Ann's Travels in France
Chateau in Champigny sur Veude
Champigny sur Veude
FranceFor the most part, I'm not doing the famous châteaux along the Loire river that are the big tourist draws, because I'm familiar with them. They deserve to be seen for their beauty and historical significance, but in recent years I've fallen in love with other aspects of the Loire valley - for example, the Romanesque art that is here; and the rolling, agriculturally rich, and open landscape. I also enjoy the lesser-known châteaux - two of them here.
Just 7 km north of Richelieu, there's an exquisite smaller town called Champigny sur Veude. The town itself is lovely to stroll in, but the tourist attraction is the large Renaissance chapel privately owned (but often open to the public, for a small fee), as part of a large estate. This chapel gets 2 stars in the Michelin Green Guide - an achievement - for the quality of its stained glass windows. My first weekend here was a national celebration of French "patrimoine," i.e., héritage; the château itself was also open, with a guided tour, that day. Three photos: the château, the chapel, and a view from inside a corner of one of the "salons," across the narrow moat to the "small" château also owned by the same family. I am still somewhat naive, evidently, as I was astonished that so much wealth still exists. The owners - for the last 16 years - are Americans, from Washington DC. The guide mentioned their name, but it meant nothing to me. This family frequently comes here and stays for several months of the year; the château is not open then, though the chapel is. On the day I was there, we were shown many of the private areas - generous of them, I thought.
FranceAnother day I drove further north in Touraine to see various things, including this somewhat less grand (but not at all shabby), also privately-owned château on a small island in a quiet river. The château is called l'Islette, and like the one above, it is basically Renaissance. Its claim to fame is that, in the 1890s, when the then-owners were in need of funds such that they rented rooms to summertime guests from Paris, Auguste Rodin and his pupil/lover, Camille Claudel, spent a lot of time here (he left his common-law wife in Paris, but he never "left" her for Claudel). Rodin also wanted to be in Touraine to sketch and work on sculptures, especially the sculpture he'd been commissioned by a writers' association to do of Balzac. Rodin liked to work from life, but as Balzac was then dead, he decided to go to Touraine to find a man who resembled Balzac to serve as model. (Balzac was from Touraine). A photograph of the man(a working-class man in his Sunday best) whom he found - and had to pay handsomely to pose nude - is at l'Islette, and he does indeed resemble Balzac, in all his robust manhood.
The family (French this time) that owns l'Islette lives there from late fall till early spring; they open it to the public the rest of the year, and, as at the other château above, one can tour the private rooms - bedrooms, kitchen, etc. I loved the orange flower arrangement in the sitting area of the master bedroom (2d photo below).
FranceAs you know, my great passion in art is Romanesque churches and their sculptures, frescoes, etc. The first 2 photos here are of the 10-11th c. church in Tavant, about 30-35 mins north of Richelieu. It has extremely well-preserved, and unusual, frescoes of that period. Most of them are in the crypt and cannot be photographed, but some are in the church itself (2d photo below). They are unusual, among other reasons, for the clear Byzantine influence in the figures' robes and their faces. The theory is that either Byzantine artists (not that the concept of "artist" existed in the 1000s) were brought to Tavant to do the work, or , more likely, that French artists who had been to the East absorbed those influences and returned to France. On this beautiful day, I had the church to myself except for the young local woman who gave me the tour of the crypt.
Faye-la-VineuseVery near Richelieu is a small town called Faye-la -Vineuse. It is now almost empty of regular, year-round inhabitants but in the 11th century boasted a population of 11,000. Deserving of this lovely church, which Romanesque fans want to see mostly for its crypt. The crypt (again, no photos allowed) can be seen only by asking the lady who owns the one grocery store - which doubles as the town's post office - to show it to you. Which I did, and she was delighted to do so. This crypt is unusual because its ceiling is so high, and there are even small windows. It's in excellent condition - sorry no photos.
FranceHere, 2 photos of one of my favorite Loire valley sites - Villandry. This is the one famous château I always try to see, because its world-famous gardens - over 100,00 plants, including flowers, vegetables, fruit trees, grapes, and herbs - are so interesting, in all seasons. I chose a gorgeous day.
Time with Balzac
FranceAnother site I always go back to: Saché, a town virtually on the southern bank of the Loire. This is the 17th-c (I think) château that Balzac often stayed in - a favorite guest of its 19th-century owners - and where he wrote many of his novels. The entire château is now a museum to Balzac. In the bedroom he used one can see his coffee grinder & coffee pot (he drank so much very strong coffee that it is that ugh it killed him). Several of the rooms show temporary exhibits; the one there now is a super exhibit of furniture and other decorative arts items that are featured in many of Balzac's novels (either the actual pieces or ones of the period that could have been models for pieces he described). BTW, Alexander Calder had a home and studio just outside Saché. It's not open to the public, but the last time I was in Touraine, I did find it. He donated one large mobile to the town, and it's in the main square.
Other excursions I've taken (I took photos but this is enough): Descartes' birthplace; the priory that poet Pierre de Ronsard lived at for the last 20 years of his life; Rabelais' family home & vineyard.
Shapes and Textures of Richelieu
FranceShapes and textures are everywhere I look here, and I love them, in all kinds of light. The dominant construction material here is this old old creamy beige-buff-grey-honey stone called tuffeau, which I think is volcanic in origin. It's both somewhat soft - and quite thick when made into construction stones. It has a slight, pleasant smell depending on the weather. It makes for refreshingly cool interiors on hot days.
Richelieu - due to its history of having been created as an early "planned" city (town) in the first half of the 17th century - is very geometric in its outlines. Both the town, and the individual structures. I love the geometry but I especially love how the forces of nature and human creativity have tangled with and softened the geometry over time.
Richelieu is a walled town. The houses on the outer streets - the ones that line the walls - have the town walls as their rear walls and they have rear gardens that go down to the river. A normally very peaceful river called the Mâble, which flows in canals that border the four walls of the town.
It is also pleasing that most property owners have chosen good colors for doors, window trim, etc. Two of the photos here are of entrances to properties that are just barns, storage buildings, and/or gardens. In fact, the 1st photo is of the street entrance to the "secret garden" of my neighbor & new friend Gisèle. She gave me a key to use while I am here, and I will send another email with photos of the garden later.
Gisèle's Secret Garden
FranceWhen you open Giselle's blue wooden door (with a brass key) you enter a very dark barn - no matter how bright the sunshine outside- and walk across to another door that you pull open to enter the garden itself. (This second door is in the town wall; i.e., the rear of Giselle's small barn is the northern town wall.). The garden is a deep, fairly small green space that runs down to the Mâble river, very low right now because the summer was so dry (but there were floods in Richelieu in 2013).
She has flowers, vegetables (mostly peppers and tomatoes), some new fruit trees, lots of places to sit, and a wooden deck right next to the water. Her grandsons' toys are scattered about.
FranceDriving in this mountainous region is for risk-takers, even in the ideal conditions of the last two days - dry roads, little wind. I've had to concentrate so much on the curves and ups and downs; on the vehicles coming towards me that can't quite stay on their side of the road and the impatient vehicles behind me - and on the sometimes inconveniently placed directional signs - that I rarely stopped to take scenery pictures. It's all picture-postcard worthy, some of it very dramatic. Many of the mountains are in fact volcanoes and therefore shaped like volcanoes. The posted altitudes that I've noticed range from 1000-2000 meters.
Here is one scenery photo from this morning, followed by photos of the exterior and interior of the Romanesque church at Orcival. All the interior shots taken in such low-light conditions that they're quite noisy, but they give some idea. I was most wanting to see the Vierge Romane (Romanesque Virgin), but I should have known it would be encased in a solid lucite box. Worse, it was set at the back of the choir area, and entry was not permitted. I bought some good postcards, though, that show her in all her serene glory.
These churches are 11-12th century. Beauty perseveres.
FranceThe Vierge Romane in the church at Saint Nectaire (yes, also the name of a famous cheese - the Auvergne is an important producer of high quality cheeses) is also in a lucite box but one can get close to this box. Saint Nectaire has very well preserved historied capitals, most of them painted. The columns they top are quite tall, so not easy for this amateur photographer to capture.