If you like wine and ancient castles, have I got the place for you! Only a 60-minute train ride from Paris, the Loire Valley is famous for its rich terroir and gentle climate, which produces some of the silkiest wines — Sancerre, Saumur, Chinon, to name a few — while, during the Middle Ages, the sheltered location made it prime real estate among dukes and counts giving rise to a building boom of chateaux that still exist.
Along with our visit to the fairytale vegetable gardens of Château Villandry, we dropped in at Château Azay-le-Rideau (pictured above), a Renaissance castle set on a moat-like lake. Sadly, for castle connoisseurs, it’s much more picturesque from the outside.
In the town of Azay-le-Rideau, we met this feline friend, who was snatching a warm nap on the hood of a car.
I loved this Louis XIV-era soup tureen, which belonged to Ann Coleman, the American heiress who purchased Château Villandry in the early 20th century. Isn’t it cool how the lid’s handle is formed from vegetables? Also, I like its proper feet, which allow the base to stand clear of the table.
A shot of Villandry’s other (non-vegetable) gardens.
Schools of spooky carp would follow you as you crossed the foot bridge at Villandry.
And finally… our rented monster. Because I can only drive cars with an automatic transmission (don’t laugh! I’m American!) I am always at the mercy of French rental car agencies. Thus, due to lack of availability, this was the vehicle we drove around the Loire Valley: a nine-person van. For two of us. It was enormous. In the end, we were held hostage to it all weekend, as we worried about finding ample parking, or getting trapped in narrow village streets. I jealously eyed normal-sized cars all weekend long. Every time we stopped at a restaurant or a hotel we were greeted with a confused glance. “It’s just the two of you?” they’d ask. “With a van that size, we thought you were a big group!” This car was the stereotype of the kind of vehicle French people think Americans drive. I’m pretty sure we were the laughingstock of the Loire Valley. And get this — when we finally returned the car to the rental agency — and mentioned its ludicrous size — the woman behind the desk looked surprised. “Really?” she said, “You found the car big?” To which I could only emit a bark of bitter laughter.