I’m not sure whether I mentioned it or not, but one of the big things I’m into is history, and one of the big historical attractions of a European cycling tour (or any tour for that matter) is castles. I like castles.
And so following a terrible record of castle-seeing/conquering in the UK (I went to Leeds Castle in Kent – I know – only to cry at the entrance fee and leave, skived off Norwich castle, ignored the rest, in-fact, the closest I got to a castle was ‘Casa Maton’, which in all fairness could qualify as one – sidenote, I have now put more words in this bracketed bit than the rest of the entire post so far, I need help), it was up to France, whose own castles had seen plenty of English folk through the centuries, to fulfill my appetite.
I took my information on the various castles (or chateaux, but you knew that) of France from a few sources: prior knowledge (that is to say stuff I knew previously, not god-given truths kept secret by monks), a couple of Europe guide books, my host Charles in Laval, and an article on the most famous castle-haven in the world: The Loire Valley. It was in this article that I first came across the phrase ‘chateau-d out’, meaning to be overwhelmed by the amount of sheer brick and history you shove infront of your eyeholes. ‘Nonsense!’, I thought, ‘I shall never be bored of their beauty.’
However I did tire of reading the architectural descriptions of each and every exhibit, and so I’ve decided I’ll let my amateur pictures do most of the talking for this post, they tell you what the castles look like far better than I ever could anyway.
Now, I did and still do associate castles most with the Loire Valley, it’d be silly not to, but there are a couple of others which deserve mentioning too so they’re included also. These beauties will be in chronological order, as I saw them as I rolled around the country, with any noteworthy nuggets thrown in alongside.
Other than that, put your best glasses on, Mum get your sighs ready, and everyone else, I’m sorry for my excessive nerdiness. Welcome to the French Fortress Marathon.
Starting off strong, this was a must-see for me. Solely because of its proud role as the location of Camelot in the BBC series Merlin, which I house an inexplicable, unhealthy adoration for.
I may or may not have spent a while sat below the castle, which was closed as a result of my excessive faffing (and blogging) that morning, and listening to the Merlin soundtrack. One song after another. Imagining the royal red flags waving in the wind.
The same day as Pierrefonds, this beauty popped out of the trees by complete surprise as I rolled into Chantilly town, the Epsom of France. I gather it’s pretty beautiful up close too, but I’ll have to find that out later.
In line with the chateau’s penchant for surprise, just as I was turning to leave for my host’s the royal horses were released and galloped up to eat before I’d even realised they were there.
Le Mont Saint-Michel, Normandy
Literally popping out of the sea, perfect place for a crêpe, with the added fun of possibly getting landlocked by the tide coming in.
I mean look at it, who can’t love that? The French definitely have the better St Michael’s Mount (the English one, in Cornwall, is still nice though).
Just so Myles knows, this is where I rang him from.
God knows which this one is, Loire Valley
They were absolutely everywhere.
Saumur, Loire Valley
Supposedly one of the prettiest on the Loire, but it was closed on Mondays so I gave it a wide berth.
Tours, Loire Valley – the let down
The only city on the Loire in which the Town Hall is prettier than the castle. And more interesting too. But still, it counts.
Also, what a crap photo that was. I must have been looking at something else, can’t blame me.
Amboise, Loire Valley
The first chateau I went inside (of three). In-fact if I say one thing about the prospect of being ‘chateau-d out’, it would be that it is only possible from interior visits. The inside of these castles tend to be distinctly less unique than the exteriors.
Though that wasn’t the case for Amboise given I’d yet to have been inside a castle, so it got away with it. It also helped that I got to visit the reputed grave of my old bud Leo of Victory.
Chenonceau, Loire Valley
(It actually looks like that)
I mean COME ON! Things don’t look like that in real life. Plucked straight out of a fairytale, run almost entirely by women for about 500 years, had just enough going on inside to be distinctive in that sense too, with a very very very very black room used by a greaving widow. Thanks to François and Catherine for the tip-off regarding the approach from the south bank, and also to Jana for joining me and introducing me to geocaching.
In-fact, it was this place in particular which convinced me to cycle the Loire Valley, and I think that’s understandable.
Another chateau somewhere along the Cher, Loire Valley
The frequency of them got a bit ridiculous by this point.
Montrichard, Loire Valley
I only remembered the name because it reminded me of a creepy French hotel manager we had on a French trip.
Blois, Loire Valley
They say it’s very very nice here, but again it was closed, and my hosts already had dinner, so I thought it best not to go inside. Instead I found one of the more bizarre sights of the trip just round the corner, after following the strange noises…
And then to a garden to look at the city, and the storm that was coming in. Lunette joined Joan of Arc in going toe to toe with the French weather.
Funny how beautifully things come together sometimes.
Chambord, Loire Valley
The castle to end all castles, the big event of the Loire Valley, with more chimneys than I probably have Euros left in my bank account. Still, at-least entrance here was free.
Also home of the Chambord Liquor I buy people for their birthday. I was told that it is sold everywhere in the world except France, strangely. Maybe something to do with the fact the French would see right through its sales ploy that it is the ‘royal drink’, given that there was never a King at Chambord for any real period of time at all.
Also discovered Chambourdins, which are the best biscuits ever.
Then there’s the funky staircase, made like DNA, letting two people ascend in tandem, looking at each other through the central pillar, but never meeting.
Sully-sur-Loire, Guess Where
Aaaaaand last but not least, at-least from my photos,
Gien, Loire Valley
Like a humble bowing out for the Loire Valley, the castles got less and less frequent following this one. And so that was that, my trip through the castle county of France. It’s kind of a shame, as since this photo (about a month) I’ve probably seen about as many castles in total as I did in a day back then. But then they aren’t all I’m travelling for.
And if this was a castle-filled fortnight, the next month was about something other than history and sightseeing. It was about people. Lots of them.
Day 38 of 179
2449km (1522 miles) cycled
1 river followed
Too many chateaux to count