It was nearly three years ago that I first experienced France, in the city of lights, in a city I had never visited, but yet a city I already deeply loved.
I talk here about how nervous I was about our first visit to Paris. I had played it up so much in my head that the thought of it being anything less than magnificent was a scary one. Well, to my great pleasure, it was everything I had ever hoped it would be. The food was memorable, the people were lovely, the sites were breathtaking, and our overall experience was one I will never forget.
Wanting to experience this perfection all over again, for this trip abroad, instead of zipping all around Europe, we put roots down in one country and spent two weeks exploring some of the best sites and landscapes that France has to offer.
Our trip started in the stunning Loire Valley where we spent our time château hopping and exploring the lovely town of Amboise. Arriving in Amboise we were greeted by the cold and rain, but we made the best of our first night in France, bundled up in sweaters walking around town, and dropping into a small cafe for crepes and onion soup. After a good night’s rest we started our Loire Valley adventure with pastries and hot chocolate at our lovely little inn, and set off to the first château of our journey, the 17th-century mansion of Cheverny.
Arriving mid morning on a Monday we had Cheverny mostly to ourselves. Along with a few other tourists and roughly 110 dogs, we toured this grand establishment and walked the spacious grounds. After our tour around the estate, we enjoyed a visit with the Cheverny hunting dogs, and then moved on to continue our day.
We left the property to find picnic supplies and settled down in front of an old church to enjoy our meal. We had been in France for less than 24 hours, but already, it was just as lovely as we remembered.
From Cheverny we headed to the largest château in the Loire Valley and explored the massive palace of Chambord. Originally built as a hunting lodge, this 440-room palace has a fireplace for every day of the year and is surrounded by Europe’s largest enclosed forest park, a game preserve defined by a 20-mile long wall.
We spent a couple of hours wandering the grounds and exploring the château’s many empty rooms. We played around on the property’s famous spiral staircase, and then, growing tired of Chambord’s massiveness, moved on to discover my favorite château, the dreamy and romantic Château de Chenonceau. Gracefully arching over the Cher River, this 16th-century Renaissance dwelling is the kind of place I would happily call home.
As the most popular château in the Loire Valley, Chenonceau is well-known for crowds, but thanks to a chill in the air and a perfectly-timed rainstorm, we nearly had the whole place to ourselves, which only added to Chenonceau’s charm.
We were welcomed into the château by a crackling fire in the entry fireplace, and greeted in each room by stunning arrangements of flowers put together from the property’s gardens. Each room we entered not only gave us a well-preserved look back into time, but also flooded our senses with the smell of peonies, roses, and lilies. Jacob would chuckle at my excitement not for the centuries old art or architecture all around us, but instead, over the exquisite flower arrangements that adorned each room.
Flowers aside, the architecture and history of this manor did not fail to wow me. We loved the views of the river and gardens which could be seen from almost every room, the creepy mourning room of Louise de Lorraine, and most of all, the beautiful and historic kitchen.
Most other kitchens during this time were in a separate or semi-detached building to reduce the risk of fire, but because of its location, Chenonceau was one of the only châteaux in the 16th-century to have a kitchen within the château itself, and while that was cool and all, if I am really being honest, it was really all of the copper pots and pans and the gigantic butcher block that still has me swooning over that kitchen today…
Once the rain cleared we checked out the gardens and took a stroll around the tourist-abandoned farm. We watched ducks and smelled more flowers, and stumbled across sections of the property that very well could have used as movie settings for The Secret Garden.
Having had enough châteaux for one day, we headed back to Amboise where we enjoyed a bottle of local wine and a picnic before taking a bright, late-night stroll along the Loire. Hugging tight to stay warm, we watched the city lights twinkle, reminiscing about our day, and looking forward to the wonderful adventures in France still to come.