Monday, 29 June 2015

Visiting Chartres and Chambord

The facade of the cathedral in Chartres
This morning we set off early from Paris to Chartres, southwest of Paris. It is best known for its cathedral, considered to be the best example of French Gothic architecture, and has been a Unesco World Heritage site since 2003.

We were one of the first groups in the cathedral, that was built in the 12th and 13th centuries and is also known for its stained glass windows from the Middle Ages. There are 172 stained glass windows depicting scenes from the Bible.

The Blue Virgin stained glass window
One of them depicts the "Blue Virgin" in a sky blue against a dark blue background. Blue is not a common colour used in stained glass, but here at Chartres it seems to be the norm. The cathedral also houses a piece of the veil of the Virgin Mary... there's a letter in calligraphy that claims it is from the days of Charlemagne...

The stained glass windows are tall and rectangular, and there are two round rose windows as well. The colours are so vivid, but perhaps this is due to the restoration happening at the moment, as there was scaffolding in the cathedral; it also prevented us from seeing the large labyrinth on the floor, which pilgrims used to walk on their knees while praying, as a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.

Behind the cathedral is a small garden and below it is a small garden maze and beyond it a panoramic view of the town.

Our next stop was Chambord, to the famous chateau -- or rather a hunting lodge -- that was commissioned by Francis I. He apparently hired Italian architects, one of which may have been Leonardo da Vinci, to create this place that has 440 rooms, 282 fireplaces and 84 staircases. One of them may have been designed by Leonardo, a double helix staircase that goes up three flights, but never meet.

The back of the chateau, or hunting lodge in Chambord
Apparently Francis I wanted the roof of the hunting lodge to look like the skyline of Constantinople. But he didn't spend much time here -- during his 32-year reign (28 years of which were spent on building the lodge), he only spent seven weeks here. Whenever he wanted to visit this home, his 2,000 household staff had to bring all the furniture, clothes and provisions for him to stay here.

Francis I came here to go hunting, and these days people come here to hunt one day a year in November.

Louis XIV spent some time here afterwards and before the outbreak of World War II, the works of art in the Louvre were moved to Chambord for safe keeping from the Germans.

Another interesting factoid is that the chateau was the inspiration for the palace in Disney's animation feature Beauty and the Beast.

The entrance to the chateau a la Constantinople
I have to come back here again to spend more time -- we had to quickly grab lunch before getting on the tour bus again to head toward Tours, but not before we sampled some wines at Montlouis.

It's located inside a limestone quarry, where the rock was quarried for the chateaus in the area. As a result it's a cool place to store wines. However there's no vineyards here -- it's a production area where grapes are processed, blended, fermented, bottled and distributed.

The Loire Valley is known for its Chenin Blanc and sparkling wines. The latter are produced by adding sugar and yeast twice. However the dead yeast leaves a cloudy mixture at the bottom of the bottle and so the bottles are placed on an angle facing down and turned periodically.

See the dead yeast in the bottle that needs to be removed?
Then once the dead yeast has collected at the mouth of the bottle, and because the caves are so cool, the sediment freezes and pops out much easier without losing too much of the sparkling wine.

We got to sample three of the wines, a sparkling wine, a rosee and a white wine, but none of them really impressed us which was strange considering we're in wine country.

By dinnertime we arrived at Tours and had dinner at a fun restaurant called Leonardo da Vinci and were entertained by a guitarist who encouraged us to sing songs either in French or English.

The very grand City Hall in Tours
After dinner we walked around the area, passing by City Hall, the shopping street nearby and saw the modern-looking streetcars. But everything was closed after we finished dinner so we could only window shop!


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