Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Monday, 9th October – Amboise to Mont St Michel

We had about a four hour drive ahead of us today, and since Keith has to do all the driving, we wanted to allow plenty of time. So, much to our discomfort, we decided to limit ourselves to one Loire Chateau. We chose Chenonceau, because it was close to where we were staying, and because Rick said so. He also warned us that it is very popular, so we headed off early and were there before it opened. It was rather chilly (6°!) but we were congratulating ourselves for beating the crowds – until 2 huge tour groups arrived 5 minutes later! But we used the audio tour so reversed the order, and more or less had the place to ourselves. The audio tour was on an ipod, which worked very well, and was nice and small to carry with us.

It is certainly a lovely building, with its arched bridge stretching across the river (the Cher, not the Loire), and it had a fascinating history. They call it the chateau of the ladies, because several women were very influential in its design and building, and at various stages in its history. Even its recent history was fascinating. In WWI it was used as a military hospital, and in WWII the bridge enabled people to cross the river, one side of which was in Occupied France, and the other side was Vichy France.

After a wander around the formal gardens (just in time – the gardeners were viciously pulling up all the flowers in one garden, ready for next springs plantings, I suppose, but they looked quite healthy to us) we headed for Mont St Michel. We made good time (the motorways are expensive but so pleasant to drive on if you are going a long way) so were able to stop in Fougeres, which contains the largest medieval castle in Europe. It was too late to enter the castle, but we had a nice walk on the ramparts, and drove up some perilously steep and narrow streets to a park which gave great views over the castle and town. Unusually this castle is at the bottom of the hill, but is still surrounded by the original moat, and was a very impressive sight. You’d think by now we’d be getting sick of castles, but each one we have seen is different and adds to our knowledge of history and times long gone, we can’t get enough of them! Fougeres also has some lovely medieval streets with the crookedest houses I have ever seen.

We still made it to MSM before dark and as it looms high above the countryside we had to go and have a look before we checked in to our B&B. Just as we arrived the sun broke through the clouds (it poured with rain while we were at Fougeres) and we enjoyed the late afternoon light on the Mount. After dinner we went back to see it floodlit – it’s a magnificent sight!