Thursday, April 20, 2017

Thursday, April 19 - A little geography for the Loire Valley and the Castle at Saumur

View of Loire River from Saumur Castle
I don't know about you, but I'm getting confused about where I've been and where I'm going. So let's do a little geography. We're living in the western Loire Valley with Brittany and Normandy west of us.
To the east along the Loire River are the towns and châteaus of the kings of France, French nobility, and the estates built by ministers and financiers to the kings.
Loire River highlighted in yellow. Royal palaces tended to be at the far eastern end from Orleans to Tours. We're near Angers

Since Roman times, strategic locations like Chinon have been fortified. Then came the Normans who used the Loire River to ravage the countryside as far as Paris. More fortifications needed. The Hundred Years War which pitted English kings against their cousins the French kings for control of this territory required stronger fortifications.

But with the Renaissance and the consolidation of power over most of what we know as modern day France by the French kings, the Loire Valley became the equivalent of going to the lake for the weekend. Palaces became more and more sumptuous as the French court moved out of Paris into the countryside.

So far, all our castle visiting has been east of us, with the exception of Angers. The farthest châteaux have been about 2 hours away.
We're the red circle. Places we've visited are highlighted in yellow.
Google map - our house to Saumur Castle
Every day we travel through Saumur on our way east and we see the castle dominating the town's landscape.
Saumur and vineyards
So today it's time to visit Saumur's castle and old town. In addition, Combier (the original triple sec) is produced in Saumur.
According to the map, the chateau is 45 km (30 miles) away. 

"Les Très Riches Heures du Duc du Berry" is an illuminated manuscript that is a masterpiece of medieval art.
Painted over time and by various artists in the 15th century, this "book of hours" (a prayer book) includes twelve miniatures painted full-page (about 10 x 12 inches), one for each month. September features the castle at Saumur and provides accurate details for the shape and decoration of the château to those restoring it.

Saumur was first built in the 10th century as protection from the invading Normans (Vikings) who pillaged up and down the Loire River.
View of Loire from Saumur Castle
Destroyed and rebuilt in the 12th century, it became an important residence until the 16th century when it was abandoned. In subsequent centuries it was used as a prison and in 1905 the château was sold back to the city of Saumur

The castle was built on unstable ground which has caused several of the bastions (the outer defenses) to collapse. Work was undertaken several times over the past 100 years to stabilize and rebuild these outer walls. And it seems to be ongoing even today. 

The castle building has been restored to its appearance as seen in the Très Riches Heures. It claims to be the only example of a true medieval prince's castle in France.
Alex, Christie, Clark, Janis, Lynn on Saumur drawbridge

One crosses the drawbridge and once ticketed, enters the courtyard of the castle via a long staircase.
Drawbridge at Saumur Castle
Imagine how it would have been having horses running up this incline.
Entrance to the castle

Touring the castle starts with a look at the huge pulley for bringing up water from the well.

The "Escalier d'Honneur" takes you either down to the basement level where prisoners were held, or up to the living quarters.
Decoration on escalier d'honneur (Staircase of honor)

Dog carved on outside of the escalier d'honneur
An elaborate tiled floor has been restored in the drawing room.
drawing room fireplace

tile floor in drawing room

An oratory (place of prayer) sits in the corner tower between the north wing and the east wing. Refurbished in 1454 by King René in honor of his second wife Jeanne La Val, it has a symbol of eternal love carved in the keystone of the ceiling. Nothing much has changed in the past 500 years in this room.

entering the oratory

symbol of everlasting love

The Duchess's rooms follow, now filled with collections of famous porcelains like Sevres and lead to King René's bedroom in the corner tower.
In the Duchess's apartments

We ate lunch on the grounds of the château surrounded by trees overgrown with mistletoe.
globs of mistletoe in tree

mistletoe up close

You can see the berries on the mistletoe
A bit chilly given the wind, but we overlooked the old town, so it was pleasant enough.

Dave planned a walking tour of the old town which took us past a 15th century house belonging to the stone masons association.
House for stone masons association

Then down to St. Peter's square (Place Saint Pierre) in the center of the old town where there still exist a few houses from the 15th century.
tudor style houses on Place St Pierre

Carving on Tudor window on Place St Pierre

A large church is half old, half 19th century.

I walked down some lovely old auto-free shopping streets in the old town to meet the others at Combier, the original producer of triple sec.
The sign over Combier's distillery

The original triple sec

What we tasted - second is a rose liqueur. Didn't like that so much. The rest were delicious.

France is having a primary election for president next week. Unlike the US, you see almost no billboards or posters for candidates (there are 11 running in the primary). Nor do you see any lawn signs or other indications of support by individuals. But each town has a panel of small posters in each town, numbered, we think, in the order they will appear on the ballet.  Here's the list of candidates:
Each town has a set of boards with these same posters affixed. We think the numbers may be the location on the ballot as each set of posters is in the same order in every town.

Part 2 of the candidate boards. There are 11 people running for president of France. Primary is April 23.

At Combier, we did some tasting, some buying, then home for aperos and dinner.
Our tasting guide at Combier

Janis and Clark tasting liqueurs from Combia

Dave and Christie debating what to buy.

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