I think this location has been my favorite in all of France so far, even including Paris. We rented an upper level of a farmhouse, out in the country of the Loire Valley. Our train landed in Tours, but we rented a car as we had a bit of a drive to get to Azay le Rideau. The rental car company gave our car away and we ended up with something much smaller, we got lost several times and the boys were not impressed with the length of the drive or the squishy ride they had to endure. After two hours, we made it! And it was worth the drive! The house was once used as a barn for a neighboring chateau and they also made wine in it. It is now owned by a young couple who are getting married this summer and they have converted it into a two level residence and vacation rental by owner property.
French countryside is beautiful; filled with apple orchards, vineyards and some of it much like Alberta with dairy farms, crops of corn, wheat and barley and then the old, sometimes crumbling stone houses, barns and out buildings. Everything is old and quaint and every property is prettier than the last. Window sills are filled with bright cheery flowers and the wooden shutters are wide open to let the fresh air in.
While we were in the Loire Valley, we visited a site where peasant farms were discovered. During the Middle Ages and up until the last century, the peasants dug dwellings out of the caves to live in and then during the summer they farmed for the chateau lord and in the winter months, mined the white tufa stone used to build over 200 chateaus, 700 cathedrals and other buildings in the Loire Valley. We saw a typical peasant troglodyte or cave house where around 8 people lived next to the cow shed to help keep the cave house warm. We saw the stone oven they used to make bread, saw the old well that they dug out of the stone and explored the secret tunnels they excavated to hide during robberies, attacks and times of war. We wandered around for hours and we all enjoyed every single minute; with the boys asking a thousand questions.
Then we got to see how the other side lived when we visited a chateau. This place was opulent and grand and some of it was designed and built just to show off vast wealth and give the owner bragging rights. We went to Chateau Langeais, just outside of Tours and explored the lifestyle of the rich and noble. The boys instantly saw the disparity of the caves to the chateau so it sparked an interesting debate on who had a “better” life, or a more content life and which one would they choose. We packed a picnic lunch, walked the grounds and then escaped the rain and wandered around inside to look at the rooms, the furniture and the purpose of everything back then.
Another day we visited a chateau in Usse, which inspired author Perrault to write Sleeping Beauty. The chateau owners have staged out different scenes from the famous story, so we climbed the tower where Maleficent has her secret potions room and saw the three fairies shower baby Aurora with special gifts. It was fun for the boys to see it set up like that and to imagine the story happening in that location.
We had a few quiet days at home as well. The place had a pool which was a little chilly, but we enjoyed it anyways after some coaxing and we played some board games that we had packed and even did some puzzles that were included in the house.
One our last day in the Tours area, we drove to another cave site where the peasants excavated the tufa stone in quarry mines. These underground quarries were used for the white stone, as mushroom beds and as a winery as the temperature, humidity and location were prime for these endeavors. We followed a marked path and explored for about two hours, or until our noses were cold and we had seen everything.