Loire Valley Castles You Shouldn’t Skip, Episode 168

What Are Loire Valley Castles You Shouldn’t Skip?


Loire Valley Castles You Shouldn't Skip, Janice and castle

In this episode of the podcast, we answer one big question: What are a few Loire Valley castles you shouldn’t skip? The answer, of course, depends on what you like and who you are with. Janice Chung spent 6 days there in the spring of 2017 and she visited 12 of them on that occasion. But, as a true francophile, this was also her 5th visit to the area, so she’s more qualified than most to give us a unbiased primer on the area and point out gems that are truly worth your time.

Janice recommends staying at various castles instead of going to hotels. This can be surprisingly affordable, and a definite plus for honeymooners. She gives pointers for those visiting the area with children (as a former school principal she knows what works and doesn’t work with kids!) We also talk about her long-time desire to take a hot-air balloon ride over the Loire Valley, and her adventure tasting Loire Valley wines.

Janice is the editor of a wonderful blog about travel to France called France Travel Tips, you should check it out, it’s great.

Would you like to tour France with Annie and Elyse? Visit Addicted to France to choose an upcoming tour.

Related Episodes

Episode 82 (first time in the Loire Valley with kids), Episode 28 (Loire Valley Wines), Episode 166 (how you can visit both the Loire Valley and Normandy) and more, please use the search button!

Recommended in this Episode

La Rocheline in La Chevalerie in La-Croix-en-Tourraine (near Amboise), Château d’Artigny (near Tours),  Château des Tertres  (near Blois), Château de Chissay in Chissay-en-Touraine (mear Chenonceau). Winery at Château de Valmer

Extra Content for Email Subscribers this Week

Getting the best out of your smart phone while in Paris, which includes info on finding free WiFi in Paris and where you can charge your phone in Paris. Subscribe here.

French Tip of the Week

In Paris last week I didn’t run into a single person who wasn’t willing to speak English with us. So what are you to do if you want to practice your French? Try saying this: “pourrions-nous parler français s’il vous plait, j’ai besoin de m’entrainer”.

Places Mentioned in this Episode

Loire River, Cher River, Blois, Tours, Chambord, Chenonceau, Château d’Ussé, Château Villandry, Saumur, Amboise, Le Clos Lucé, Château de Cheverny, Château Beauregard, Château de Valmer.

What We Discuss in this Episode with Time-Stamps

Meet Janice, the Anglo Canadian who Loves France!

[03:26] Janice Chung is from Canada  and a repeat traveler to France. She loves the diversity she finds in France.

The Entire Loire Valley Is a World Unesco Heritage Site

[04:18] The whole Loire Valley is a World Unesco Heritage Site, which means it’s all wonderful, but it also makes it hard to choose where to you should concentrate your time. There is so much history and beauty concentrated along the Loire and Cher rivers that it can leave you puzzled. This episode is meant to help you find out which ones are the two “biggies” and possibly choose a few others depending on your taste also.

Must Go because of History, Architecture, Activities and Proximity to Paris

[05:02] History aside, the architecture of the Loire Valley castles is stunning. The châteaux are beautifully designed, the gardens are lovely, there are lots of activities you can participate in, especially in the summer, and it is really close to Paris to boot!

How to Get to the Loire Valley

[05:28] On this latest trip, Janice and her friend flew into CDG, picked up a car, and drove westward. You could also take the TGV train to Tour right from CDG as was pointed out in Episode 166.

What Towns to Use as Your Base in the Loire Valley?

[05:46] See her recommendations above. Janice chose to use two towns as her base: Blois and Tours. Saumur is also a possibility. It’s best to pick two towns that will work for you. Matt, another guest on the show from Episode 166 loves to stay near Amboise at  La Rocheline in La Chevalerie in La-Croix-en-Tourraine. What matters is that wherever you are you can take easy day trips and don’t spend too long in the car. They stayed for 6 days and visited 12 châteaux total.

Visiting in April vs the Summer

[07:00] It is a fact that some of the lesser known Loire Valley castles can be just as interesting as the super famous ones. They went in April and had spectacular weather. They didn’t have to deal with crowds, but the gardens were not in full bloom. In the summer you’ll get the gardens in full bloom, but you’ll also get the crowds. In the summer you also get more festivals, so you have to pick your poison! Remember that nothing is ever as crowded as the Château of Versailles, even in high season in the Loire Valley.

Rent Bicycles at Chambord

[09:01] Some of the estates of these châteaux are massive, it’s often worth renting bicycles to see the more of the “Domaine de Chambord”.

Loire Valley Castle Nomenclature

[09:28] Some of the names you will encounter may surprise you. Officially it’s not called Château dÁmboise but rather Château Royal d’Amboise. Same with Chinon, it is “Forteresse Royale de Chinon”. A “Résidence Royale” is better than just a château because we have a lot of plain of châteaux in France!

Top of the List Loire Valley Castles

[10:00] Loire Valley Châteaux on everybody’s list would be Château de Chenonceau. This one straddles the river Cher and it is stunningly beautiful as well as has lots of wonderful history. Diane de Poitier was the mistress of Henry II and when he died she had to give it back to Catherine de Medici, but she got another château instead, the one at Chenon sur Loire. We will do episodes specifically concentrating on the history of those castles, this episode is more of an overview.

Audio Guides and Light Shows at Loire Châteaux

[11:27] At most of these châteaux you can rent an audio guide. Sometimes the rental is included in the admission price, sometimes they cost a couple of euros extra, but they are usually worth it. Your mileage may vary, some are engaging and others not so much. They spent 5 hours at Chenonceau. You can take canoe under the arches of Chenonceau.

At night they have a “son-et-lumière” at Chenonceau where they project images on the château to classical music and commentary (which may be in French only and possibly boring if you don’t understand what’s being said). Take the time to check out Trip Advisor reviews on those light shows, some of them have probably come a long way recently.

The Number 1 Château on Everyone’s List Should Be Chenonceau

[14:37] Chenonceau should be on everyone’s list, not just for the architecture and the interior (they try to replicate era tapestries, furniture and such) but the gardens are also stunning. In France, the Revolution did a number on everything. It is very likely that most of these castles were robbed during the Revolution so if you see furnishings they will probably be either replicas or other period pieces, not the originals. Plan on 5 hours, especially if you are going to eat there.

The Number 2 Château on Everyone’s List Should Be Chambord

[15:46] The next château on your list should be Chambord. They also spent 5 hours there and it is the biggest château in the Loire Valley. You can also rent bicycles or do a horse and carriage ride. They have outstanding audio-visual presentations that explain how it was created and the history. Some Disney Castles were modeled after Loire Valley Châteaux but they are so much smaller it is hard not to be blasé if you see both.

Lesser Known but Worth a Visit Château d’Ussé

[17:32] Speaking of Disney, the Château d’Ussé is also worth a visit, especially of the outside. Charles Perrault wrote La Belle au Bois Dormant aka Sleeping Beauty. They try to recreate the story inside the castle with wax figures and mannequins, but they are scary looking. Part of the tour at Ussé take you up into the attic, but it’s very dark up there. This is one that looks glorious from the outside, but you may consider skipping the inside. Maybe tell the story of Sleeping Beauty to your kids while walking around the outside and call it good.

Château Villandry Is also Worth Considering

[19:20] Also probably nicer on the outside than on the inside (but not bad inside by any means) is Château Villandry. This one has magnificent gardens on 3 levels: flowers, vegetable,  water gardens, fruit terraces, all meticulously maintained. They have 10 gardeners that maintain it throughout the year. It is close to Tours.

Should You Visit Loire Valley Castles with Young Children?

[20:28] You have to worry about little kids at those château because they may be bored to death. If you’re just seeing great architecture and gardens, you can be sure the kids won’t like it. But there are some Loire Valley Castles that have festivals in the summer.

Saumur has a whole summer Medieval Festival with jousting, sword fighting, displays. But if you can transform your daughters into princesses and your sons into knights, take them on bike rides along the river, they may love it too. Check out this site (in French) for a list of kid-friendly activities in the Loire Valley. Also be aware that some of the best kid-friendly activities may be only available in French.

Hot-Air Balloon Ride

[22:14] Janice went on a hot-air balloon ride near Amboise. It wasn’t cheap (189€) and everything depends on the weather. You get picked up near Amboise and the flight is about 1 hour and you can ride close to the ground at times. You can see some private châteaux. She liked it, but didn’t love it because they didn’t see some of the most famous châteaux except Amboise that they were close to. There are rides offered near various châteaux, choose the one you want to see most.

Canoeing and Bike Tours

[24:49] Canoeing and Renting Bicycles are also great activities that are a lot cheaper and will appeal to the entire family. The Loire Valley is extremely flat, so it’s a great place to rent a bike and go from château to château. You can do this even if you’re not in top cycling shape. You will see a lot of bike tours in the Loire Valley because it is very conducive to that. We talk about the difference between Loire and Provence Cycling Tours in Episode 149.

Amboise Château

[25:32] Amboise is a really beautiful château, particularly from the outside. It is high up, so you’re looking down at the river, and is wonderful for photographers. This was also Da Vinci’s final home. The Foire d’Amboise takes place the third week-end in April and is a wonderful tie-in to visit the area.

Le Clos Lucé, a Great Place for Kids!

[26:28] When at Amboise, you also need to visit Le Clos Lucé, aka The Leonardo Da Vinci Museum. A great place for adults and kids alike. Clos Lucé is wonderful, it is where they’ve recreated a lot of Da Vinci’s inventions in the place where he lived at the end of his life.  The inventions they installed in the gardens are wonderful, you can crank things and try a lot of them, it’s hands-on. In the summer they have extra demonstrations which makes it extra fun. This one will surprise you by how wonderful it is!

Tintin and the Château de Cheverny

[28:08] Hergé, the author of Tintin comics, modeled his fictional “Château de Moulinsart” (translated as “Marlinspike Hall” in English) on the Château de Cheverny. Beautiful grounds, beautiful château, famous for their hunting dogs. You can see the dog feeding times morning and night. A great château to take kids to, espcially if they like either Tintin or dogs.

Château de Beauregard

[30:25] You don’t hear about Château de Beauregard as much, but it is known for its gallery of hundreds of portraits. They’ve taken 20 or so of the portraits to the grounds and it makes your walk through the grounds more interesting.

Stay at a Château instead of a Hotel

[31:42] If you have the chance, you should stay at a real château instead of a hotel. Janice enjoyed staying at the Château d’Artigny in the city of Montbazon (Check it out, GORGEOUS!!!). Janice has also stayed at the Château des Tertres in Onzain near Chaumont-sur-Loire, beautiful, great breakfast, recently renovated, amazing price. The Château de Chissay in Chissay-en-Touraine (near Chenonceau).

Smaller Châteaux Close at Lunch-Time

[35:08] There are lots of châteaux in the Loire Valley that are not famous, some privately owned, some open to the public, other do not, and some close at lunch-time.

1000 French Châteaux for Sale on any Given Day

[36:34] Owning a French château is an expensive proposition and it is said that there are 1000 French châteaux for sale on any given day. French tax structure at the moment assumes that if you own a “château classé”  (of high historical value) you must be in a high tax bracket, so you get big tax breaks to help you deal with the expense. The consequence of that is that if you are not in a high tax bracket to begin with, you get no help whatsoever until you make enough money. The other problem is that there are strict rule as to how you renovate a historical site, and that makes every little thing expensive.

There is a TV show on the CBC called Escape to the Château and it’s about a couple who buy a castle and renovate it to be rented out for receptions. If you really yearn to do this sort of thing, maybe start with a “maison de maître” which is much smaller than a château.

Wine Making in the Loire Valley: Château de Valmer

[41:34] When traveling to the Loire Valley as a tourist, it’s amazing to see how they built these enormous homes. Some of them make money by making and selling wine, such as the Château de Valmer.  Loire Valley Wines are famous. For example Touraine or Janice’s favorite Vouvray.

Definitely do some wine-tasting while in the Loire Valley, or at the very least, buy some local wines at the grocery store. When you are at a restaurant, ask them if they have a pichet of local wine, you will be surprised both by the quality and the price of those wines!

We’ve Barely Scratched the Surface Here!

[43:10] There are so many châteaux in the Loire Valley that there are several we haven’t mentioned. For instance Blois and Chinon. You need to do some research into the particular attractions you enjoy. One week of châteaux might get you all the way “châteaued-out”.

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Claude Monet and a Visit to Giverny, Episode 167

Claude Monet and a Visit to Giverny


Giverny and Claude Monet, photo of Monet and his long white beard

In today’s episode we take you into the beautiful world of Claude Monet and Giverny. You’ll need to put some effort into getting to Giverny from Paris, but it’s so worth it! And, as we explain in today’s episode, you have several options to get there and all are pretty simple. Giverny is a place of contemplation and that will blow you mind away with an array of colors and shapes that contributed so much to Monet’s art.

Recommendation

You can join us for a tour with Annie and Elyse and Addicted to France. If you can’t, please get your tickets in advance on-line so you can enjoy the day without the line! Whatever you do, do not miss the entrance for those who can skip the line, as we discuss in the episode, it’s too easily done. (See photo at the end of this article.)

Places Mentioned in this Episode

Giverny, Monet’s Gardens at Giverny, Gare Saint-Lazare , Orangerie Museum in Paris, Marmottan Museum in Paris, Vernon-Giverny Train Station

Episode Highlights with Time-Stamps

Giverny Tour with Addicted to France

[02:18] Next time Elyse and Annie will offer a tour of Giverny is going to be on May 26, 2018, you can read about it on Addicted to France and we’re only opening it to the first 6 people who book.

Claude Monet, Prolific and Long-Lived

[03:10] Claude Monet was both a prolific and long-lived painter. He didn’t paint the waterlilies exclusively, but he painted them a lot over his many years!

Giverny Is in Normandy

[04:12] Monet was born in 1840 and he bought the property that became known as Giverny at age 43. Giverny is technically in Normandy.

How Long Does it Take to Go to Giverny from Paris?

[04:56] By car, it takes an hour to an hour and a half from the center of Paris depending on traffi. By train you get on at Gare Saint Lazare to Vernon-Giverny and then you take a shuttle bus that runs every half hour. Or you could take a little tourist train between the Vernon-Giverny train station and Monet’s house. Some websites suggest you could walk it, and probably you could, but why? It’s neither short or pretty. When you take the train, you go along the Seine, which is pretty.

Why Monet Settled at Giverny

[08:33] Monet wanted to get out of the city, he was at an age where he was getting to be well-known, but he wasn’t super famous yet. He wanted to create a space that he designed (with a gardener) so that anywhere he looked he would have something to paint. Everything is organized by color combination.

Flowers Year-Round, Almost

[12:00] They have 12 or more gardeners these days, there are a LOT of flowers and unless you go in the dead of the winter, you will get a feast for the eyes. The part with the lily pads and the willows and the pond are amazing. It’s hard to get a photo of the little green bridge without anybody on it because there are always so many people. Don’t go on a Saturday or Sunday if you can. Monday has fewer visitors typically. Overcast days are even better for artists and photographers, so don’t worry too much about not having perfect weather on the day you visit.

Where to Go if You Bought Your Tickets Ahead of Time

[15:10] When you get to the parking area you have a 10 minute walk through the village (with nice houses, restaurants, etc.) there is a ticket office on your right. There is a sign off to the right for people who have already bought their tickets on-line, you need to turn to the right before you get to the ticket office.

Giverny Is a Full Day Trip from Paris

[17:50] You can spend a whole leisurely day at Giverny. If you rush, you could do it in 2 hours, 4 hours seems like an ideal amount of time to spend there. If you’re into botany, you’ll need more time because you’ll want to pay closer attention to specific plants.

Giverny Was “Une Ferme de Paysan”

[20:00] When Monet rented Giverny, it was 20 hectares and it was a “ferme de paysan” so a farm. Monet quickly started to transform the farm into a flower garden. Giverny became his life’s work, he worked there along with the gardners his whole life.

What You Will Inside the House at Giverny

[21:19] When you go into the house, at first you see the studio room that he used when he was older because he could see into the garden. You see the original furniture in the house, and on the walls you see reproductions of Monet’s work by amateur painters. They don’t look near as good as the original and anybody can tell! Then you see the bedroom, the blue and white kitchen and the very yellow dining room.

Monet Lived a Charmed Life

[23:34] Monet lived a charmed life other than a couple of tragedies (the untimely death of his first wife and the death of one of his children). When he wasn’t painting he entertained his friends. He was a well-centered person. He was very close to all the impressionist painters, close to Alfred SisleyCamille Pissarro, Berthe Morisot who he took under his wing. He was also very close to French Prime Minister Georges Clémenceau.

Giverny as a Place of Pilgrimage

[25:09] Giverny has now become a place of pilgrimage. In part because Monet’s art is so well represented all over the world, but also because he personifies that time period. His legacy has been preserved in part thanks to a lot of American money.

Claude Monet and Georges Clémenceau

[26:29] Claude Monet had the privilege of being best friends with Georges Clémenceau (Président du Conseil) and that’s how he was given the space at the Orangerie to do the lily pads. That’s also how he got a State Funeral. Sadly, Money died before the Orangerie opened with the lily pads. In many ways Monet was an “official” French artist.

Claude Monet, the Conventional Artist

[28:33] Claude Monet was also a conventional Frenchman. He was grounded, not a thrill seeker. He had his wife and his kids and his work and that fulfilled him. Walking through the gardens and sitting on a bench near the ponds at Giverny can be a meditative experience. It became important for other artists to come visit him and he made people come to him at Giverny.

Also Consider Visiting the Marmottan

[31:00] The Marmottan Monet Museum in Paris has a lot of wonderful pieces by Monet, and also well-worth a visit. But Giverny continues to be the place of pilgrimage where people flock to in order to get a feel for his work and legacy.

Should You Stop at the Musée des Impressionismes at Giverny?

[32:00] The Musée des impressionismes in Giverny is located near the gardens is now open and features impressionist and post-impressionist artists. The space itself is lovely, not very big, it is dedicated to other artists who worked at the same time as Monet or were influenced by him. It will take an hour or so to visit and is recommended if you have the time.

How to Schedule Your Day at Giverny

[33:50] Elyse and her sisters took the 8:30 AM train out of Gare Saint-Lazare and took the 5:30 PM train back to Paris. This means they got to Giverny by 10 AM which is about when it opens. There are nice places where you can get some breakfast and lunch as you walk to the entrance.

The Gift Shop at Giverny

[35:40] The gift show at Giverny is pretty big, they have a little of everything, but also garden books and seeds. It’s a great place to bring little souvenirs.

Giverny as a Photographer’s Paradise

[38:00] Giverny is not a place that needs a lot of talking or explaining. It is a place of contemplation. If you want more details on the plants there are books and their website is also very good at giving the names of the plants. It’s a photographer’s paradise and a place that appeals to the senses.

Addicted to France Tour to Giverny

[39:38] The Addicted to France May Tour is going to be happening May 27th thru June 3rd. Before the tour there are two add-ons you can purchase:

  • On May 25th we’ll go to Versailles and will visit the King’s Private Apartments. Then Elyse will guide through the rest of the Château.
  • On May 26th we’ll be going to Giverny.
  • May 27th thru June 3rd is going to be the full Paris Tour that we’ve talked about on the show before.
  • June 4th thru June 7th we’ll be going to Normandy, including the commemoration of D-Day, Mont Saint-Michel and Bayeux

The Extra this Week

[45:54] The Extra this week is the Circular Paris Metro Map

French Tip of the Week

[47:00] French Tip of the Week: “Quel temps de merde !”

Conclusion

Giverny is conducive to reflection and introspection even when it is filled with visitors. We recommend you take your time and make a it a day. You don’t need to be a botanist or a photographer to enjoy it, but if you are, you will totally fall in love with the gorgeous colors and beautiful setting.

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Giverny and Claude Monet where to go once your have your skip the line tickets

 

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Brittany with Kids Trip Report, Episode 166

Brittany with Kids Trip Report


Matt and his daughters. Brittany with Kids Trip Report

“Big picture of why we like to tour France with our children is because I love the span of history in France. The history that you can get by traveling through France is tremendous: you can go back 20,000 years when you go see cave art paintings, then you’ve got the Romans, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, WWI, WWII, pretty much anything you want to see history-wise is in France.”

Recommended in this Episode: La Rocheline in La Chevalerie in La-Croix-en-Tourraine, Gîte in Dinan.

Places Mentioned in this Episode: TGV train station at CDG, Tours, Amboise, Chenonceau, Chambord, Mushroom Cave, Dinan, Monterfil, Mont Saint-Michel, Cancale, Fort la Latte, Saint-Malo, Sculpted Rocks in Saint-Malo, Gulf of Morbihan

Introduction

Brittany was always a place Matt wanted to visit, but Brittany with kids is even better. So Matt made sure to include it on his last visit to France in June/July 2017.  And since the Loire Valley is right between Paris and Brittany, they decided to make a stop in Tours and visit two Loire Valley Châteaux too. We also talk about dealing with a severe food allergy in France, driving in France, and how, if you do it right, a trip to France is like going into a time machine. This trip took Matt and his family to a lot of places that are lovely and completely off the beaten track for most visitors, some where they never heard a word of English. They planned to go both to both famous attractions and places that nobody ever goes to. I think they did made great choices, what do you think?

If you’re interested in this episode, you should also listen to: Driving in France and Gulf of Morbihan in Brittany

Would you like to tour France with Annie and Elyse? Visit Addicted to France to choose an upcoming tour.

 Episode Highlights with Timestamps

The Itinerary for this Trip to France

[03:36] This was Matt’s 4th time in France, and his second big trip with the kids. This time they spent 2 days in the Loire, 6 days in Brittany, a week in the Dordogne, a week on the Mediterranean and Catalonia  part of France and one day passing through Paris.

Driving in France: Watch Out for Speeding Tickets!

[04:46] You drove all the way across France, north-west to south-west, from Brittany to Perpignan. Driving was great, safe, orderly, not that much traffic (Matt is used to Boston traffic) and Episode 16 on Driving in France was very helpful. They took the highways (we call them “autoroute” France and they are toll-roads). They went through Nantes and Bordeaux. When you drive in France, be mindful of your speed, because they will catch you and they will mail you the ticket all the way to your home in America or Canada or Australia because your car-rental company will forward your information to the authorities.

Visiting France Is Like Time Travel

[07:00] Why they like coming to France with their children and why they chose this route: 1. Matt gets by OK in French. 2. Every region of France is its own country. 3. The span of history you encounter on a trip like that in France is tremendous. 4. Matt’s daughter Nora is severely allergic to eggs and in France they can handle that without taking too much risk.

How to deal with a Food Allergy in France

[08:26] Dealing with a severe allergy in France: hand your waiter a printed card that says what you’re allergic to in French. Everyone was super accommodating.

The Kids Love the Beach and the Mediterranean!

[09:11] For this trip they wanted to keep what was successful about their previous trips and build off it. They like to rent a house so they can do their own cooking, and they like to have a swimming option or a more engaging option that the kids will enjoy at each place. The kids wanted to go to the beach and Matt decided on Collioure (see next episode) on the Mediterranean.

French Regions Have their Own Culture

[11:16] French regions have a strong local culture. Brittany is very different from Perpignan and the Catalan country! As soon as you get out of Paris you will see that France is made up of a patchwork of cultures. The two most pronounced cultural identities that you will find in France are Brittany and Basque Country. Next are Alsace, Provence, Occitania.

The TGV Train Station at CDG

[12:15] The flew into Charles de Gaule (CDG) and got on the TGV right there to go to Tours. You don’t need to go to Paris first, the TGV train station is located beneath Terminal 2 of CDG.  This is where they took the TGV to Tours, it’s a quick and inexpensive ride and much easier than battling Paris traffic.

Great Place to Stay near Amboise

[13:17] Their Bed & Breakfast near Amboise was one where they had stayed before. It is called La Rocheline in La Chevalerie in La-Croix-en-Tourraine. It’s a beautiful place on a farm. Everyone says they want to feel like a local, and going back to a place you’ve been before that you enjoyed is a great way to feel like you’re going home!

How to Burn Off Jet-Lag

[14:16] It takes Matt and his family 2 days to burn off jet-lag (that’s FAST!) When they arrived around noon they did some grocery shopping, then went on a walk along the Cher River. They saw Chenonceau from the outside, their point was to spend time outside and keep moving. It’s brutal when you land in France at 8 AM and you haven’t slept all night. You need to keep moving, preferably in the sun. The worst thing you can do is stay in your hotel room!

French Cheese!

[15:39] Matt loves French cheese, and the first thing they bought was his favorite on this trip. The way you find the gems is you go to a cheese shop (fromagerie) and ask for a great local cheese. The person will suggest something you’ve probably never heard of, but it’ll be tasty and it’ll be local! It’s great to ask for people’s opinions on what cheese they recommend because then you get to talk too, which is always fun.

A Visit to Chambord

[17:30] The next day they went to Chambord, the drive was easy and lovely, they ate a picnic lunch. Chambord is one of the largest Loire Castles with the famous stair-case. Parking is easy, it’s inexpensive and lovely.

First Off the Beaten Track Place:  the Mushroom Cave

[18:43] From Chambord they went to their first “off the beaten track” place. They like to go to places everybody goes to and others where nobody seems to go as well. They stopped at a mushroom cave called Cave des Roches. It’s a cave you can visit. It used to be a limestone quarry, but now the space is used to grow different varieties of mushrooms that they sell to restaurants and visitors. The tour was nice, but they also carved a mini city into the limestone, complete dogs and cats, doors, lamp-posts and trees. It’s bizarre but really cool. The tour was in French, but the tour guide explained some things to them in English as they walked from place to place.

Second Off the Beaten Track Place: Breton Festival

[20:59] They rented a house in Dinan, but en route they stopped at a village called Monterfil for a Breton Traditional Festival. It was about 4 hours between the Loire Valley and Brittany. The festival was Breton music and dancing and impromptu bar and grill and a pig-roast. They were the only foreign tourists there, there was no English spoken at all. They only sold Breton sodas there, Breton pride at its best! They ate sausages wrapped in a galette, which is very Breton thing to eat.

Visiting Dinan

[25:33] They rented a house near the port. Dinan is great for a home-base. It’s a pretty medieval town, has everything you could need, it’s very Breton, you can easily find Kouign-amann. Lovely town, nice house rental. It’s sometimes difficult to find a great place to rent with lots of positive reviews that doesn’t have a 7 day minimum, and this one had a 4 day minimum, which was perfect.

Public Swimming Pools and “Proper Bathing Attire”in France

[28:13] They went to the public swimming pool and when they walked in they noticed a big vending machine where the only thing they sold was bathing suits, which they thought was strange. They soon found out why: at a public pool in France you have to wear a tight-fitting bathing suit. At a spa with pools they’ll usually be more lenient, but not necessarily.

French People Hold on to Customs

[30:20] French People Hold on to Customs, sometimes for no good reason at all. That can be irritating, but that’s also what makes up keep our regional and national identity alive. French people like to do things a certain way and don’t like to change. This makes French people come across as stubborn. It’s both a blessing and a curse.

Tips for Visiting the Mont Saint-Michel

[32:15] Mont Saint-Michel is one of the biggest sites they saw on this trip. This was an A-level tourist site and it didn’t disappoint. They arrived around 4 PM so as they arrived there were people leaving and it wasn’t very crowded. You want to arrive when day visitors are going, which happens late afternoon. It’s also wonderful to spend the night on the Mont Saint-Michel, but the least you should do is get there after the tourists leave. And if you go around the back at low-tide, you’ll see some of the most peaceful scenery you’ve ever seen.

Quick Stop at Cancale

[35:24] Cancale is along the coast, they ate oysters right there along the beach for 5€ per dozen and they’ll open them for you and they’re the best ones Matt’s ever had!

Fort la Latte

[36:12] Change of plan because of heavy rain. They went to a castle right on the cliff edge right on the ocean, a place called Fort la Latte. They’ve filmed a lot of movies there (although not Game of Thrones yet!) because it’s very Viking, barbarian, very picturesque. Photographers must stop there!

Saint-Malo

[38:01] We talked about Saint-Malo on a previous episode on Saint-Malo and the book All the Light You Cannot See. Matt feels like it was a nice place but doesn’t have much to add to what we already said.  They went to the Sculptured Rocks, only about 10 minutes away from Saint-Malo. A monk spent most of his life carving it and it’s wild and amazing.

Gulf of Morbihan

[40:00] They had a 2 night Bed & Breakfast on the Gulf of Morbihan and saw some Celtic sites. The saw the stones at Carnac (10,000 BC), but it was rainy, and the experience was really standing in the rain looking at rocks, so the kids weren’t impressed. The next day they went to burial tombs at Locmariaquer and Gavrinis. They are tombs but they were designed by the engineers of the day to have the light hit them just so at a certain time on Dec 21 and the light would shine on the back wall. This is 7000 years before the Pyramids were built. Elyse talked about this the Gulf of Morbihan on Episode 123

Crêpries in Brittany

[44:00] Crêperies in Brittany are mostly family-run, they work hard, and they put a lot of creativity into it. Mostly at a crêperie you order one savory crêpe and one sweet crêpe and they are big enough that it’s a full meal. The hard cider is fantastic too. They call the savory crêpe a “galette”. Crêpe Normandie is a dessert crêpe with Calvados lit on fire. Calvados is an apple brandy, very dry is very strong. It was a little bit like pouring a shot of whisky on a pancake! Calvados is a super strong liquor, but it’s definitely local and you should try it if inclined.

French Tip of the Week

[52:00] Je suis heureuse d’aller à Paris la semaine prochaine, j’espère qu’il y fera beau !

Conclusion

It turns out that choosing to see both world-famous attractions and places no English speakers ever go is a wonderful way to discover France! And it’s wonderful that Matt shares his itinerary so we can go directly to the ones we like the best.

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Sharing the Best of France