O is for Orleans

Chambord
Chambord

My memories of Orleans are rather a blur. We had flown into Paris that morning. Even travelling business class, courtesy of my frequent flyer miles from all my business trips the preceding year, didn’t help us avoid jetlag that first day in France after the marathon 30 hour trip from our home in Wellington. Flights from Asia and the South Pacific tend to arrive in European cities at ridiculous hours of the morning, and so we landed at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport at 6 am on a Sunday morning in May. We had arranged a Renault lease car, and we were driving out of Paris by 8 am, arriving in Versailles before the Palais even opened.

But Orleans was to be our destination for that evening, so we drove out of Paris , and headed south, trying to remember to stay on the right hand side of the road. Just before 1 pm we stopped at a small village for lunch. But this was France, and it was Sunday, and even the bakery closed just as we arrived. The sports bar across the square appeared full, and there was a small pizza place. We went into the pizza place, laughing at the ridiculousness of having pizza for our first meal in France. A young couple ran the establishment, and asked me if we would like our pizza to “emporter.” No, we shook our heads. We were keen to sit in another environment to relax before getting back in the car, and also to use their facilities. The couple looked at each other awkwardly. We close at 1 pm they said. “OK, emporter,” I smiled, and shrugged, Gallicly, I hoped. So we sat on a bench, under a tree, by the car park, and ate our pizza At precisely 1 pm, the sports bar emptied. Men of all ages spilled out into the square. There were no women. They were obviously at home cooking dinner. As the menfolk of the village walked past us, they waved and smiled, and called “bon appétit!”

We made it to Orleans a few hours later, and found a small hotel on the banks of the Loire river. We crashed for a few hours in our room, our body clocks screaming at us that it was the middle of the night and we should be fast asleep. They screamed louder when my alarm went around 5 or 6 pm, and we forced ourselves awake.

A small riverside hotel on the banks of the Loire River in Orleans
A small riverside hotel on the banks of the Loire River in Orleans

The key to beating jetlag is (apparently) to eat at the appropriate time in your new destination, and to get some sun and air. So it was time for a walk, then dinner. Alongside the river was a footpath, being used by joggers and cyclists, adults walking with children and dogs. We took a stroll, albeit still feeling groggy, and enjoyed the bright green spring growth on the trees lining the very gentle, languid river making its way through the town. However, the combination of jet lag and swarms of bugs drove us off, and we grabbed a quick snack before collapsing in bed. The next day our French holiday (and 5 weeks of French cuisine) would truly begin. We woke refreshed, and began the day, and the next month, in style with cafe au lait, jus d’orange, and fresh croissants and pain au chocolat, before setting off to explore.

The Chateau in Blois, the capital of the region.
The Chateau in Blois, the capital of the region.

This is when you realise that O = Orleans was cheating, ever so slightly. We didn’t explore Orleans, instead succumbing to the temptations of the Loire Valley to the southwest, starting at the capital of the region, Blois.

I could go through the details of the different chateaux, giving you information on the Kings of France and the thousands in their entourages who visited them, astonish you with the fact that the Chateau de Chambord has 440 rooms, 330 fireplaces and 84 staircases and that Louis XIV added a 1,200 horse stable,

The spectacular Chambord Chateau
The spectacular Chambord Chateau

or that the Chateau de Chenonceau and its beautiful gardens was seized from Henry II’s mistress Diane de Poitiers by her dead lover’s jealous mother, Catherine de Medici.

Chenonceau
Chenonceau

I could list all the chateaux in the valley, naming my favourites, and give you instructions of when to go there, and where to stay when you go. But I won’t. Instead I encourage you to imagine a warm spring day spent exploring these amazing buildings and grand gardens, relaxing under a tree with a baguette for lunch, where Kings and Queens and their Courts and courtesans conducted affairs of state, intrigue, gossip and scandal. And I want to elicit your promise to go there one day if you get the chance.

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8 thoughts on “O is for Orleans

  1. Oh, to have a month to be ANYWHERE and relaxing. I was in the Loire Valley once, when I was 16, on a school trip. Obviously beautiful, obviously a different experience than the one I could have now.

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  2. You’re killing me: oh, to be having a café au lait and chocolate croissant on the banks of the Loire right now…

    Is that you in black?

    I admire anyone who chooses to drive on a side of the road he/she is not used to driving on. Especially if the car has a stick shift.

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  3. You’ve been so many wonderful places Mali! And you are still going to them. Wonderful.

    I’m secretly excited about my son going off to college in less than 2 years. Then I might get to accompany my husband on his business trips. This January he’s going back to South Africa.

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    1. Dona, you should go to South Africa in January. I’m sure your son could kip on the floor of a friend’s bedroom, while you commune with lions and leopards and warthogs.

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  4. IB: I have to confess we actually had five weeks in France, and it was FABULOUS.
    Helen: Oui, c’est moi.

    And the car did indeed have a stick shift (which was not necessarily a problem as we both learned to drive on stick shifts) – but had that awful French transmission. We’d be hurtling along, and my husband would try to change into 5th gear, and the gear stick would stick, the car would screech, and we’d think the thing was about to explode!

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  5. the Loire … sigh. never been there. every time i think i’m going i find myself back in Provence and along the Cote d’Azur, which i do so dearly love …

    but the photos make me think next time, i should make a point to stay …

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  6. Hey, I’ve been to Blois:my best friend was teaching English at a primary school nearby; I saw ‘Splash’ dubbed into French at the cinema there when I went to visit her on a doomed errand of love…ah les memoires……. there’s even a photo of me on the bridge looking faux French in a Lenin hat…..I didn’t go to no chateaux though.

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