Palaces and Chateaux, in The Beautiful Loire

Enjoying a cafe in the beautiful gardens at Le Clos d’Amboise

We decided to have a sleep in day, and I had a nice quiet morning drinking my french cafe in the beautiful gardens of Le Clos d’Amboise.  This also gave me time to go through our to do list of Palaces and Chateaux that we wanted to visit in our 2 full days here. On our list was Chambord, Chenonceau, and Cheverny, which had the added bonus of watching La Soupe Des Chiens- feeding of the dogs, which was something I was really looking forward to as a result of my research. Plus I wanted to explore Amboise.

Breakfast at Le Clos d’Amboise

Soft Boiled Egg Boiler

Before starting our day, we had a beautiful breakfast at our Chateau. The variety of offerings were quite extensive, and even included a soft boiled egg bar; something I have never seen before. It took me back to my childhood as this was something my Mom made for my sister and I regularly, and we even had our own special soft boiled egg cups.There are many great reasons to travel, but one of my top reasons is to meet and speak with different people. At breakfast we sat next to a lovely family- Mother (Mary), daughter (Lilia) and Lilia’s Grandmother. I had conversed briefly with Lilia the day before at the pool, and in my broken french had commented to her that she was a fish like my daughter was when she was little. Lilia did not really understand, but her Mother smiled as she got the gist of what I was saying.  We ended up having a nice, long conversation with Mary and Lilia at breakfast, explaining where we were from, where we had traveled to so far, and where we were going. Kalyna also explained why her french was so good, and they were kind to me when I tried to speak french. They were a lovely family from a city close to Amboise and were on a mini vacation to one of their favourite places- Le Clos d’Amboise. It was a highlight for both Kalyna and I to have met this family, and I am still in contact with Mary via Instagram.

It was now late morning, and we were off to start our day and driving through the Loire Valley to Chambord.  The country side in the Loire in beautiful. The roads are windy, and vary in speeds, but not as fast as the major highways. We followed the river for most of each trip, which was nice. The Loire has many towns, and many of them have a Chateau in them, so if you are an enthusiast of Chateaux, you will have MANY to visit.

Many sights to see driving in the Loire Valley

We arrived at the entrance to The Estate of Chambord, a huge forest that surrounds the Palace of Chambord; it “is the largest walled and enclosed park in Europe, with the same area (about 13500 acres) as Paris proper.”

They say that “It is a magical atmosphere as soon as you arrive”, and they weren’t kidding!

The Magical Chambord

The architecture is extraordinary, as is its size. Then as you get closer, we then saw the meticulously manicured French Gardens, which were even more impressive to view from the balconies a top of the palace.

We wanted to explore the inside of this palace and it was instantly confirmed as we got closer, that it is “radically unique”, and that it is “perhaps the equivalent in architecture of Mona Lisa in painting.” At least from the outside.

Rick Steves had recommended to rent the audio guide and skip the “useless” HistoPad, but when I went to the counter to rent the audio guide, it was not available anymore, and only the L’HistoPad was available. Hmmm. Kalyna wasn’t interested, so I just rented 1, and it was immediately frustrating figuring out how to use this. It was designed to be interactive, which is great if that is what you want, but what I really wanted was an explanation of what I was looking at. It also used GPS, so the rooms it had information on, it would automatically start and stop the room description as you entered and exited each room that it had information on.

Inside Chambord with my L’Histopad

The spiral staircase in the center was the most impressive part to this palace as it was no small feat to be able to build this masterpiece! Here are some highlight pictures of our self guided tour. There aren’t a tonne of pictures as honestly, the inside was a bit lack luster. It was hardly furnished, and had a contemporary art showing going on, which I had appreciation for, BUT was a bit confusing in this setting. Also there were very few plaques with explanations which was disappointing, and caused our tour to be WAY faster than we thought it would be.

The Spiral Staircase is in the center of the Palace

Ceramic stove (1749)

Chamber room

My obsession of antique chamber pots continues…

Modern Art installation inside Chambord

There was one room that was fully furnished and was quite evident it was a tribute to the hunting that was done on these grounds many years ago. It was very unique and showed the great respect that we see for dogs in this area.

Hunting room artwork and trophies

As there was very little to read, and in english, and the lack of furnishings, we ventured outside to explore the extensive balconies, and take in the views of the beautiful grounds.

Architecture is Magnificent!


The architecture is Amazing, with yet another spiral staircase

One thing that was disgusting to me was all of the graffiti that we saw in all of the stone outside. It is disgusting to think that so many people thought they needed to leave their insignificant, and ego filled mark on this beautiful structure! It was everywhere!

Graffiti on Chambord

As our tour of the Palace did not take long, this left us time to have lunch, which we were surprised to see was very affordable on the grounds, which would be rare in Canada or the U.S. to find delicious food at a low price at any tourist place. I had an AMAZING salad, which is one of the things I really miss about France- their salads!  And it was rare that any of the salad choices contained Gluten, unless you needed to ask for no croutons, which they did not use a lot of. They have an art of mixing, fresh, seasonal produce, with proteins and potatoes! And the lettuce is both sweet and tender, as it was grown on the grounds!

A fresh, salad with vin blanc that was SO delicious!

We had accomplished so much today, and we still had more time for another Chateau, so we ventured off to what I would discover to be my favourite- Chenonceau.



Rental Cars, Toll Roads, and a Chateau in Amboise

Next stop-  The Loire Valley

We bid adieu to the noisy seagulls of Le Mont St. Michel with my $9 coffee in hand, and found our way to the bus stop.  We arrived in Rennes from Mont St. Michel on the bus, and picked up our rental car at EuropCar, which I had arranged through my CAA membership at home. I was guaranteed a Fiat 500L or something similar, and we ended up with a manual Hyundai – fully loaded including navigation! The 1 thing I was nervous about was navigating, as when we last drove in France was in 2012, and we used paper maps and it was a HUGE challenge. I had pre-loaded maps of Amboise, and the Loire Valley on my CityMaps2Go by Ulmon maps and Google maps, but to have voice navigation was going to be a very nice bonus, especially because Kalyna informed me that she was going to watch Netflix on her tablet and NOT be my navigator….. Guess what my response was!

While we were trying to figure out the car navigation, I inputted the Amboise address in my google map on my phone, and found out quickly that they had added the voice guidance feature to their offline maps!  So off we went to the Loire Valley with 2 voices guiding us.

Some advice when driving in France:

  • Have small bills for the Toll Roads- we were on a toll road for a distance, and the amount to pay at the end of it was €19.20 and all I had was a €50, and as the signs at each line are not clear as to which ones take credit card and which are cash, so as I was in the cash only line, the change I was given was all in €1 &2 coins! It was like I won big in Vegas, the sound the machine made as it dispensed all of my change.

    Which lane do we go to, to pay?

  • Also try to get food before you get onto the toll highways. The nice part to taking a toll highway is that there are regular rest stops, but if you want food, you need to stop at a rest stop with food, and the one we stopped at was CRAZY BUSY! The parking lot was huge, yet there was nowhere to park, so we ended up blocking in a semi truck in their parking lot, like many others, while we ran in and got food as quickly as we could then ate in our car.

    Where do we park?

  • Load Google maps on your phone before you leave for your trip. Now that voice guidance is available on offline maps, there is almost no need for navigation in your rental vehicle.

We arrived safely in Amboise and with only 1 hiccup when our 2 navigating voices had an arguement as  to which way to go, which cost us an extra trip on a toll road, a few loops around, and a side track on a remote- narrow and windy country road.  All things said, it was a successful journey, and Kalyna ended up helping to navigate and she surviced not getting to watch a movie on the way- something that this generation is clueless how to live without!

We checked in at our Chateau, Le Clos D’Amboise, which was a splurge for us on this trip. It was a chateau from Renaissance times, and was beautifully decorated. It also had a pool, which we were looking forward to being able to use after a nice day of driving in the country exploring the chateaux and castles. The weather was beautiful when we arrived, so we decided to have a much deserved pool break. To feel the sun and heat was such a nice feeling after so many days of clouds, cool temperatures and rain.

We arranged to meet up with Heather and Roger, whom we met in Mont St. Michel for dinner and enjoyed each others company as we got to know each other more. I especially liked eating with Heather as she is a fellow Sans Gluten traveler, as she is Celiac, so to feel not so ‘alone’ was a nice treat for me! It was also nice to drink wine with someone as Kalyna was not a wine drinker and had no desire to become one with me….

Look closely and you will see that the Galettes flaming with Grand Marnier

Amboise is a nice, small city with a lot to offer in a condensed area- hotels, shopping, eating, wine stores, a Chateau in the city center and is central to drive to many, many other Chateaux and wineries. I will tell you more about Amboise and its Chateau in another post, but here are some photos of our first impressions of this pretty city!

Great restaurants and shops on Rue Victor Hugo

Aerial view of Rue Victor Hugo and Amboise

Tomorrow we start to explore the Loire Valley and a few of its Chateaux!


The Amazing- Le Mont St. Michel

It would be rare that I do not take the advice of my good friend Corinne, who is an expert about travelling in France (at least I think she is), so when she told me that we MUST stay 1 night on Le Mont St. Michel, I booked a room for just 1 night.

We bought a return ticket from Saint Malo on the direct bus to Mont St. Michel for €23 each. Our other option was to take 2 trains and 1 bus and the cost wasn’t much cheaper for the inconvenience.  The bus company, Keolis is obviously selling day trips to tourists rather than transportation to destinations.  I sucked it up as I looked at it that we paid more for the convenience and it also saved us some time.

The bus dropped us off at one of the bus parking lots, which was not yet full of tour buses, so it looked like we had a bit of a head start to avoiding the crowds; or so we thought.  Instead of waiting in another long line up for a free bus/ shuttle ride to the island, we walked the boardwalk, which was farther than I thought- just over 2 km. It was nice to be able to stop and take pictures along the way, but we were definetly a sight to see or hear as the wheels on our luggage made a not so pleasant noise on the wood boardwalk. Whatever….

Walking on the boardwalk towards to Mont St. Michel

The water was receeding and the tourists were arriving- on foot and by bus

The tide had already started to receed away from the island and back out to sea, when we arrived, and the amount of water that moves in and out here was evident.  We had no idea at the time that we would not see the tide coming in fully, which was a shame. I still do not understand why that was as the posted high tide was at 11:26 am and 11:38 pm.

We arrived at the gates of Le Mont St. Michel and immediately we felt like we were in Medieval times- a bit reminiscent of Carcasonne, and one of the walled cities we visited in Provence in 2012.  We thought we beat the crowds, but we did not. Navigating the narrow and winding street in the thick crowds of tourists to find our hotel while pulling our luggage was a bit of a challenge as the walk towards our hotel was also uphill. The check in at our hotel La Vielle Augerge was in its restaurant. Our room would not be ready until 2pm, so we left our bags and had lunch on their terrace as the weather was starting to improve and the sun was peaking out.

View while eating luch at our Hotel restaurant

After a delicious lunch of a NIcoise Salad- a typical french dish, that is absolutely delicious, we started to explore the  outer perimeter on the wall. As we walked around we found our way to the Abbey thought to date back to 708- originally built as a sanctuary by Aubert, Bishop of Avranches in honour of the Archangel. &In the 10th century, the Benedictines settled in the abbey, while a village grew up below its walls.& Clasified as a historic monument in 1874, it underwent major restoration work, and has been under construction- literally ever since!

The abbey was unfurnished except for the Chapel which had a service on when we were there, so you had to leave a lot up to your imagination as to what the furnishings, etc would have been like. Luckily we are Game of Throne fans, so we were able to fill in the blanks from its set design.

The island itself is quite small, so we explored all that we were able to in a couple of hours, and by the time we were back on the narrow street lined with tourist shops and restaurants, it was literally wall to wall- packed in like sardines with tourists. I was glad that we were staying the night, as we would be able to walk around soon enough without these impossible crowds.

Seagulls are EVERYWHERE

We checked into our room and while waiting for it to be ready, not long after we met a couple from a small town north of where we live- Killam, AB. Heather and Roger were driving through France in just under a month and we were going to be crossing paths with them in a few different places, so we arranged to meet up at our next stop- Amboise to have some english conversation with someone other than our travel partners.

Wonderful view from our room

I had upgraded our room when booking to a sea view room, and was extremely pleased with this decision, as we needed to escape the crowds, and could still take in the landscape’s beauty from the comfort of our balcony; minus the loud and obnoxious sea gulls… BUT to get to our room we had to climb upwards of around 200 uneven stone steps with our bags, and then back down.  And around 5 pm, I got the munchies and was in need of a happy hour cocktail. So back down the steps I went.

Happy hour with a view

Many people walk out on the sea bed at low tide. It is very muddy

Around 5 pm the streets really start to quiet down as the tour buses are leaving, so a lot of the stores start to close as do many restaurants, so that basically the restaurants that also are hotels remain open for dinner service, and even these ones are closed and dark by 10 pm, which is early for France standards in the cities. Snack foods are slim pickings in Mont. St. Michel, but I found some french fries, which I can eat as in France most places only fry their fries, and not the majority of its menu like in Canada and the U.S., so they are gluten friendly. I also bought a sugar crepe for Kalyna and a small bottle of sparkling rose Cider, which is a local specialty, then back up the steps I went to enjoy my own little Happy Hour while enjoying the paid for view on our balcony.  I started to eat my fries outside but we noticed quickly that I was attracting the attention of the sea gulls, and as we had been warned that they are very agressive here, I quickly moved inside with my snack and only had my drink outside while researching where Rick Steves would recommend us to have dinner.

I would LOVE a glass of wine!

We chose to eat at Cafe La Mère Poulard, not to be mistaken with La Mère Poulard, which is a rip off tourist trap right where you walk in the gates.  I had already decided that I wanted mussles again as this would be our last night where they are caught then served only hours later- or so I thought. The service started off good, but then tapered off quickly which was becoming a very common experience for us in France.  I am not sure if it is because there are more servers at home, or they are tip driven, but our experience was very lax to get you a menu, a 2nd glass of wine, or water when asked for politely.  BUT, the food generally come out OMG fast! That said, the food was even slow at this restaurant, which would not have been a big deal, had I had something to drink while we waited.  Please don’t get me wrong, I love to experience a lingering meal like in Italy, but this is NOT the same. Service basically has lacked so far for us.

Back to the room once again for us- Kalyna to face time her friends and me to get dressed warmer to go and take pictures of Mont. St. Michel illuminated from outside its walls. I was also wanting to see the tide coming in, and with it being just after 10 pm, it should have started.

The streets were even more quiet and all of the restaurants were officially closed. The only ones left in the streets were us tourists, and most of us were headed in the same direction- to take pictures. I was surprised to see that the water was still far out at sea, and did not appear to be coming back in, in the 30 minutes that I was outside the walls. It was pitch black now and getting colder so I made my way back to our room to prepare for our earlyish departure the next morning.

I have learned from past experiences that it is better to be early than be too rushed when travelling. We got up with enough time to get ready, pack, walk with our bags down the 200+ steps, check out, have breakfast then walk to the shuttle, take the shuttle, find the bus stop and get on the bus to go to Rennes where we were renting a car.  Our good intentions led us to be extremely early for the bus, as when we went to breakfast at our hotel restaurant, we discovered that the €10 breakfast was  pastries, coffee and juice. I did not want to spend the equivalent of $15 for coffee and juice- and there were no apologies for being unacomodating. So we went up the street and stopped at the only to go place open, and ordered a coffee and a croissant for Kalyna, which came to €9! €6 for the coffee and €3 for the croissant!!! That is MORE than at Starbucks, which I did not think was possible! I guess we should have stayed and at least Kalyna could have had more than 1 croissant and juice too…..

Leaving Mont St. Michel with my $9 cafe

We were happy to have seen M.S.M. but I was happy to be leaving as I HATE getting ripped off and tourist traps! My advice for you is if you stay or just go for the day- take snacks, food and drinks with you. If you have a gluten allergy, this is even more important when it comes to breakfast. AND stay away from La Mère Pollard- you can’t miss it when you first enter through the gates.

It was now afer 9am, and we had plenty of time to take the shuttle, and find our way to our bus to Rennes. But again, the tide was out at sea, with no sign of it coming in. I was disappointed to not have seen this transition, as it was incredible to watch in Saint Malo. Oh well- You Tube will have to suffice…

Off to Rennes, and our driving adventures in the Loire!

Saint Malo in 2 Nights

(Please check back to see new pictures for this post- having technical issues in France, so will update when I get home)

So our trip was planned- where to go, flights, hotels, car rental, train tickets all booked.  Next research. Or not.  

I love Rick Steves guide books, but when you are going to several places it is overwhelming the amount of work- time and patience it takes to make everything come together. Then there can be information overload on learning the history, what to do, etc about each place. I don’t know about you, but as I have gotten older I retain less information, so what I started reading months ago, was lost in my memory bank when I had time for a quick refresher the week before our trip- AND with limited vision. So, all that said, in advance of our arrival in Saint Malo, I knew that  they were famous for Gallettes- buckwheat crepes, and mussles, and had a beach. Was good enough for us!

On arrival via train, we took a taxi to our hotel, and boy am I glad that we did. Aside from it being quoted as a 30 minute walk, it actually could have taken us hours to find it in addition to the far walk from the bus station to the Old City, where our Hotel was located.  The old city is like a maze, and it was confusing us just riding in the taxi, let alone us dragging our luggage behind us on the cobblestone streets.

We were extremely pleased with the location of our hotel- Hotel St. Pierre as it was only steps from a popular beach because of the interestingly designed and executed Ocean Pool that even has a diving board. And also the wall that you can walk on around the perimeter of the city was also steps away.

I was also pleasantly surprised with the shopping close by, and picked up a few treasures for myself, and my boys. Kalyna spent her own money on some Berkinstocks that you can not get in Canada, so she was as happy as a pig in mud!

BUT, one of the best parts of staying in the walled city of Saint Malo is that there is  a crepe shop- literally on EVERY corner, that also sells Gallettes! I was in gluten free heaven!!! Also the rest of the food was reasonably priced in most restaurants (make sure to check the menu before entering a restaurant), and the Mussles were one of the cheapest items on the menu and some of the best I have EVER tasted!!! If you aren’t a mussle fan (I still suggest you open your mind and try them just one more time here), there is also a great variety of other food, including fresh seafood, which is what I love the most, so that is what I was always looking for.

An interesting fact to learn was about the Canadian heritage and history with this city. Jacques Cartier, who was credited as &discovering& Canada, lived and sailed out of Saint Malo. There is a statue of Jacques, a small Quebec museum and also the Quebec flags are flown in tribute to Quebec being the twin city.

Unfortunately when we arrived it was cloudy and cool outside and was spitting off and on.  A unique part of this area is its tides. They are some of the largest in Europe, and when I looked online for what the high and low tides were over the 2 days we were there, it was a difference of 27ft from high to low tide! That is huge in numbers, but our pictures and video of when the tide was out, and we were able to walk to another island, or of how big the beach was is incredible to compare to when the tide was high, and there was a very small beach, and in other places no beach at all, the ocean pool had disappeared and you could only see the very top of the high diving board that is on top of the wall that forms the pool.

You can only see the top of the diving board!

You can walk on the sea floor at low tide

The sea floor is coverd and the beach is small

At low tide we walked out to the 2 islands

The bay empties at low tide

I would absolutely recommend going to Saint Malo again, as there is a lot to do in this area for all types of people, but be prepared for cooler weather!