Friday, April 16, 2010
Because it was my birthday, my husband took me on an over-night adventure in the Loire Valley, just south of us. Being born in the spring was a very good choice! The trees were beginning to come into bloom in snowy white or heartbreak pink, the fields were brilliant green and the wild flowers in yellow, white and rose covered the hillsides and meadows. The weather was warm, but not hot. We had ideal days for strolling and driving through the countryside along the banks of the lazy Loire river.
Our final stop was Chinon, best known for it's pleasant light red wines and lovely old historic town.
Chinon was also the residence of Henry II Plantagenet of England (1133-1189) who ruled over his English and French domains from the enormous castle that dominates the town. Henry was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine and father to Richard the Lionheart. Eleanor had been the wife to Louis VII of France, but when Henry came to pay a visit to the French monarch, he took Eleanor away with him when he left! She took a huge hunk of what is now France with her. She was the sole heir to her father's massive lands (16,000 sq mi) in southwestern France. The story of Eleanor and Henry is portrayed in the 1968 movie The Lion in Winter with Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn.
The castle of Chinon is now a ruin, but it is one of the most imposing castle structures I have ever seen. It dominates the entire hillside above the city, which rests on the banks of la Loire.
The Loire River is the longest in France, about 630 miles. In Chinon, which is towards its terminus, where it flows into the Atlantic, the river is wide, calm and shallow. The banks of the Loire, all up and down the valley, are dotted with châteaus and vineyards.