The Loire Valley in France has many wonderful sights and castles. But for pure romance and poetic appeal Chenonceau clearly ranks at the top of my list. It sits on top of the peaceful Cher River and is clearly the most feminine of all Loire castles. In contrast to many other Loire castles it also sports fully furnished rooms and three charming kitchen. In contrast to the very symmetrical Chambord castle Chenonceau’s charm lies in its asymmetrical design and off-center gardens. Website: www.chenonceau.com
What a story and what a legacy. The Schlumpf brothers had Swiss parentage and struck it big in France before the war. One of the two brothers became, maybe unsurprisingly, a banker. The other became a textile baron. Together they became very wealthy. Most of their wealth went into an amazing car collection. They were particularly obsessed with Bugatti cars, back then the most prestigious car brand. As collectors they amassed an absolutely breathtaking collection of 400 cars, among them many unique Bugatti, Maserati, Maybach, Mercedes-Benz, Rolls Royce, Bentley and Ferrari. However, the war brought their empire down and today the Cité de l’Automobile in Mulhouse close to the Swiss border houses 400 vintage cars. It is therefore the biggest car collection in the world. A visit is a must for everyone with just a tiny little bit of petrol in his or her blood!
Sometimes a major destination can fade into the background and the side-road becomes the attraction. Sometimes, taking a small detour holds big rewards. On the way to Paris from Dijon by car I followed some local advice and took a detour to the L’Abbaye de Fontenay. The abbey sits tucked away in a beautiful forest in Burgundy and is a UNESCO world heritage site. It was founded in 1118 by the St. Bernard and was for the longest time a Cistercian monastery. The buildings are modest but well arranged. The gardens are simple and contemplative. And the abbey houses the oldest hydraulic metal forge in Europe. It is the perfect stop on a busy journey to Paris.
The Loire valley, southwest of Paris, is a UNESCO heritage region famous for its many magnificent castles. Clearly a must-see destination is the fantastic Chambord castle. Originally a hunting castle it had many illustrious occupants, Louis XIV one among them. It is also rumored that Leonardo da Vinci, who lived and died nearby in Amboise, had a hand in its strictly geometrical design. The most spectacular side of Chambord are its many chimneys and little turrets, lending the castle a fairy-tale, almost fata-morgana-like, appearance. It is set in a wonderful forest and well worth a visit. Website: www.chambord.org
Yes, it is possible to have a bad dinner in France, it happened to me. However, one of the easiest ways of tasting the fabled French food is paying a visit to the local market. I did exactly that in Paris near the Arc de Triomphe. Not only were the bread, cheese and Foie Gras (goose liver) bigger than anywhere else, the tasting portions were also generous. A very enthusiastic market vendor chopped off a generous chunk of cheese and goat liver for me to try. Just amazing! He then moved on to sausages and small, round goat cheese (crotins). I ended up trying not only cheese but also bread and many fruits. Amazing!
I recently made a trip to Paris by car. While having breakfast in Dijon, halfway to Paris, a German couple said that I do not have to worry about other cars in Paris but instead should worry about the bikes. They were spot on. Between the very left and second left lane there is an unofficial bike lane. The ‘lane’ or rather the space in between these slowly moving or standing cars is used by bikers. And the bikes can be anything from a three-wheeler scooter up to a full-sized Harley-Davidson. Every Parisian knows to be extra careful when crossing this lane as bikes approach at break-neck speed. And should you switch lanes not fast enough, you can be sure that impatient bike-riders would disapprove by honking and gesturing very explicitly!