Monday, February 7, 2011

Week 37: Tours of the Area

One of the many ornate flower arrangements at Chenonceau

This week brought us a returning client, Mina, from Atlanta. She has a business creating and selling gluten-free products. Her production facility is in Paris, so she travels to France a few times a year. We first met her in September. We have some mutual friends, and she had just heard about Maison Conti from them. We enjoyed her very much so were enthusiastic to hear that she would be returning and wanted to begin her trip to France with four days here. She also booked Rick's tour services for two days, which gives me the opportunity to blog about some beautiful locations not far from us, Chartres Cathedral and the castle of Chenonceau. I have Rick to thank for taking the photos this week.

Chartres Cathedral is, in my opinion, the most beautiful and spiritual in France. I am not alone in this evaluation. It does cast a spell over people if they're open to it. There is a wonderful video about the history of the place and the construction of the building called Sacred Geometry. It's a fascinating subject. The spot where the cathedral currently stands was already sacred to the pagans who built an altar there thousands of years ago. The first Christian church was constructed in about 900 and burned to the ground in 1194. The townspeople felt that a miracle had been performed by the virgin when it was discovered that her tunic, which was a priceless relic the church possessed, was completely undamaged in the fire. They felt that the fire was a direct command by the virgin to rebuild and create a much more worthy edifice in her honor. People of all stations, classes, professions and ages hauled stones to the spot and, elbow to elbow, built a new structure in a remarkably short time. That kind of cooperation could be thought of as a miracle in itself!

An American choir exiting the front of the church. Chartres remains a very popular pilgrimage spot.

The pillars of the church are carved with elongated figures. This was a unique style in its time.

The quality of the stone carvings is extraordinary.

Most of the population of the time was illiterate. Stained glass windows were their books.

Here are the signs of the zodiac. Astrology was not separate from religion in the Middle Ages.

The atmosphere is calm and meditative. People light their candles and say their prayers

Chartres is an easy drive from Maison Conti. The castle of Chenonceau is a bit further but well worth the trouble. Of course the Loire Valley was the capital of the kings of France during the Renaissance, so many spectacular castles, both large and small, were built during that time. It was the epoch when castles were no longer stormed and destroyed. The Hundred Years War was over and there was relative calm in the land, so castles could be built with grace and charm, rather than as defensive bunkers. Chenonceau is certainly the best example of this kind of structure. It is the most popular spot in the valley and for very good reason. Many women influenced the decoration of this castle, as it was inhabited by wives and mistresses of the kings of France. It is a relatively small château and still has some of the original furnishing. It's a jewel, but during the high season, difficult to appreciate for all the tourists that flock there by the busload. What a wonderful experience, then, to visit on a sunny February day and have the place practically to one's self!

The entrance to the grounds of the castle.

Pretty as a picture. I've never seen it without crowds.

The beautiful doorway beckons you to enter this magical space.

In winter the fireplaces are aglow with huge logs. The tapestries add warmth.

Ornate tile work has been worn out by feet. You see only traces of the originals around edges of rooms.

Rose bedroom

Black bedroom, created by a queen who mourned the death of her husband.

Mina descending the stone staircase.

Some of the furniture is priceless, including this inlaid chest.

This stove was installed during WWI when Chenonceau became a hospital for wounded soldiers.

The famous gallery that spans the Cher River.

View from the gallery window. The river flows under a bridge which supports the room.

I asked Rick especially to take photos of the flower arrangements which grace the rooms at Chenonceau throughout the year. It's impressive that even in winter the bouquets are so extravagant.

The week coming up is a busy one for clients. Two lovely women from Australia arrive today to do some etching with me for 9 days. Other clients fill other rooms as well, so this winter is turning out to be much more lively than last.


  1. Thank you Nancy for this nice recalling of 2 places I know very well. We ofdten went to visit Chenonceau, first when young with my parents. We were used to "faire les châteaux de la Loire" for Easter or small other vacancies. Chenonceau is a very elegant one but I suppose not very convenient to live in, may be very humid !
    Chartres cathedral is a second place we visited several times. I happened to be a pilgrim when student ! 40 hm walking but at that time it had not the strict connotation it got before.

  2. Oh Nancy,
    You have done it again....fabulous post!!!

    I love Chenonceau...the rooms, flowers, harlequin flooring, the time worn stairs and that entrance....storybook magical!!

    Tell Rick he did a wonderful job with the photography

    Janet xox

    PS..the stained glass took my breath away!