Chateaux In The Valley Of The Loire
( Originally Published Early 1900's )
In the beautiful month of October I made a foot excursion along the banks of the Loire, from Orleans to Tours. This luxuriant region is justly called the garden of France. From Orleans to Blois, the whole valley of the Loire is one continued vineyard. The bright green foliage of the vine spreads, like the undulations of the sea, over the landscape, with here and there a silver flash of the river, a sequestered hamlet, or the towers of an old chateau, to enliven and variegate the scene.
The vintage had already commenced. The peasantry were busy in the fields—the song that cheered their labor was on the breeze, and the heavy wagon tottered by, laden with the clusters of the vine. Everything around me wore that happy look which makes the heart glad. In the morning I arose with the lark; and at night I slept where the sunset overtook me. . My first day's journey brought me at evening to a village, whose name I have forgotten, situated about eight leagues from Orleans. It is a small, obscure ham-let, not mentioned in the guide-book, and stands upon the precipitous banks of a deep ravine, through which a noisy brook leaps to turn the ponderous wheel of a thatch-roofed mill. The village inn stands upon the highway; but the village itself is not visible to the traveler as he passes. It is completely hidden in the lap of a wooded valley, and so embowered in trees that not a roof nor a chimney peeps out to betray its hiding-place.
When I awoke in the morning, a brilliant autumnal sun was shining in at my window. The merry song of birds mingled sweetly with the sound of rustling leaves and the gurgle of the brook. The vintagers were going forth to their toil; the wine-press was busy in the shade, and the clatter of the mill kept time to the miller's song. I loitered about the village with a feeling of calm delight. I was unwilling to leave the seclusion of this sequestered hamlet; but at length, with reluctant step, I took the crossroad through the vineyard, and in a moment the little village had sunk again, as if by enchantment, into the bosom of the earth.
I breakfasted at the town of Mer; and, leaving the high-road to Blois on the right, passed down to the banks of the Loire, through a long, broad avenue of poplars and sycamores. I crossed the river in a boat, and in the after part of the day I found myself before the high and massive walls of the chateau of Chambord. This chateau is one of the finest specimens of the ancient Gothic castle to be found in Europe. The little river Cosson fills its deep and ample moat, and above it the huge towers and heavy battlements rise in stern and solemn grandeur, moss-grown with age, and blackened by the storms of three centuries. Within, all is mournful and deserted. The grass has overgrown the pavement of the courtyard, and the rude sculpture upon the walls is broken and defaced.
My third day's journey brought me to the ancient city of Blois, the chief town of the department of Loire-et-Cher. This city is celebrated for the purity with which even the lower classes of its inhabitants speak their native tongue. It rises precipitously from the northern bank of the Loire; and many of its streets are so steep as to be almost impassable for carriages. On the brow of the hill, overlooking the roofs of the city, and commanding a fine view of the Loire and its noble bridge, and the surrounding country, sprinkled with cottages and chateaux, runs an ample terrace, planted with trees, and laid out as a public walk. The view from this terrace is one of the most beautiful in France. But what most strikes the 'eye of the traveler at Blois is an old, tho still unfinished, castle. Its huge parapets of hewn stone stand upon either side of the street; but they have walled up the wide gateway, from which the colossal drawbridge was to have sprung high in air, connecting together the main towers of the building, and the two hills upon whose slope its foundations stand. The aspect of this vast pile is gloomy and desolate. It seems as if the strong hand of the builder had been arrested in the midst of his task by the stronger hand of death; and the unfinished fabric stands a lasting monument both of the power and weakness of man—of his vast desires, his sanguine hopes, his ambitious purposes—and of the unlooked-for conclusion, where all these desires, and hopes, and purposes are so often arrested. There is also at Blois another ancient chateau, to which some historic interest is attached as being the scene of the massacre of the Duke of Guise.
On the following day, I left Blois for Amboise; and, after walking several leagues along the dusty highway, crossed the river in a boat to the little village of Moines, which lies amid luxuriant vine-yards upon the southern bank of the Loire. From Moines to Amboise the road is truly delightful. The rich lowland scenery, by the margin of the river, is verdant even in October; and occasionally the landscape is diversified with the picturesque cottages of the vintagers, cut in the rock along the roadside, and overhung by the thick foliage of the vines above them.
At Amboise I took a cross-road, which led me to the romantic borders of the Cher and the chateau of Chenonceau. This beautiful chateau, as well as that of Chambord, was built by the gay and munificent Francis the First. One is a specimen of strong and massive architecture—a dwelling for a warrior; but the other is of a lighter and more graceful construction, and was designed for those soft languishments of passion with which the fascinating Diane de Poitiers had filled the bosom of that voluptuous monarch:
The chateau of Chenonceau is built upon arches across the river Cher, whose waters are made to supply the deep moat at each extremity. There is a spacious courtyard in front, from which a drawbridge conducts to the outer hall of the castle. There the armor of Francis the First still hangs upon the wall—his shield, and helm, and lance—as if the chivalrous but dissolute prince had just exchanged them for the silken robes of the drawing-room Doubtless the naked walls and the vast solitary chambers of an old and desolate chateau inspire a feeling of greater solemnity and awe; but when the antique furniture of the olden time remains—the faded tapestry on the walls, and the arm-chair by the fire-side—the effect upon the mind is more magical and delightful. The old inhabitants of the place, long gathered to their fathers, tho living still in history, seem to have left their halls for the chase or the tournament; and as the heavy door swings upon its reluctant hinge, one almost expects to see the gallant princes and courtly dames enter those halls again, and sweep in stately procession along the silent corridors... .
A short time after candle-lighting, I reached the little tavern of the Boule d'Or, a few leagues from Tours, where I passed the night. The following morning was lowering and sad. A veil of mist hung over the landscape, and ever and anon a heavy shower burst from the overburdened clouds, that were driving by before a high and piercing wind. This unpropitious state of the weather detained me until noon, when a cabriolet for Tours drove up, and taking a seat within it, I left the hostess of the Boule d'Or in the middle of a long story about a rich countess, who always alighted there when she passed that way. We drove leisurely along through a beautiful country, till at length we came to the brow of a steep hill, which commands a fine view of the city of Tours and its delightful environs. But the scene was shrouded by the heavy drifting mist, through which I could trace but indistinctly the graceful sweep of the hire, and the spires and roofs of the city far below me.
The city of Tours and the delicious plain in which it lies have been too often described by other travelers to render a new description, from so listless a pen as mine, either necessary or desirable. After a sojourn of two cloudy and melancholy days, I set out on my return to Paris, by the way of Vendome and Chartres. I stopt a few hours at the former place, to examine the ruins of a chateau built by Jeanne d'Albret, mother of Henry the Fourth. It stands upon the summit of a high and precipitous hill, and almost overhangs the town beneath. The French Revolution has completed the ruin that time had already be-gun; and nothing now remains, but a broken and crumbling bastion, and here and there a solitary tower dropping slowly to decay. In one of these is the grave of Jeanne d'Albret. A marble entablature in the wall above contains the inscription, which is nearly effaced, tho enough still remains to tell the curious traveler that there lies buried .the mother of the "Bon Henri." To this is added a prayer that the repose of the dead may be respected.
Here ended my foot excursion. The object of my journey was accomplished; and, delighted with this short ramble through the valley of the Loire, I took my seat in the diligence for Paris, and on the following day was again swallowed up in the crowds of the metropolis, like a drop in the bosom of the sea.