Monday, April 20, 2009

In a castle far far away.....

Not really but almost. J and I decided we really needed to get out of Paris to breathe some fresh country air and thought the Loire Valley would be perfect. Easter weekend couldn't come sooner! Although I had class saturday afternoon we did have Monday off so it gaves us a good 2 days away. I had been googling "chambre d'hôtes" like crazy and was excited to find that many were in old renovated castles! I guess everyone had the same idea as I did because everything was booked! I almost gave up until one of the castle owners gave me the number of Château de Nanteuil located in Huisseau sur Cosson, not far from Blois. The owner was extremely friendly and even invited us to eat at the "Table d'Hôtes" where everyone staying in the castle dines together.

Saturday afternoon after having wine marketing class in the Musée du Vin in the 16th arrondisement, I set off to J's parents house so that we could borrow their car for the weekend: a white Smart! Belle-mère had packed us some food as well as two giant chocolate bunnies for Easter (just what I needed). The GPS was ready and we were on our way. And so was the rest of Paris. What should have taken an hour and 1/2 took a good 3 hours! We arrived at the castle tired and hungry but the owner, Frédéric, was more than welcoming. He let us pick our room: a modest, antique French country-style bedroom with large windows and a view of the river. We got settled and then made our way downstairs to the dining room for an apératif with the other guests: a French girl and her Argentinian boyfriend who currently live in London, a couple from Brussels and a couple from Romania: an interesting mix! Frédéric served us all champagne and toasts with foie gras and then we sat down for dinner: salmon and chèvre rouleaux, fresh bass with grilled zucchini and sautéed mushrooms, local cheeses, and homemade apricot sorbet. He then taught us how to take down a strong digestif: Armagnac. I'm not really a brandy-kind-of-girl but I didn't want to be the only one not willing to try! He said a real dégustation takes 20 minutes: you must first put a small amount on the tongue and swirl it around. Then wait a few minutes and swallow some..and so on. It basically prepares your body for the alcohol. After such a long delicious meal we were more than ready for bed.

The next day visited Château de Chambord, the largest castle in the Loire constructed in the 16th century by Francois Ier. I regret not having done a guided visit - because of the size of the castle you get too lazy after a while to read all the information! We then headed over to Chaverny for lunch and a quick wine tasting. La Maison des vins de l’AOC Cheverny et Cour-Cheverny (located right next to the castle) offers an automated wine tasting where you pay for a kit including a glass with a microchip allowing 7 tastes, a notebook and a pen. 100 different wines are available and you simply pick a wine, place it on a little plateau where your microchip is recognized and wine pours out of a spout. It was really fun and afterwards we picked a bottle we enjoyed to bring home with us. We then spent the afternoon visiting the old city of Blois but didn't have enough time to visit the castle.
On Monday we decided to get one more castle in before making our way back to Paris and returned to Cheverny. Apparently the castle was lived in until 1985 so the rooms are rather well-preserved with all original furniture and decorations. It's hard to believe people actually lived in a place so grandiose and with such history!
Overall the weekend was a success and I would recommend a weekend trip to anyone coming to Paris. The people are friendly, the food and wine delicious, and if you enjoy history then there is so much to see. I just wish we had had more time there!

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