In the U.S., when you exit a big city and reach the countryside you are usually welcomed by large grassy fields with cows and quaint farmhouses. In the french countryside, known as the Loire Valley, you are welcomed by the same grassy fields, but with a special twist: castles. Just a 2 hour drive from Paris is Château de Chambord.
Before this trip, the only castle I had ever seen was Cinderella’s Castle in Magic Kingdom, but nothing could compare to the french renaissance architecture that radiated from the Château de Chambord. The rich white stone and towers fit for a princess could make any visitor feel like royalty. Although it was much less extravagant in its decor than Versaille, its tall ceilings and romantic panoramic views of the countryside were breathtaking. The gardens were so perfect that the grass patterns mimicked an elaborate tapestry, and made a wonderful location for our picnic lunch.
Just a short drive away from the castle was the town of Blois– A cute historic town along the Loire River–where we stayed for the night. Its cobblestone roads and small stores made you feel like you had been transported to the set of Beauty and the Beast. There was also a strong sense of Gothic architecture throughout the city, with a set of Mona Lisa steps to compliment. My favorite part about visiting this city was being able to speak French without being spoken to in English in return. Often times in Paris, as soon as the natives detect your accent, they switch to English and make you feel a little embarrassed to have blown your cover as a local.
The following day we visited the city of Amboise, another picturesque cobblestone town and home to Château du Clos Lucé which was Leonardo Da Vinci’s home. His home has been turned into a museum dedicated to his work, and if you wander into the gardens, you can even find replicas of his inventions like his version of the modern helicopter. But my favorite feature of Amboise was the open-air farmer’s market along the river. At the market, you can find anything from live chickens to handmade espadrilles to fresh-cut flowers.
Our trip ended with a boat ride on the Loire River, in a replica of the boats that used to sail there. It was surreal to sit on the boat and look at the castle that just casually sat on the river bank. Loire Valley is definitely out of the fairy tale books and a wonderful weekend trip from Paris.