5:30 AM, Sunday, in Paris.
“Swathi, wake up, it’s time for the countryside tour,” my mother yelled. I was in no mood to wake up but my mother insisted. “You selected this tour, now get up young lady!” Half sleepy I pulled myself out of my warm bed and decided to check what France has in its countryside. I got ready in a hurry, had a quick bite and we set off in a mini van with our guide Philippe and a couple of people from Brazil. I kept thinking: “What am I doing on the road, on a Sunday morning in Paris?
The agenda for the trip was to visit 3 Chateaus (mini castles as I would like to say) in the Loire Valley, in southern France. We reached our first stop, a small sleepy village named Amboise. Flowing beside this village is a river named Lalua. Believe me, when I saw the place, I knew exactly what my day was going to be like.
This place was straight out of a fairy tale! Narrow cobbled stone pathways, charming road side cafes, boutique hotels, and the lovely Chateau Amboise up on a small hill overlooking this village. Now when I say village, trust me it’s not under-developed by any means. We were taken to a small patisserie (bakery in France) where we helped ourselves to some hot coffee and yummy pastries that just melted in our mouths. What a divine start to a memorable trip which lay ahead. This chateau is one among the 3000 odd in all of France, and it is one of the 64 that is open for public viewing. A spacious grand home surrounded by lush green gardens. As I stood in one of the rooms of the chateau, I could imagine myself back in the olden days, living in this splendor.
After the first visit, I was eager to see the next chateau. Our guide, Philippe, kept up an excellent narrative throughout the trip filling us on details of these places. Chateau Chenonceau, the next one, even bigger and grander than Amboise. I was spellbound by it’s architecture and even more delighted to stroll through it’s well manicured gardens. I swear, I could actually imagine myself wearing a grand gown and walking through these gardens. I fit right into the scene! We even got a peek into the kitchen of this chateau with all the original utensils still intact.
The last stop, Chateau Chambord. It has just 400 rooms! Marvelous architecture, and the best part is, it’s so well maintained even today. Each of these places have their own history, and the people there are still keeping it alive through tourism.
As I reflected upon my day, I felt this is the best Sunday ever! As we drove back to Paris, all I could think of is the beauty of the French countryside and it’s chateaus.