Sunday, April 20, 2014

France: Day 3

We kicked off Day 3 by hopping in the car and headed out of the Loire Valley and on to Burgundy. We spent a good bit of the morning on the road, but we passed some beautiful landscape. Much of the French countryside in this region is covered in fields and rolling hills.

A little French countryside

Great views of little French villages.
And cheesy though it may be...we couldn't have gotten across all that countryside without our little friend...which, after two trips with our families (5 travelers total) felt quite spacious with only two people and our luggage!

The ride.
We arrived in Beaune around lunch time and decided to check into our hotel, Les Jardins de Lois. This hotel was definitely our splurge hotel, and it was worth every penny. During the winter, the hotel prices are usually significantly lower because it is considered off season. So while it was a splurge in comparison to some of our other hotels, it wasn't terribly expensive...but it was terribly nice.

We were greeted by this little guy, who we decided to call "'stache kitty" because of his little "Hitler-esque" mustache. We checked in, put our bags in our room and immediately took off on the hunt for lunch. We had lunch at a great little cafe just across the street from the Hôtel-Dieu de Beaune.

The Hôtel-Dieu was once a major hospital in Beaune. The roof itself is quite the sight. Done in the Burgundian style of tiling the roof with multi-colored glazes tiles to make a sort of mosaic, it certainly stands as the focal point of the facade. For me, having a degree in art history, I found that the most captivating part of the Hôtel-Dieu was the art gallery where they held the Polyptych of the Last Judgement by Rogier van der Weyden. We, of course, were not allowed to take photographs. But I can tell you that it was quote a special experience. The piece is absolutely beautiful and in excellent condition. 

Inside the courtyard of the Hôtel-Dieu.

The tiled roof of the Hôtel-Dieu.
After touring the Hôtel-Dieu, we spent a few hours walking around Beaune and exploring. We were there on a Monday, which is a very quite day in Beaune. Many of the stores and restaurants were closed, but it was very nice. It seemed like Adam and I had the whole city to ourselves. We returned to the hotel after our tour to freshen up and then head downstairs for a wine tasting in the hotel cellar.

The door to the is obviously fiercely guarded...

A photo of our hotel. I LOVED the copper drains!
The owners of Les Jardins de Lois also over many vines in Beaune and produce their own wine. As part of your stay, you can make a reservation to meet the owners and taste their wine in the hotel cellar. We jumped on this opportunity and were pleased that we were the only ones scheduled for a tasting at that time. The owner graciously spent about an hour with us teaching us about Burgundian wine.

One line of wine barrels lined up against the cellar wall.

One happy traveler!

The Sheehan's enjoying a tasting!

More photos of the hotel cellar. 

The owner of the hotel told us that at that moment they had 30,000 bottles of wine being stored in their cellar, in addition to the barrels of wine and the large stainless steel aging vessels. Adam and I were quite impressed until he informed us that that really wasn't a lot of wine...who knew?!

After the tasting we decided to get back out and walk around Beaune. We found a wonderful collection of antique shops (I am my father's daughter...). Though we saw SEVERAL pieces that we wanted to bring home, with no shipper lined up (as this was not a buying trip), we had to pass. We did come home with a new silver napkin ring to add to my very small collection. 

The cutest little collection of antique shops!

Once we finished our antiquing, we settled in at a little cafe for a glass of wine (or two...) and a few snacks before wandering to dinner.

Great little jug of Burgundian wine at a small cafe on the ring road.
We had dinner that night at Piqu'boeuf. Piqu'boeuf was recommended to us at our hotel and it did not disappoint. In Burgundy, beef is kind of the main attraction when it comes to dinner. We were told by the hotel owner that Piqu'boeuf had the best steak in town...and we couldn't pass that up!

They cook your potatoes in the fire in the middle of the restaurant. 
This was a big night for us...Adam decided to order escargot. I applaud him for being so determined to try the local cuisine when we were in France. He really didn't shy away from anything...and in every case, it was delicious!

First bite of escargot!
The food was wonderful and the atmosphere at Piqu'boeuf was really neat. It was relaxed and cozy with a roaring fire in the middle of the restaurant. We had a great meal and then headed back to the hotel to catch some sleep and prepare for day tasting!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

France: Day 2

Day two in France had us up and going pretty early. We woke up, ate a typical French breakfast of bread and cheese and headed to St. Denis for Mass. St. Denis was a beautiful setting for Mass, despite the fact that everything was spoken and sung in French. Adam and I did what we could to keep up!

After Mass, we headed to the Royal Chateau d'Amboise to start our day of chateau hopping. Adam and I both agreed that this chateau was by far the most under-rated. It was exquisite, with some of the most beautiful gardens. 
Beautiful boxwood on the first landing of the ramp to the chateau.
The chateau is located on a hill in Amboise. It is the perfect setting for a royal chateau as it overlooks all of Amboise. In order to get to the entrance, you have to climb a steep cobblestone hill and then, once inside the gate, you keep on climbing until you reach the top!
The view of the chapel as you walk up the path to the chateau.
The grounds and buildings that make up this marvelous chateau are stunning. The little chapel pictured above is the resting place for Leonardo daVinci himself. It is an exquisite little chapel and seems to be the perfect quiet resting place for such an amazing artist.
View of the inside of the chapel.
Another view of the inside of the chapel. The stained glass was absolutely
beautiful and I love the way the light reflected throughout!
The Royal Chateau d'Amboise, like several of the chateaux in France, was only a temporary home for the Royalty of France. During this time, the royals would basically pack up all of their belongings, furniture and all, and travel from castle to chateau to castle throughout the entire year. Because of the constant traveling, the chateaux we visited have very little furniture as it was only fully furnished when the owners were staying there.
A view of the side of the chateau.

A view of the gardens and the bust of Leonardo da Vinci.
Photo-op! Overlooking Amboise

Beautiful view of the Chateau and the city.

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A sea of boxwoods in the garden.
Now you might already know this, but if not, I am a crazy fan of boxwoods. They are, by far, my favorite plant on the planet. I love all varieties and in general I think they are elegant plants. My absolute favorite is the Japanese boxwood...but I digress. The gardens surrounding this chateau were obviously made for me. There were boxwoods EVERYWHERE. They were all perfectly manicured and just stunning. I think that I just might be able to live here based solely on the fact that the boxwoods are awesome.

After our tour and wandering around in boxwood heaven, Adam and I headed back down the hill for lunch. We dined at a great little spot just at the bottom of the hill beneath the chateau. I had French onion soup and beef carpaccio. Adam had smoked salmon ravioli. All of the food was wonderful and enjoyed with a glass of Loire Valley wine...when in Rome, right?
Beef carpaccio topped with basil, Parmesan, tomatoes, and lemon juice.

Smoked salmon ravioli
After a wonderful and relaxing lunch, we made our way to Chenonceaux to tour the Chateau de Chenonceau (and no, I did not leave an 'x' off of the name of the Chateau...just a subtle spelling difference...). This chateau is quite a work of architecture as it is built so that a large portion of it spans the River Cher.

View down the main drive to the chateau.
This chateau was passed down the line by a few ladies whose names you'll recognize, Diane de Poitiers, and Catherine de' Medici. The basic drama is that King Henry II gave the chateau to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. After Henry's death, his wife, Catherine de' Medici decided she wanted it back and basically forced Diane to trade. 

This chateau was basically fully furnished and had beautiful floral arrangements in each room. The gardens were perfectly manicured. We enjoyed seeing this chateau and walking the grounds, all while listening to the soothing sound of the river rushing under the chateau.

View of the chateau from one of the gardens.

And another...

And another...

This is a view of the hall that spans the River Cher.

The beautiful gardens...if only we had a larger back yard to
accommodate this swimming pool sized fish pond...

And more...
Day two was a perfect day for walking the grounds of these two beautiful chateaux. We ended the day by relaxing at our quaint little hotel, Le Relais Chenonceaux. That night we had a very quiet dinner in the restaurant downstairs...we were literally the only people there all night. France in February is the way to go! Adam and I so enjoyed our time in Loire and Burgundy because in so many cases we were alone. It was a great time to bond and reconnect a little!
Cheers to a successful day two!
Stay tuned for more sight-seeing, wine tasting, and eating!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

France: Day 1

Our first day in France, was pretty foggy. We stepped off the plane and into the chaos of Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport at about 8:15. Neither of us was able to really get much sleep on the plane, but alas...we had to keep on going! After picking up our luggage, we found our rental car and hopped on the interstate to head to Cheverny.

Getting out of Paris was a little difficult, between my jet lagged map reading and our GPS which seemed determined to send us straight through the heart of Paris, rather than around it, we had a somewhat stressful departure from the city. By about 10:00, we were headed in the correct direction.

The first stop of the day, was a Chateau de Cheverny. This was a great way to start our trip. It took us about an hour and a half...or maybe two considering our fumbling around Paris, to get to Cheverny. We walked the grounds of the Chateau, stopped and  met the hunting dogs in their kennel, and walked through the gardens before touring the actual Chateau.

The Chateau is located in the Loire Valley and though it is open to the public, still has permanent residents who live on the third floor. This chateau had a very casual and relaxed feel, perhaps because it is actually lived in!
View of the Chateau as you walk down the drive from the entrance.

After visiting the Chateau we went to a tiny little Italian restaurant for lunch...I know, our first meal in France was Italian...but it was open, close by, and we were hungry! We ate our fill of pasta and then headed to the Maison des Vins d'IAOC Cheverny to taste some of the local wine.

This experience was very cool. When we got there, we spent a few minutes touring the small museum before going to taste. The tasting room was something I'd never seen before. There were probably 4 large floor to ceiling barrel structure covered in labels and spouts.

Wine tasting "vats"
First, we each tasted the four wines that were featured that day. I must admit Loire Valley wine is not my preference, but it was very interesting to taste the different types. Our favorite was the Rosé.

After tasting the four featured wines, we purchase three tastings. This is where this process got really cool. When you purchase three tastings, they give you a wine glass with a quarter sized microchip on the bottom (see below).

Wine glass with microchip.

Once you decide between the 50 or 60 options to taste, you place your glass on the pedestal beneath the spout of your chose wine and wait. Within seconds, a small light above the spout blinks and your taste is poured. After your third taste, if you place your glass on another pedestal, it will not refill. Pretty fancy schmancy, huh? Yeah, we thought so too! Because we loved this experience so much, we bought a bottle of rosé (we got to keep our tasting glass too) and headed to Amboise.

We arrived in Amboise and were dragging...that is the understatement of the we took a nap and then showered and got ready to explore the town. Amboise is a quaint Loire Valley town. It was too early to eat dinner so we decided to walk around and check it out. We walked to the church, and then down the river walk. Everything was beautiful.

View of Amboise from St. Denis
Walking along the river.

There is nothing like a good stroll to wake you up! We loved our walking tour of Amboise. We stopped in a few shops and then decided it was time for a drink and a snack. We found the cutest little Creperie, Anne de Bretagne at the base of the entrance to the Royal Chateau d'Amboise and decided to settle in there until dinner time.

We each got our own small bottle of Loire Valley wine.
We had a nice light snack and lots of good conversation before heading down the street to have dinner at La Reserve. And wow did they deliver! Our first French meal was perfect! We split a bottle of Chinon (told you weren't huge fans of Loire wine...) and then had salmon carpaccio and my favorite, foie gras.
Wonderful bottle of wine to warm us up from walking around in the cold!
Salmon carpaccio
Foie Gras with poached pears.
Day one was wonderful. This trip was our first "big" trip with only the two of us and it was wonderful. We have loved our family trips, but this was a very nice and much needed vacation for us. More to come, so stay tuned!