1. Oregon to Paris 2. Notre Dame 3. Versailles 4. Mt. Saint Michel to Carnac 5. Chenonceaux and Le Mont Dore 6. Vers 7. Maison de Martin 8. Carcassonne 9. Chamonix 10. Lausanne to Paris 11. The Itinerary 12. A Note on the Photographs And a Plea for Feedback!

Journal From a Journey to France
Part Five: Vannes (Brittany) to Chenonceaux (Loire Valley) and Le Mont Dore (Central Massif)

Tuesday, 8 June 1999

Near ToursContinuing East from Vannes, we turn off at Pontchâteau to buy some picnic supplies. MB soon spots a hardware store, and while I visit the boulangerie for pastries, she is busy getting materials for a cover to conceal our luggage in the back of the station wagon. Neither of the people in the store speak much English, but she successfully engages them in the project, and we soon have two small boards with a piece of vinyl-coated fabric stapled to it, custom fitted to the back of the station wagon. With those chores accomplished, we inquire at the railroad station about toilets, and are directed to a small outbuilding. On one side are open-air urinals concealed by a cement-block wall, and on the other side are squat toilets.

Our road carries us around Nantes, and into the Loire valley, where we stop for lunch in a small village. Lacking a better picnic site, we turn off the road and park beneath the ruins of some ancient citadel or chateau, now crumbling and overrun with weeds. MB tries to give some smelly cheese which we had acquired earlier to a couple passing by, but they are not interested. Soon, a fellow drives by on a riding lawn mower, and we discover that had we continued just another half block, we would have been able to enjoy our lunch in an unmarked but beautiful little park along a creek.

We are not so fortunate as to be able to avoid Tours at rush hour. We seem to keep returning to the same roundabout, but can’t find the right road to take out of it. Driving in French cities sometimes seems to be like driving through the looking glass: no matter how hard one tries to drive away from some place, one lands right back there sooner or later. We never do find the right exit from the roundabout, but do find one which will get us on the road to Borges which, with a detour through the countryside, brings us into Chenonceaux from the south. The countryside now looks more like Kansas than Oregon with flat grain fields extending as far as the eye can see.

At the hotel, we find that Matthew and Sandi have arrived ahead of us, which is fortunate, because the hotel had not received our confirmation. But rooms were still available, so all is well.The Village of Chenonceau

Peg and Nolie, who had spent the previous night at a B&B in another Breton town, arrive soon after we do, and we chat over wine which Matthew and Sandi have brought from _____. Then for dinner, we head across the street to the other hotel, one with whistling and hooting parrots in the courtyard that have been entertaining us, as the window of our room overlooks their courtyard. We enjoy another excellent dinner, though we are disappointed that only one serving of mussels is available. Nevertheless, everything else is wonderful, and it is late by the time we leave the table. After dinner, we enjoy petting their soon-to-be-huge puppy, then it’s to bed.

Wednesday, 9 June 1999

It’s breakfast in the hotel dining room. This time it’s buffet-style croissants / cafe au lait / bread / butter and jam. Since Matthew and Sandi have already “done” the chateau, they plan to head south, choosing Le Mont Dore as an interesting half-way stop before Vers. That sounds interesting to us, so they agree to leave a note for us at the TI (tourist information) if they make it there.

Chenonceaux, the ChateauThe chateau is every bit as amazing as we could have imagined. All the major rooms are decorated differently. Even the ceilings with their heavy beams are distinctly different. The stained glass chapel windows by Chagal are beautiful, the originals having been destroyed by bombing during WWII. MB remembers the fabric wall coverings, the designs painted (?) on the floor, and the elaborate flower arrangements in each room. Also the individual shutters on each window and the ingenious clockwork mechanism for operating a rotisserie in the kitchen. The latter used a heavy weight suspended over the river to drive the mechanism.

The gardens are still being planted in preparation for the looming tourist season as we wander through them, past the black swans, a duck family with 14 ducklings, the extensive woods, and the caryatids. Thank heavens we’ve missed the worst of the tourist season, for the tour busses are already thick as fleas, and it’s hard to imagine doing this in hotter weather with throngs of tourists everywhere.

Chenonceaux, the ChateauAfter the chateau, we head back to the town and pick up lunch fixings at the bakery, part of which we eat on the edge of the hotel parking lot before heading out. About an hour farther along, we eat the rest in a church yard in a pleasant little village. MB remembers the colorful birds, a lizard, and the “sanitaire” (which she had mistook for “seminary”).

We eventually find our way to and around the city of Clermont to the road to Le Mont Dore. The tiny road weaves through forested hillsides and territory far more rugged than we had expected in the central massif. Suddenly we round a corner and are amazed at a view of a valley opening in front of us reminiscent of the approach to Yosemite Valley from the northwest.Chenonceaux, the Chateau

Approaching the village, we turn down a narrow and incredibly steep street, barely an alley, really, following the “i” signs to the railway station. This is clearly not the Tourist Information, but it does have a map of the village which leads us to the TI. As we approach the TI, we are pleased to see a note taped to the information board outside. It is, indeed, a note from Matthew and Sandi. They have chosen a hotel (after checking out several), and it turns out to be an excellent choice. Le Mont Dore is clearly a tourist town between seasons – skiers in the winter and spa visitors in the summer, taking the “cure” at the “thermales.” the hotel is so good, we’re sorry to be staying only one night. Our room has a small balcony with a view out over the village and the entrance to the valley.

As we leave the hotel to look for dinner, we meet Matthew and Sandi on their way back, and they give us pointers for exploring the village. By the time we get to the village, most of it is closed, but we find a small creperie which also serves Guiness – what a pleasure! By the time we are done, the sky is dark and we return to the hotel to sleep.

Le Mont Dore

The Photos: Abandoned windmill between Nantes and Tours; downtown Chenonceaux (the village) from our room; two exterior shots at Chenonceau (the chateau built across the River Cher); ceiling detail from Catherine de Medici's library and a detail from above a fireplace in the Gallery; the kitchen rotisserie and a detail from a staircase; Hotel des Sapins in Le Mont Dore, the view from our window, and the countryside.

1. Oregon to Paris 2. Notre Dame 3. Versailles 4. Mt. Saint Michel to Carnac 5. Chenonceaux and Le Mont Dore 6. Vers 7. Maison de Martin 8. Carcassonne 9. Chamonix 10. Lausanne to Paris 11. The Itinerary 12. A Note on the Photographs And a Plea for Feedback!
Text and photos copyright 1999 Meredith L. Bliss