With open windows letting in soft breezes, sleep was sound and morning came quietly. We met in the breakfast room……a large tile-floored room replete with wooden farm tables…..each laden with jars and jars of homemade jams. Baskets of croissants, breads and toasts were quickly brought to our table and we were directed to a sideboard filled with yogurts, fresh fruits, goat cheese, local honeys and walnuts…..delicious!
After breakfast, we drove the back roads to the Château de Chenonceau…..a “feminine” chateau who’s design was strongly influenced by three women who called it home……. Katherine Briçonnet (wife of its third owner, Thomas Bohier), Diane de Poitiers (mistress of Henry II) and Catherine de Medici (wife of Henry II).
Smaller and more intimate than Chambord, its decorated rooms were warm and inviting.
During Diane de Poitiers time, a bridge over the River Cher was added. Catherine de Medici enclosed the bridge and its long hallway became a festive ballroom. During WWI, the bridge was used as a hospital. In WWII, it marked the boundary of Nazi-occupied France and was the site of prisoner exchanges.
and a smaller, more intimate garden for Catherine de Medici.
After a quick picnic lunch on the grounds, we drove back to Chinon through Amboise…..a drive that took longer than expected. When we finally arrived in Chinon, we had enough time to either tour their fortress or taste their local wine.
We walked through a chilly cavern filled with wine barrels and crates of unlabeled wine bottles (due to the moisture in the cave, the bottles aren’t labelled until they’re ready to be shipped). Chinon is known for red wine so that’s what we tasted…..cabernet franc grown in sandy soil, cabernet franc grown in clay soil, cabernet franc grown on the left bank of the river, cabernet franc grown on the right back of the river…..all very different…..all very good.
Too late to tour the fortress and too early for dinner, we returned to the hotel and shared a bottle of Chinon red. A Rick Steves tour group had just arrived and the hotel staff was preoccupied with getting them checked in. We chatted with two people from Michigan (neighbors and travel companions) and discussed dining options. We had all decided on Restaurant L’Océanic (a local seafood restaurant) until a young woman at the reception desk told us that the tour group would be dining there tonight. That’s a large crowd for most French restaurants and we didn’t want to take the chance that either service or quality would suffer……instead, she booked tables for us at Hotel-Restaurant de Treille…..noted for having regional dishes at good prices.
The restaurant was a short walk away on the Place de Jeanne d’Arc…..it was in Chinon that Joan of Arc met King Charles and convinced him that God had sent her to help defeat the English. A bronze statue portraying Jeanne in battle stands in the square…..we were amazed at the motion….and emotion…..it evoked.
We found the restaurant and were soon seated in their outdoor terrasse next to the Michigonians. We each ordered three course menus. Craig and I started with a salad. Since Bev is allergic to tomatoes, her starter was upgraded to foie gras! For our entrees, Bev had fish in an orange sauce, Craig opted for lamb and I had steak….one of the more tender cuts I’ve had in France. The dishes….simply prepared…..were delicious.
While my menu came with a mélange of four desserts, Craig and Bev had to choose among three listed choices. Our Michigonian friends (who had arrived earlier and were one course ahead of us) told us that the Tarte Tatin was just so-so but the Crème Brûlée was delicious. Based on their review, Craig ordered the chocolate tarte but Bev, who had been dreaming about crème brûlée for weeks (and had been disappointed that it wasn’t on last night’s menu) quickly asked for her heart’s desire…..only to be let down when she was told the last one went to the table behind us. The Michigonians had prevailed. Bev, dejectedly, chose another dessert.
But all was not lost……my plate of four mini-desserts included a small crème brûlée. I picked it up and was handing it to Bev when our waitress motioned “no”……she hurried back to the kitchen and returned with another one….just for Bev.
We each took a careful spoonful of the creamy custard……sublime! It’s the crème brûlée that all others must now compare to. It’s flavor was mild….not cloyingly sweet like vanilla often is. We told our server how much we enjoyed it and she returned with a book of herbal plants, whose well-worn binding showed years of loving use. She opened the book and flipped through the yellowed pages until she found a page showing an herb with graceful leaves and delicate white flowers…..she proudly let us know that she was both the gardener and the cook of this most delicious of desserts.
Craig was happy, Bev was happy and I was even happier because I had three more desserts to taste…..a bite-size scoop of vanilla ice cream, a small coconut tart and a shot-glass filled with strawberry soup! Each one better than the last…..with the strawberry soup vying with the crème brûlée as the night’s winner.
“It’s the finale. It’s the last impression. A bad dessert can ruin the meal.”……Anne McManus