After Paris, we had a couple days on our calendar set aside for “the French countryside.” However, we weren’t exactly sure where we wanted to go and how we were going to get there. Initially we wanted to visit the Dordogne region, but as we researched it we realized that without a car it would be difficult to get around there. We also decided that it would be difficult to get from Dordogne to anywhere else without spending an inordinate amount of time in transit.
Instead, we settled on visiting the tiny village (one main street and a few hundred residents at most) of Chenonceaux, about an hour and a half south of Paris. We found the village on the eurail pass’ list of suggested itineraries. It was part of the recommended “heritage” trip (there are also suggested trips for gastronomy, children, etc.), because it has a really nice chateau there. After looking at pictures of the chateau and reading a little bit about it we thought it looked interesting and decided to spend a night there.
We left Paris in the morning and took two trains to get to Chenonceaux. I had tried to find some accomodations online beforehand, but hadn’t found anything at all. That kind of stressed us out because we had read that the town was really small and we figured if everything was full we’d get stuck without lodging.
Luckily, though, when we arrived, we found a room in a place called Hostel du Roy. It’s more of a budget hotel than a hostel and we got a private room with a bathroom for €44. The staff was friendly and spoke some English (not a lot though), and they put us down in their ledger as “the backpackers” (I don’t think they ever did actually get our names). Our room was relatively spacious and had a window that looked
out onto the town’s only street. The hotel also had wi-fi. We were really fortunate to find the room because all the other places in town were pretty much full, and more expensive (the town was small enough that we checked at just about all the hotels).
After we got our room, we headed down to the chateau, which was on the other side of the train tracks and about a three minute walk away. Apparently, it’s the second most visited chateau in France after Versaille, but saying that it was less crowded is a gross understatement. There were a fair number of people there, but most of them were daytripping from Paris with tour groups. We got in to the chateau grounds around 5 pm (it closes at 8 pm), so a lot of the tour groupers were already leaving by the time we showed up. (Admission is a steep €10.50 for adults.)
The chateau, which I think is actually called Chenonceau, is dramatically located above a river. It used to be a fortified mill with a bridge over it, but during the renaissance the mill and fortifications were demolished and a palace was built on their foundations. Today, the chateau looks like something straight out of a fairytale (like many of the places we’ve seen on this trip). From the front it has a pointed blue roof capping its white stone towers, chapel, and halls. The side view is even more impressive. Originally, there was a bridge behind the chateau, but one of the people who owned it hundreds of years ago decided to build a great hall over the bridge. The result is that the palace sits magnificently on the gothic arches of an old bridge in the middle of the Cher river.
After taking a look at the chateau’s exterior, we decided to explore the relatively large gardens and surrounding woods. Then we did a self-guided tour of the palace itself. Though it is more visually striking than Versaille, it’s also much smaller and less ornate (on the inside), so the self guided tour didn’t take very long.
When we finished that we went back into the village to eat. Because it is so small, the only thing opened were restaurants (thereis no supermarket in town and only one bakery) so we ended up having a pleasant dinner in the garden restaurant behind our hotel. Laura got the plat du jour, which I think included venison, and I got onion soup and… snails! I had never tried escargo before and I ordered it mostly just for the experience, but I was delighted to discover that it is actually delicious. Then, after dinner, we walked through the nearby vinyards before going to bed.