Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Loire Valley

Chateau de Pray.

Chateau de Pray.

Chateau de Pray.

Chateau de Pray.

Our Room, Chateau de Pray (There was another bed against the wall).

Chateau de Pray.

Chateau de Pray.


After spending a few days immersed in the gore of D-Day and WWII it was time to lighten the mood. And what better place to lift one's spirits then the Loire Valley, land of castles and wine! The Loire Valley is chalk a block full of chateaux, more than three hundred! Unfortunately, we didn't have a whole lot of time to properly explore this beautiful part of France. The things we did manage to do and see were absolutely fantastic and stunning, especially the Chateaux of Chambord and Chenonceau. We stayed at the lovely and very beautiful Chateau de Pray perched on the terraced slopes overlooking the Loire River just outside Amboise. However, the best part was just being able to spend time with Dad! Thanks for a great trip Dad, Love You!

Chateau de Chambord

Chateau de Chambord

Chateau de Chambord

Dad about to Ring the Doorbell.

Francois I

One of the 440 Rooms.

The Famous Double Staircase.

Louis XIV Ceremonial Bedroom.

Louis XIV Ceremonial Bedroom.

Bust of Louis XIV in his Bedroom.

Louis XIV Ceremonial Bedroom.

The Hunting Room.

On the Roof.

On the Roof.

On the Roof.

On the Roof looking towards the front yard.

To understand Chambord, you have to appreciate the elation and extravagance of Francois I who, at the tender age of twenty-five, wanted to show the world in spectacular fashion what his two favourite pastimes were: hunting and architecture.

The sheer gargantuan scale of the place is awe-inspiring, it is without a doubt a stone colossus. It was originally built as a hunting lodge, however, the cold drafty size of the Chateau made it largely unpopular as an actual residence. The structure contains 440 rooms, 365 fireplaces, 13 great staircases, and stables to accomodate 1200 horses.

The shadow of Leonardo da Vinci, perhaps the official 'architecteur', who died a few months before the construction work began in 1519, hovers over the astonishing and famous double spiral staircase.

Francois I only stayed at the Chateau for a few weeks each year to hunt in the surrounding woods. All the furniture, wall coverings, eating implements and so forth were brought specifically for each hunting trip leaving it devoid of furniture and inhabitants after each visit, a major logistical exercise. After Francois I died in 1547, the Chateau was barely used for almost a century. Chambord was not properly finished until the reign of Louis XIV, who well in love with this presitigous site.

The Chateau is now part of a 5,440 hectare estate, surrounded by a 32 km wall, which makes it the largest enclosed forest park in Europe. Its surface area is practically the same size as inner Paris! It is home to a variety of animals including stag and boar which were the animals Francois I came to hunt, they are now the symbolic species of Chambord.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Chateau des Dames

Entering the Chateau Grounds.

Entering the Chateau Grounds. Beautiful!

The Impressive Driveway, No Cars Allowed.

The Chateau!

Entrance Statue, Chateau Chenonceau.

Chateau Chenonceau.

Inside, Entrance to Chanteau Chenonceau.

Diane de Poitiers


The scuttling of many feet over the centuries has taken its toll on the beautiful tile floors. Vestiges of its decoration are visible only around the edges of the Guard's room.

The Chapel inside the Chateau.

I think this room was called the Gallery.

The Gallery.

The Bread Oven.

Pots and Pans.

The Stove!

Where the Servants Ate.

I Just Loved These Flower Arrangements, They had Them in Every Room of the Chateau.

More Flowers.

Looking out from the Chateau.

One of the Many Beautiful Buildings on The Chateau's Grounds, this one was right Beside the Gardens.


Gardens, Chateau Chenonceau.

One of the most visited castles in France, Chateau Chenonceau is a Renaissance chef d'oeuvre that stands firmly in the river Cher. One of a garland of Loire Valley castellar beauties, Chenonceau is most known for the influential women who held sway here, giving it the sobriquet Chateau des Dames (Ladies Castle). It was built in 1513 by Katherine Briconnent, then made even more attractive by Diane de Poitiers and Catherine de Medicis, and saved from the rigours of the French Revolution by Mrs. Dupin.

The enchanting castle may be smaller in comparison to others, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in charm. Throughout its interior there is an arresting array of tapestries, paintings, ceilings, floors, fireplaces and furniture on show. The chateau's exquisite surroundings include 70 hectares of forest park, stables, an intricate hedge maze, several immaculate gardens and a wax museum which shows all the women who built Chenonceau as well as a sumptuous collection of costumes.

The many gardens are ornamented with a myriad of shrubs, hedges and hundreds of climbing and stemmed roses. There are over 4000 flowers grown on the castle grounds, which are planted twice a year in spring and summer. In the summer months, visitors can even rent paddle boats at the castle to ride down the Cher river.

My favourite part of the whole Chateau were all the fabulous bouquets of fresh flowers. Each room of the Chateau was adorned with a truely original floral composition prepared by the Chateau's own team of florists. The flowers are grown in a garden strictly reserved for putting together these fabulous flower arrangements - the bouquets are renewed twice a week.

Friday, November 26, 2010

The Culinary Delights of Normandy



Tripes a la Mode de Caen

Coquilles St. Jaques


The fantastic La Rapiere Restaurant, Bayeux, Normandy.

La Rapiere, Bayeux.

Normandy is a region full of fields and orchards, which in turn means that there are plenty of cows and fruit and so, food in Normandy tends to be based on these products. In fact, milk from cows in Normandy makes up about half of France's milk, butter, cheese and cream.

Normandy cheeses include the ubiquitous Camembert, which has been around since the days pf William the Conqueror! Camembert is a soft, creamy and lusciously buttery cheese made from cow's milk. When cut open, it should ooze slowly from the middle and the paste should have a clear yellow appearance. It's perfect with grapes, berries, toasted nuts and a glass of Champagne. Other popular Norman cheeses include Livarot and Pont l'Eveque. Most meals are not considered complete without a cheese course including wedges of all three.

As well as being renowned for its dairy products, Normandy cuisine has a reputation for favouring meat, especially tripe. I myself has no idea what tripe was until I went to Normandy, so for those of you who don't know, tripe is essentially made from the stomach layers of farm animals, mostly cow. They have a special dish in Normandy called Tripes a la Mode de Caen which combines pounds of tripe, trotters (calves' feet), onions, carrots, cider and lots of Calvados (I'll get to this in a minute). It all simmers away for about 10 hours until the swimcap like tripe breaks down into fibrous whatness, cracking open and soaking up the sauce and juices much like some mollusk-shaped pasta yet to be invented.

Another popular local dish is Canard Rouennaise which is made with Rouen duck cooked in its own blood with the juices of the crushed carcase and of course mixed with lots of Calvados. In case anyone is wondering I decided to astain from indulging in these local delights.

It isn't all blood and guts though, as seafood is also very popular. Scallops, or Coquilles St Jaques, are particularly delicious here. This I did enjoy! Coquilles St Jaques is essentially poached scallops combined with a rich cream sauce, dusted with breadcrumbs and cheese and then baked. This little dish is very rich, so make sure you pair it with a glass of Champagne or an acidic white wine such as Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc.

Fruit from the orchards, especially apples, are used quite a bit in Normandy cuisine. Local cider is often included in meat and poultry dishes, and it comes either doux (sweet) or brut (dry). The apple juice can be further distilled to make brandies like Calvados. With an alcohol content of at least 55%, this apple brandy certainly takes the sting out of a rainy Norman winter. It can be served in a variety of ways: as an aperitif, blended in drinks, as a digestif or with coffee. However, it generally tends to be served as a small drink between courses in a long meal. My father and I went for dinner at the fabulous La Rapiere restaurant in Bayeux, and here they served us a small dish of apple sorbet doused in Calvados between our courses. This is called the Norman Hole and is suppose to re-awaken your appetite and clense your palate - at 55% alcohol, I'll say it did.

Bon Appetite!