Our next stop was Château de Chenonceau. On our way to Cheverny, we realized we’d only have one stop after it, so I did some research on the fly, and we came to the conclusion that Château de Chenonceau would be our best bet because it was open latest and was facing the correct direction for sunset photos, should the sky light up. These might seem like silly reasons to choose it, but both factors were important to us.
On the way to Château de Chenonceau, we saw some hot air balloons firing up alongside the road. I had half-joked with Sarah that we should take a hot air balloon flight over one of these castles to re-create another Impressions de France moment. At that time, I knew it was possible, but didn’t realize just how much of a “thing” hot air balloon flights are in France (if you want to fly over something in a hot air balloon, there’s an outfit in France that does it!).
Well, it turned out that those hot air balloons were gearing up for flights over Château de Chenonceau. This turned into the second ‘magical moment’ of the trip, following seeing high tide at Mont Saint Michel. While in the gardens taking photos, we saw hot air balloons slowly rising from behind Château de Chenonceau. Words don’t do justice to how incredible this was to witness, but it was truly a sight to behold.
I think part of this is because seeing the hot air balloons rising above Château de Chaumont in Impressions de France has a particular resonance for me. If you don’t recall, during this scene, the narrator quotes French poet , saying “dreaming of faraway places yet unseen, we say in the words of our great poet Baudelaire…’leave for the sake of leaving and without knowing why, they always say we must go.'”
I have always liked this quote for its spirit of wanderlust, but a couple of years ago, it gained heightened significance. It was watching Impressions de France in August 2014, as I grappled with the idea of risking everything and moving to California–a place we loved (see above characterization of it as a “country”)–or playing it safe and maintaining the status quo with life in Indiana. It would be overwrought to say that my mind was made by listening to that quote, but it did play a part.
After watching the film, I Googled Baudelaire. I found the entire poem (The Voyage), and read his further works. Then I read up on Baudelaire, himself. It turned out that he graduated with a law degree, but wasn’t particularly keen on practicing. He traveled extensively and began to write about his adventures as a vagabond.
His words spoke to me and his personal journey held some parallels (although he also contracted numerous STDs and was a free-spender, so there weren’t that many parallels). Ultimately, he helped provide some of the push to head west.
Standing there witnessing this fantastical, real-life mash-up of two scenes from Impressions de France was a surreal moment that felt like things coming full-circle.
It’s difficult to attain validation on such a life-changing decision (and I’ve never had any regrets), but to the extent that it is possible, I felt it at that moment.
Above is a video Sarah took of the balloons…
The photos and video of the scene are pretty, but I don’t think they can conceivably do justice to how I felt seeing this in person. For me, this was pure magic.
As the balloons drifted away, we were approaching closing time for the interior, so we all went inside. I quickly passed through the rooms as our time was limited and I was more concerned with sunset outside.
On the plus side, the interior was almost entirely devoid of other visitors, making it the perfect opportunity for photos.
From this perspective, I think you can see the influence on Cinderella Castle, which was inspired by several castles in Europe (including Chambord, but I didn’t really spot any similarities there).
The well out front also reminds me of the Wishing Well on the side of Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World.
If you’re into photography, I’d highly recommend our strategy of doing Château de Chenonceau near closing time. That’s one thing we definitely got right on this spontaneous trip.
After the interior of Château de Chenonceau closed, we were allowed to linger around in the gardens outside, and were able to stay until sunset. (It’s not just Disney parks we “close down” at the end of the night!)
Even though our time inside was limited, our visit to Château de Chenonceau was one of the most satisfying experiences of the trip. In a relatively short window of time, I took a ton of photos, some of which (beyond those in this post) I will be sharing tomorrow in my Château de Chenonceau Photos & Tips post on TravelCaffeine, so stay tuned for that!
In terms of ultimate takeaways, the main one would be: wow, what a region! It’s like French royalty got in a pissing match with one another to see who could have the grandest, most antler-ific castle, with France’s tourists being the real winners in their game of chateau one-upmanship.
Just looking over a list of Loire Valley highlights is pretty astounding. For all the beautiful sights we have, the United States doesn’t have the number of significant historical residences in the entire country that France has in one small region.
France’s beauty and diversity is highlighted in Impressions de France, but part of me always wondered if this was over-emphasized for the Epcot film. To the contrary, the country presents even better in person than it does on the film. Even after past visits to Paris, I still had thought California was the most beautiful country on earth. This trip has me thinking France gives California a good run for its money, especially given that we didn’t make it to Cannes, the French Alps, and numerous other places.
The second takeaway would be that the Loire Valley is not day trip material. You should stay here overnight, and perhaps for 2-3 days. At the end of our day, rather than retiring to a bed & breakfast in the area, we drove to Val d’Europe, where we’d be staying for the next several days while visiting Disneyland Paris.
…and that’s where we’ll pick up in Part 5.
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Have you visited the Loire Valley? Any favorite chateaux? Is the Loire Valley a place you want to visit? Do you wish more historical sites contained toys in their displays? Wish you could take a balloon tour over literally anywhere? Thoughts on our Impressions de France tour? We’d love hearing some feedback on the report thus far, so please share any other thoughts or questions you have, in the comments!