Day Nine – Kim Takes The Wheel, Talley-Ho Talleyrand, The A-MAZE-ing Race, Taking The Scenic Route, Scouting Mission, Paving The Way, An Oasis In Amboise, Horsing Around and The “Ten-Minute” Walk
Goodbye Dordogne. Hello Loire. On a misty Wednesday morning, we bid au revoir to David and the Villa des Consuls, packed up the Audi and took off for Amboise (with a slight detour along the way). We also bade farewell to the ducks who gave their lives so tourists like ourselves could eat. RIP Daffy and Donald.
Getting me to be a passenger in a car is about as easy as getting me to eat a pickle…in other words, virtually impossible. But since Kim had spent 33€ to become “an extra driver” when we picked up the car (obviously he thought I might bleed out before we left Limoges), I reluctantly handed him the keys and plopped down in the front passengers’ seat (on this trip “Back Seat Tracy” was joined by “Back Seat Mary”).
Leaving Sarlat a little after eight, we were headed toward Valençay, where we would visit the Château de Valençay, which at one point in its history was owned by Napoleon’s Finance Minister, Charles Maurice de Talleyrand.
Once we got on the main highway, it was smooth sailing until we neared the exit for Valençay. Madame Bleu, Lady Garmin and Map Mary all seemed to have differing viewpoints on where Kim should go (Tracy was reading a book as her expertise comes in later). Being a passenger suddenly didn’t seem all that bad.
It was at this point in our journey, we definitely realized that she was programmed for the scenic route instead of the fastest route.
This is where Tracy’s sign reading came in handy, and shortly we found the TI at Valençay.
It had taken exactly 3 ½ hours to get here from Sarlat.
Inside the TI, I asked, “Where is the best place to park for the chateau?”
“Right here,” she answered. As they say, even a broken clock is correct twice a day, so we grabbed our coats and on to the chateau (directly across the street) we walked.
We strolled up the long entrance, and once inside the beautiful courtyard, the skies opened up, which could only mean on thing…it was time for lunch. We quickly made a beeline for L’Orangerie du Château, the restaurant at the chateau.
I had a good pizza with salad vert, while Tracy and Mary’s choice of assorted veggies (lentils, ratatouille of peppers and salad vert, was quite delicious according to both of them. Kim’s charcuterie platter was, on the other hand, the loser dish of the group. Luckily, the svelte Kim was still on his “don’t eat too much” kick, so he was fine with his limited lunch.
With the rain now stopped and blue skies making a slight comeback, we walked around the perfectly manicured grounds replete with gorgeous flowers.
We then headed inside to the chateau. Price to get in was 11.50€ (which included an informative audio guide).
Château de Valençay was virtually empty on this day, which made our self-guided tour quite pleasant. Starting with the Grand Salon, we toured the chateau. That round table above was supposedly used at the Congress Of Vienna in 1814 and 1815, a conference of ambassadors of European states who met to provide peace for Europe after both the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars.
The audio guide was quite informative as we strolled from one beautiful room to another.
There were also beautiful wall coverings from great paintings to terrific tapestries.
There was also a bust of a familiar face.
Although Napoleon was not a food connoisseur, it seemed he knew the diplomatic importance of throwing a grand dinner party (and really what better to avert war than a sumptuous dinner), so when he bought the place for Talleyrand, Carême came along with him. To prove his worth, Talleyrand had Carême conjure up a different menu every night for one year, only using produce that was in season. Obviously, he must have aced his test, because he became Talleyrand’s chef. I’d love to have Carême’s kitchen at Valençay (and Talleyrand’s dining room).
Next, we walked back alongside a large park (oh, the Frisbee games I could have played here), and walked over to the Valençay Maze. We were skeptical about the maze when we entered, as all of us had never really been in one that was difficult to navigate…until today.
“I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” Oh wait, that’s not why they look so perplexed. Frustrated at every turn, this was a pretty cool maze, although we knew we had to get to Amboise some time later in the day, so getting through this thing at some juncture was mandatory. At many turns there were signs with what we surmised were clues. Sadly my high school French did not come in handy, so the clues were worthless.
Tracy and I lost Kim and Mary at one point (I was happy at this juncture that Kim had given me back the car keys), and in about ten minutes we saw them standing in a tower, meaning they had successfully navigated the maze. Fortunately, even after a week together, both couples were getting along (plus they realized I had the car keys), so they provided us with directions to get out.
I ran into a couple of mirrors (not literally) that looked like my beginning and after photos from the trip due to all the weight I assumed I was gaining thanks to my gigantic food intake.
Before we left, we (well, by now it was only me caught in the dastardly maze) said hello to a couple of peacocks that were there to just laugh at stupid tourists getting lost in a kiddie maze. Château de Valençay was worth the small detour we made on our way to Amboise. And don’t miss the maze!
Speaking of the maze, our drive from Valençay to Amboise was pretty much of a maze, and Madame Bleu took us on some incredibly narrow roads. Although it took longer than expected, the drive was a pretty one. We passed through some farmland, drove along the river (at least she didn’t out us in the river) and saw the sign for Amboise straight ahead. We were almost there.
When we reached Amboise, all bets were off, however. We knew our bed and breakfast, Manoir de la Maison Blanche, was just a few blocks away, but we were in the heart of a residential district, and our b&b had looked like it was out in the countryside from all the photos we had seen.
We finally reached the street that would take us to Manoir de la Maison Blanche, but, voila, there was one slight glitch. The road we were to turn on next was closed off to traffic, and we saw a sign that said the street would be closed for the next five days (at least that’s what our four expert French linguists deciphered).
As we contemplated our fate, rain started pounding (and I mean pounding) down.
Undaunted by the torrential downpour, Kim and Mary leapt from the car (yes, I had stopped it), told us they would try to find a detour and took off down the street and around the corner. Tracy and I then waited…and waited…and waited. After roughly 15 minutes, we wondered if they had found better traveling companions, because there was still no sign of them. Speaking of a sign, as we waited in the car, a passing automobile drove up to the sign that said the road would be closed for the next five days. Getting out of his car, an elderly gentleman (hell, he was probably my age) summoned two kids on bicycles over to him, and they proceeded to move the sign and the tape that was blocking the road. Back in his car, the man then turned and drove on the newly paved road. Well, when in Amboise do what the Amboisians do (also probably not a correct terminology of the locals).
We drove (very slowly) on the newly paved road and within about a block there was a sign pointing the way to the Manoir de la Maison Blanche. As we turned the next corner, we saw two people soaked to the gills (actually they were so wet they almost needed gills to breath) heading in our direction. Yes, it was Kim and Mary. Our dynamic duo had walked all the way to the b&b, met the owner and were returning with alternative directions bypassing the paved road I was not supposed to be driving on. Having broken countless traffic laws in numerous European countries, they were not all that surprised to see us. Dripping wet, they hopped back in the car and we turned into the long driveway of Manoir de la Maison Blanche, and when we did we certainly left the suburbs behind.
We had two rooms located across from the main building.
Both rooms were spacious, and after dumping our stuff in the room, we walked over to where the horses were standing.
After petting them through the fence, we walked through the meadow for a bit, where we met Annick’s other cat and a second dog.
We asked Annick for a restaurant recommendation in Amboise, and she made a reservation for us at her favorite restaurant, Chez Bruno. “How long of a walk is it into Amboise?” I asked. “Oh, about ten minutes she answered.”
Then she made the mistake of showing me on the map how to walk into Amboise, not knowing about my map impaired brain that was put to the (failing) test in Sarlat. Exiting the property, I promptly took our crew in the completely wrong direction, which we found out when we came to a dead end at a nearby field. I quickly gave the map to Mary and back in the right direction we went.
Even with the correct directions, Annick’s “10-minute” walk to Amboise is actually closer to a 25-minute walk, which was fine since we had spent most if the day in the car. On the walk, we passed right by Château du Clos Lucé (Leonardo da Vinci’s pad during the last few years of his life), where we would visit in a couple of days.
Chez Bruno (40 Place Michel Debré) is located on the Amboise equivalent to “Restaurant Row,” virtually in the shadow of the Royal Château d’Amboise. Annick’s choice of restaurant was spot on! The food here was delicious and threatened to take the top spot away from Sarlat’s L’instant Delice (for college football fans, this is our restaurant version of the BCS). The restaurant is divided into two dining areas, a main dining room and a smaller room with tables and a bar, which is where we were seated (obviously our reputation preceded us).
Kim and Mary shared a “Wow” dish, Feuillete de Gambas avec sauce armoricaine (I think). Translated it was a shrimp in puff pastry with lobster sauce. Tracy also had a “Wow” dish, a delectable mushroom soup. I started with a very good escargot.
Main courses included cotes’ d’agneau (for some reason I always call that dish Spiro d’Agneau), pork filet with apricots, steak with Roquefort sauce and supreme de poulet aux morels
I (aka Mr. Botomless Pit) tacked on a “Hush, Hush” Sweet Charlotte Framboise for dessert.
We also found out that Bruno was the proprietor’s father, a man who died at a young age, so the owner named the restaurant in his honor. Bruno’s son also owns a vineyard just outside of town, and since Mary really liked their wine, she said we would come to the winery in the next couple of days, which will provide another story of its own for tomorrow.
On the way back to the hotel, we received a little dousing of rain, but not too bad. We settled in for the night in our comfy beds, and tomorrow we would prove to all those “Two Chateau Maximum” travelers that we can double that slacker mentality and still have time (barely) to hit a very hard-to-find winery.
Next: Day Ten – Breakfast Of Champions, The Answer My Friend Is Blois-ing In The Wind, Chateau Liqueur Drive-By, Chiens Gone Wild, A Unique Chateau Garden Festival, There’s No Place Like Gnome, The Wild Goose Chase To A Winery, A Chat With Kim and No Reserves At Reserve