebrate a successful first week of class, we plan to visit Chateau de Langeais.   This weekend we’ll also participate in our own “Tour de France” by hopefully biking to Chateau du Villandry.  Bon week-end!