The Loire valley chateaus 4 Oct 2015n

We bought coffee and croissants at a local covered market then headed out to Villandry, where we visited the Chateau and gardens.

Built overlooking the Loire, Château de Villandry is a château for garden lovers and the last of the major Renaissance castles to be built in the Loire Valley. It was the home of neither a king nor a courtesan but of Jean Le Breton, François I’s finance minister. He demolished the old feudal fortress, except for the keep, in 1532 and replaced it with an extremely elegant and richly decorated purely French Renaissance château. When the Marquis of Castellane bought it in 1754, he revamped the interior in the neo-Classical style. Unfortunately, he also destroyed the harmony of the outside, adding balconies, balustrades and trompe l’œil windows.

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The house was not as interesting as the previous chateau, but the gardens were spectacular.  We spent a couple of hours walking round. The use of vegetables particularly the coloured cabbages and chilies were particularly beautiful; so this is where all the vegetables go – certainly absent from the French restaurant menus.

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After a spinach and cheese tart for lunch we headed for another chateau, close by.

Considered by many to be a “jewel of the French Renaissance”, Château d’Azay le Rideau was built on an island in the Indre River by a rich financier in the early 16th century during the reign of François I and combines the Italianate and French styles. It is more sober than the larger châteaux and one of its most striking features is its monumental fireplaces. The château was abandoned after the French revolution and redecorated by the Marquis de Biencourt. In 1898, the 4th Marquis had to sell out and it was not until it was bought by the State in 1905 that renovation began.

Unfortunately when we arrived there were more renovations going on and half the chateau was covered in scaffolding. The inside was still fully available for viewing. Of particular note were the bed and walls of one of the bedroom, because a video showed how these had been recently done. The walls were covered in a type of reed matting, which helped reduce the damp, and the bed curtains and cushions had been sewn by hand and the lacework using old style mechanical equipment.

In another building there was a video showing how the carpentry, tiling and masonry was being done in the old style. Despite ongoing renovations it was still possible to get a photo of the chateau and nearby trees.

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The town of Villandry was also very beautiful.

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We drove back to Tours and walked through the old town, locating somewhere nice for dinner.  We had a beautiful mixed salad followed by duck Margret, slices of duck in an orange sauce, washed down with wine of course.

On Monday we drove back through the poring rain to Charles de Gaule airport where we stayed at an airport hotel and caught an early flight back to London, hence ending our four weeks in France.

Saturday Oct 3. La Rochelle to Tours (Loire Valley)

Drove to Tours with only one coffee stop in 3 hours, arriving at lunch time. Driving got a bit tricky in the heart of Tours as the satnav has not been updated with all the one way roads. But our delightful Irish navigator always manages to get us out of a fix like that. We like her voice but the fact that all the instructions are in yards and miles took a bit of adjustment. Found our hotel for the next two nights and then a local bar bistro for lunch. Both had a tutti fruit to salad which were delicious. Chicken salad with fresh pear and a Gorgonzola dressing. Never disappointed with French food!

We walked into the main part of town to find the Tourist Office for information about the city and the Chateaux of the Loire and Cher valleys. Worked out we had time to see one this afternoon and chose the Jardins et Chateau de Chenonceax, a 40 minute drive east of Tours. The chateau was built on the River Cher in the 16th Century and has a interesting history dating back to Henry II and more recent history, having been used as a military hospital in the First World War and a centre of French Resistance during the Second World War.

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Just as impressive as the Chateau and which we probably enjoyed more are the gardens. Ornamental gardens sit either side of the building and in the grounds of the Chateau is a large flower and vegetable garden. The vegetables in particular were unbelievable for their size, variety and visual display.

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Tonight we decided to buy baguette and cheese, fruit and Fromage Blanc and have a night in our room. Well worth it watching Australia knock out England in the Rugby World Cup!

Bordeaux to La Rochelle 2 October 2015

We left our hotel and caught the tram into the city, where after a brief breakfast we collected the car from the underground carpark and drove out of town. As we drove along the side of the Garonne we noticed the most unusual bridge where the whole central section rises vertically…


We drove for a couple of hours until we reached the ferry terminal at Soulac-au-Mar. Unfortunately the next ferry was in 2.5 hours so we found a cafe for lunch and had a great French sandwich…


We then had a short ferry trip across to La Tranche-sur-Mar.

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we drove through open country to La Rochelle, and after navigating the narrow streets and traffic found a parking space right outside the hotel, where we found we had a delightful room – very French!

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we then spent the rest of the afternoon doing a walking tour of the town before finding a restaurant for dinner. Apparently La Rochelle was the port from where the French emigrated to “New France” – Canada.


The lighthouses were very interesting, one is part of a house and another looks like a tower.


After dinner we walked through the arch back to our room.


Thursday October 1st. Sarlat to Bordeaux via Bergerac.

Had coffee and croissant breakfast in Sarlat before walking out of the old town to pick up the car. Drove west towards Bordeaux stopping off en route in Bergerac for a walk around and lunch. Bergerac is famous for the play of one of its inhabitants In the 17th century, Cyrano. There are a couple statues of him around town. The town dates back to the 11th century, built on the banks of the Dordoyne River. It has some lovely old buildings, well restored.

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As we approached Bordeaux we began to notice more and more vineyards. Strange that in a country known for its wine and having been here for four weeks and drunk a lot of it, this was our first sight of vineyards. I guess we have been too far south so far. After a while all we could see in all directions were vineyards!

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We drove into Bordeaux around 3pm, over the magnificent long arched bridge over the River Garonne. We hadn’t realised how big this city is; the fifth biggest in France apparently. The congested traffic and trams were very challenging so we found an underground carpark as quickly as we could and decided to leave the car there overnight. With packs on backs we walked around the city centre until we found the Tourist Centre. We hadn’t booked a room, thinking we would find one on arrival, but rooms were scarce so we had to take a room in a hotel a few kms out of the city centre. We spent a couple hours walking around the city and then caught a tram out to the hotel. The port city is a World Heritage site, renowned for it’s extensive and beautiful preserved 18th century architecture. The cathedral is immense with double flying buttresses and a separate bell tower. The buildings along the river bank remind us of Bath and there is an interesting mirror pool. The Garonne river is a feature in itself, very wide when the tide is high, but at low tide reduces down to mud banks. The tidal height difference is huge and the incoming tide surges with great energy and swirling eddies.

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Cahors to Sarlat 30 September 2015

Today we started our CARmino. We had breakfast in our hotel then walked the 100m to the Eurocars office where we had booked our car, a Peugeot 500, which is da Diesel engine and we also hired sat Nav (in English, well The voice has an Irish accent)

After taking photos of the bridge in Cahors we drove to Saint-Cirq Lapopie. This was recommended by a French lady on the Camino as a “must see” and how right she was. Perched on a hillside above the cliffs and overlooking the river a beautifully maintained village, rated one of the top villages in France. The pictures do not do it justice.

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After having a walk around and eating lunch we drove to Sarlat, about 1.5 hours away along winding country roads. We parked just outside the old centre and wandered in to find somewhere to stay the night. We found a bar that had rooms above and we took a room at the top of the building with a view across the square.

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Using a guide provided by the tourist office we did a walking tour of the old town.

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Lots of interesting buildings, one of the most interesting was the church with a glass elevator that rose above the tower.


We had a leisurely drink at our bar, then dined at a local restaurant. Hazel loved

her cassoulet of pork, beans, frogs gras and duck.


The crime brûlée for dessert was delicious.

Tuesday September 29. Mas de Vers to Cahors. 18km

Our last night on the Chemin was in a shared room with two others and It was a bad night, which only reinforced my previous experience on the Spanish Camino of not coping with mass sleeping. Snores and noisy dreams, not to mention not-so-discrete red torchlight, added to the head cold I have developed, made for a rough night. But it was the last night so it didn’t matter. Plenty of time to catch up with sleep later. In general, walking in France has been much easier than Spain because of getting better sleep and better foot management.

We disturbed our bed-fellows by setting our alarm for 6.30am having decided to reach Cahors by lunch time. This would require an early start. We weren’t alone at breakfast, our recent French Canadian friends were also there. The full moon was still in the sky as we strode off around 7.30. The walk was mostly flattish, through very rocky terraine and paths which were hard on the feet and obviously hard for the farmers to work with. We had a couple of short breaks and then the final few kilometres across a high heath-like area. Reminded us of Reigate Heath, without the golf course!. The path then dipped down steeply and our first sight of CAhors came into view. It is an old and newer city nestled in a huge ox bow of the River Lot. We walked into the city, across one of the newer bridges around 11.30am. A record 18km before lunch for us!

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We went into the old city and had lunch, then found the hotel we had booked in the newer part of the city, close to the famous Pont Valentre and Europe Car Hire. We were tired by the time we got there so had a catnap before heading off to explore the old city. We didn’t have much daylight left, especially as we decided we deserved a glass of wine in one of the bars before setting off. The old city is not that special, compared to some of the beautiful old towns and cities we have seen. I think we’re getting spoilt! We wandered for a while before deciding it was time for dinner and fortuitously bumped into our Fench Canadian friends in a restaurant. We joined them for a celebration of finishing the French Chemin. Seems to be a tradition with us.  We seem to get on very well with Fench Canadians!

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Limogne-en-Quercy to Mas de Vers Monday 28th September,

Today is our penultimate day on the Chemin, and our last dY of walking over 20km, so we had an early breakfast at 7am. Marie and Yves put on quite a spread, there was melon, cereals, prunes and the usual continental breakfast.

We hit the road soon after 8am, together with a group of five Canadians. The scenery today was fairly similar to the last few days, but the track was much more level and less stoney so we were soon at our first stop Valeires where we were able to get coffee.


We bought bread, cheese and tomatoes at the local shop where we got instructions on how to rejoin the Chemin, since we could not see any signs. We soon found our way back on to the Chemin, and walked for a couple of hours, stopping only to have a drink.


Soon we saw a nice spot to picnic.  With only a few more kms to go Hazel relaxed after lunch.


It was not long before we arrived at our Gite, and soon after the five Canadians arrived. The number of arrivals increased quickly during the afternoon, and the Gite was soon full (27 people).


After showers and catching up with washing Hazel relaxed with a beer before dinner.


…while Mike met the locals…


finally it was 7pm and time for dinner. We sat on the “English” table, made up of four New Zealanders, two English people who live in France and one Scot who lives in England, one French lady who is a retired teacher of languages and us two Aussies. First course was courgette (zucchini) soup, then roast duck with fig sauce, mashed potato and veg, followed by a chocolate bread pudding with raspberries, and of course red wine! After dinner we went back to our room for the night which had two double bunks. Since the Gite was full we had two other people in the room, oh well we have done well up to now, having rooms to ourselves.