The subtle difference between a so called whore’s breakfast and a French breakfast is the croissant. I settled on a French breakfast at Austerlitz train station this morning; a croissant, a short black coffee, better known in France as un café and a cigarette before heading off on my awfully big adventure.
The original plan was to spend a day out of Paris and return in the evening but what manifested was two days and one night, a one and a half hour train ride, car hire and hopefully visiting four castles, providing I didn’t smash the car within the first few minutes by probably driving on the left side of the road as opposed to the right side.
By the time I reached Blois train station in the Loire Valley, the early morning darkness had turned into a crisp yet beautiful sunny bright blue sky day.
The little Fiat I had hired resembled a match box toy, good for parking the rental agency guy assured me. Parking was the least of my problems but having a head on accident was a strong possibility. I stalled the match box car at the first set of traffic lights and I could feel the panic starting to set in. Relax, breath, re-start the car and oops yes, get on the right side as I turned the corner and I was off.
Chateau de Chaumont was my first destination a mere 17km away but felt like a 170km’s drive, I was elated when the GPS on my iphone announced ‘you have arrived at your destination … Chateau de Chaumont’.
Chateau de Chaumont, was a spectacular and welcoming sight with not a soul around, this is what I had been hoping for; no tourists. Even although I am one, I prefer if I am the only one. This however, was not useful when I could see the magnificent building, almost at arms length but couldn’t work out how the hell to get into it. Wandering around dead end gardens, no fortress was necessary where I was concerned. Finally I found the sign, clearly marked in English… this way to the Chateau! How did I miss that.
Wandering around the empty rooms, the only sound was the floors creaking under my feet. When the ticket man burst into the room, he startled me, panting to hand me yet another brochure. I thought this would be easier for you to read, he said, the one I gave you was in French, this one is in English. How bitter sweet the gesture. He had left his post to find me but sadly realised that my French was not good enough to understand the brochure he had offered me when I arrived.
The Chateau was founded around 973 by the Count of Blois to keep watch over the area. Over the years, it’s many residents left their mark by either demolishing sections, renovating or making additions. Charles I, Charles II, Catherine de Medici and Henri II’s mistress, Diane de Poitiers were a mere few of it’s inhabitants.
An old sock provided great help, instilled a little more confidence and was my saviour on the next leg of my journey to Chateau de Cheverny, 30km’s away, ensuring I stayed on the ‘right’ side of the road.
For the uninitiated; a sock bun can be fashioned from an old sock, cut the toes off, roll it up until it resembles a fat, round hair tie and voilà, you have an instant, hair accessory to create a magnificent hair bun. If worn on the wrist, as I did, it can represent a very thick sweat band harking back to the days when Olivia Newton-John belted out Let’s Get Physical.
Driving around with a sock bun on my right wrist, to remind me which side of the road I should be on, looking like an eccentric little old lady, who only took her match box car to church on Sundays and probably liked to get physical with Olivia Newton-John, probably didn’t do me any favours as the French drivers withdrew a big gust of air, blew up their cheeks and puffed it out as they overtook me on the narrow country roads but at least I remembered what side of the road I should be on.
I highly recommend it, in fact I’m thinking of taking out a patent. I will call it the Paris Adele French Driving Aid, coming out in a store near you in a range of sizes and colours to co-ordinate with your favourite clothing, it will not only be functional but fashionable too!
My driving aid was of no use when I approached a toll booth. Not quite sure of the procedure, I halted too far away to simply reach out the window and press something. Searching for change was fruitless and the machine wouldn’t accept my credit card. Glancing in the rear view mirror, I was expecting a stream of traffic backed up all the way to Paris sitting on their horns and puffing out their cheeks in disbelief at the idiot wearing a sock around her wrist didn’t realise that no money was required at this point but to simply press the button and retrieve the ticket. Fortunately not another car was in sight and finally a vague memory reminded me, that at this point I just take the ticket.
Chateau de Cheverny has been lovingly restored, and is now well kept and sumptuous, thanks to the Hurault family, who were the initial owners and bought it back in 1824, after it had been sold in 1802.
Leaving the Chateau, I could hear the resident hunting dogs barking in the distance, I would have liked to have stayed for the feeding of the dogs, or la soupe aux chiens, as they call it in French but I would have had to wait another hour and I wanted to get back on the road. I did however pay them a visit and they seemed to be happy to see me, or they thought that perhaps I might have been the bearer of food. Either way, they took their turn nearly all 50 or so of them to jump up and say hello.
After two castles and nervously touring France in a car with my sock bun secured to my right wrist, it was time for me to take the 50km journey to my lodgings for the night at Le Grand Hotel de l’Abbaye in Beaugency, a former monk’s abbey.
This Awfully Big Adventure began with castles but in reality the highlight was staying in an old abbey!
Simply amazing, large rooms with exposed ceiling beams, open fireplaces, tiled floors a spectacular staircase complete with giant chandelier, piped chanting music and hall lighting that one by one lit up the long corridors as I approached my room.
Each room is named after a former monk who resided here and the warmest welcome from the very friendly man on the desk was icing on the cake. I was beaming.
How I stumbled across the hotel I am unsure and the 50km drive I was nervous about but it was well worth the detour with my room overlooking the river.Beaugency, where this magnificent former abbey is located is a gorgeous chocolate box town with narrow cobbled winding streets, stone cottages and barely anyone around to witness the yellow lamps that lit up the quaint village as dusk was approaching.
The very charming man on the desk recommended a few restaurants but I settled on l’Idee in the centre of town. He recommended that he book me a table, it only has about 20 places he tells me.
Before heading off to dinner, I sat in the wonderful lounge area, sipping on a glass of local wine and chatting away to the front desk man as he built a roaring fire in the fireplace.
Entering the restaurant around 7.30pm to discover two couples and a lone diner, I giggled to myself as I told the very cheerful and friendly waitress that I had a reservation. I mean seriously, there was barely a soul on the streets, I could hardly imagine that this place was going to be pumping.
I ordered the cassoulet and a glass of local wine. The cassoulet would have to be the best I have ever experienced and by the time my meal arrived the place was packed!
Struggling to keep my eyes open probably due to jet-lag and the stress of driving with my soon to be patented Paris Adele French Driving Aid it was time for sleep.
As I climbed the magnificent staircase, gazing up at the grand chandelier and sauntering down the empty corridor in rhythm with the mysterious lights, flickering on one at a time as I approached my room and listening to the piped music of monks chanting, echoing through the building, I wondered what Frere Anthelme the former resident of my room would have thought about an Aussie chick sleeping in his private sanctuary.
Useful links that I recommend will all open in new windows:Beaugency – wiki link Le Grand Hotel de l’Abbaye in Beaugency – official hotel link Chateau de Chaumont – official link in English (however you can use this link to read a large number of other languages) Chateau de Cheverny – official link Rent a Car – official link (which I highly recommend, they were cheaper than the big brands, polite and speak English) L’Idee Restaurant – unfortunately they don’t have a website but this is the official town restaurant link, which provides address etc Train Information – official SNCF link Paris Adèle French Driving Aid link to appear here soon – lol – just kidding!