(For those who don't know, Julien and I take turns planning our anniversary celebration, and this year was his turn.)
Julien slipped out of bed early while I was still cuddled in sleep with Soëlie. He came back just after I finished nursing her, carrying a tray laden with breakfast. Breakfast in bed: Always a good way to start the day.
While I got ready for his surprise, he dressed Soëlie. Our first anniversary as parents. Very different.
I love surprises, so once in the car, I closed my eyes to keep up the suspense. However, the curves in the road around the house quickly gave me a headache and put an end to that bit of fun. We ended up driving for two hours, but that's nothing. I once kept my eyes closed for five hours on our way to Amsterdam from Paris.
A little over an hour from the house, I figured out in which general direction we were headed: Le Val de Loire!
The Loire Valley is known for its many chateaux, and this was not our first visit there. When we still lived in Paris, we booked a room at Le Cheval Blanc* and visited Chenonceau (as if a river-straddling castle isn't impressive enough, the kitchens are phenomenal!), Chambord (impressive size-wise, even if it isn't the prettiest castle. The famous staircase is really nifty, and we had a good guide who shared interesting anecdotes...what we could hear of them; the tour group was rather large and we couldn't get close enough to him to hear all the time), the Parc Leonardo da Vinci (didn't go inside the castle but the park was nice), and Chaumont (Excellent guide!!! Don't know if the same gentlemen is still doing the visits--we went almost 10 years ago--but he was really one of the best guides I've ever heard the pleasure of listening to. The stables were very cool.) Sorry I only have links to share, but our other visits were in the days before we had a digital camera and all our photos are in the south of France in storage, so I can't scan them.
In the years since that first visit, we've been back to Chenonceau twice; it's such a showy castle to take visitors to. Because we enjoyed it the first time, Julien decided to take me back to Le Cheval Blanc for lunch. Our first restaurant with Soëlie. She behaved herself very well. Sadly, three-star restaurants (or at least this one) don't have highchairs, so we passed her back and forth when she was malcontent in her stroller. She got to taste a few things off our plates, and a good lunch was had by all.
We kept the best part--the dessert--from her, though; horrible parents.
On the way to the restaurant, I saw a sign for Loches, the typical sign one sees for tourist sites in France--brown background with white monument/point of interest--and thought it looked interesting. Instead of the default turrets and fountains, the Loche Donjon appeared as a massive block of stone, conveying dominance and endurance. You get a better idea from these photos than anything I took.
"That's something I'd like to visit someday," I remarked to Julien.
And surprise, he'd had the same idea, so after lunch, we drove the 20 or so kilometers to the donjon. Despite the freakishly** chill weather, we proceeded to have a very lovely afternoon exploring the donjon, which later served as a prison. Because lunch lasted 3 hrs, we didn't have time to visit the royal lodge (on the same grounds and covered by the entrance fee), but I'm glad we at least had time to see the donjon; it was totally different from the chateaux we visited before.
Top left: The walls of the donjon were so thick that when the building served as a prison, many of the windows were barred and then transformed into minuscule cells. The dark square is a small door for passing foodstuffs, etc through.
Top right: The Martelet (main prison) on the left, current day gift shop and ticket desk on the right. Apparently, even when the prison was still in use, people could visit it.
Bottom left: Donjon. The weather was too drear to get a better photo.
Bottom right: Interior of donjon. It was four stories high, but the top part, which was in wood, is missing. It is one of the tallest in France at 30+ meters (Versailles' is taller at 52 m).
Top left: Soëlie is getting just a wee bit tired of her parents lugging her around.
Top right: A withe trellis fence in the medieval garden. I'd love to have one in my yard someday. And the garden was lovely, planned with such care. We were there too early in the year to see it, but all the beds were planted so that the flowers, when in bloom, would coordinate: purple, yellow, white, etc.
Left: Entrance to the
*We weren't at all impressed with the hotel that first time, but the restaurant was very good. It's since changed hands, so I can't speak for the current state of the rooms, but the food is still good.
**I really don't have a right to complain because I'm familiar with the French adage "En avril, ne te découvre pas d’un fil ; en mai, fais ce qu’il te plaît!", meaning, April is too early to break out your spring clothes, but dress how you like in May.