Yup, we went to Saint Georges. From Rome we wanted to go up to the Loire Valley to meet Mark’s sister Jeanne and her family, taking a summer vacation stopping in a few places around France. The way the schedule worked we were going to have a few days on our own before meeting them in Amboise. We were making reservations pretty late, when most nice places were full, so we used the TripAdvisor map function and just poked around in the area till we found something we liked. When I saw a great old château in Saint-Georges-sur-Loire it seemed like a no-brainer. So we flew to Paris (on a Spanish airline called Vueling that had absolutely the least leg room ever seen on a plane until we relocated to exit row seats just before takeoff), rented a car, and headed south.
As an aside we’re amazed by modern cars, where you don’t have to insert a key, where you pair your iPhone and then it just plays your music, where the side mirrors automatically tuck in when you lock the doors, and where they have built-in navigation systems that the rental company asks if you want to pay for and when you decline … it’s just there anyway. Of course, when I realize we haven’t bought a car since 1995 – over 20 years! – I guess it shouldn’t be too surprising that they’ve gotten fancier.
Oh yeah, and there was the lunch break we had on the highway down toward the Loire. The best food you’ve ever had at a rest area. And wine! I was driving and resisted the temptation but from the looks of things a lot of other drivers thought it was pretty normal to enjoy a little wine with lunch. It’s been a long time since we drove on a U.S. Interstate but I have this sneaking suspicion they don’t serve beer and wine at the rest areas.
Once we got to Saint-Georges-sur-Loire we stayed at Château L’Épinay, a beautiful old property dating primarily from the 16th and 18th centuries out on a tiny road a few miles from the small town. It had a lot of land, with a tennis court, swimming pool, rose garden, restaurant, spa and workout room, pond, horses, bikes … you name it. We were way out in the country and it was beautiful.
Of course, way out also means kind of isolated; getting anywhere for meals meant getting in the car and driving, something we hate doing. So we had dinner the first two nights on site, only to realize that the third night was Sunday when pretty much everything else within 20 miles was closed. So we had dinner the third night, too; by now the menu (with the same “specials” from the first two nights) was getting a little old.
What else? At various times we were walking, running, and biking around the area and one of the odd things we observed was that there was a lot more corn and hay around than vineyards. I think of the Loire Valley as home to great wine and while I know you can’t live by wine alone (you need rum and vodka, too…) I was just surprised to see the fields full of corn instead.
And then at one point I was on a nice walk out along tiny roads – all paved, of course; no matter how small they are it seems that all French lanes are paved – and came to a quiet, remote pond. Lily pads and all that. And while I sat there to read for a while it occurred to me “Hey, there are no mosquitoes here.” I never could figure it out; if there was anywhere mosquitoes should flourish it would be at that still body of water in August, but none at all. And this was far enough out in the country it couldn’t be the result of spraying. One way or another, though, no mosquitoes. Another reason to love the Loire.
Entertainment – besides sitting by the pool or going for walks along the country lanes – consisted of touring the big old Château de Brissac, where the 14th Duke of Brissac still lives with his wife and four kids. The château – once the tallest in all of France and still the tallest in the Loire – has quite a history, having been fought over during the French religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries. When King Louis XII and his mother, Marie de Medici (widow of King Henry IV, the former Henry of Navarre who converted to Catholicism with the quip that Paris was worth a mass) fought over her role in the realm, they met right here in what was considered neutral territory. They patched things up, but only for a brief period; soon enough Louis tired of his mother’s meddling and banished her.
And then we’d go into the nearest larger city, Angers, where the people didn’t seem that mad at all. Angers, it turns out, is the capital of Anjou from where the Dukes of Anjou ruled. The Angevins played a central role in English history starting from when Henry II – Count of Anjou, great-grandson of William the Conqueror, and husband of Eleanor of Aquitaine, perhaps the most illustrious of all medieval women – ascended to the throne of England in 1154. He thereby established the House of Plantagenets who were to rule England until 1485.
And thus ends our first stop in the Loire. Until we got here we’d been considering a long-distance bike trip in 2017 along the Loire. But after a day ride from our château that just wasn’t that pretty, we kind of decided that wasn’t likely to happen. So no big bike trip next year, but we do have a few more days in the Loire when we move west to Amboise.