“Impressions de Bricker” France Report – Part 5
We pick up this installment of our Impressions de Bricker France Report after Part 4, our long day in Paris. We had called a last-minute audible and decided to do the Loire Valley rather than another day in Paris, a decision that was motivated 100% by Impressions de France. Does that seem crazy? (Note: for some reason, the photos in this post are not loading via mobile…)
When it comes to Disney fandom, one thing you can be certain of is that no matter how obsessive or crazy something may seem, you are not alone. Want to read about the programming of Country Bear Jamboree? Someone already wrote the book. Collect vintage drink holders from Tokyo Disneyland? You’re in good company. Dress as a person from EPCOT Center concept art for Halloween? You’ll be recognized. Outsiders may think this weird, but I find it to be awesome. Alas, we are not the first ones to attempt visiting every location from Impressions de France. I learned this during the trip, and in no way was it a letdown. After all, we weren’t doing it in order to loudly proclaim “FIRST!”
I mention this because our trip originally did not include Loire Valley. This was not going to be a day-trip until in the car as we drove from Normandy. The incredible sense of satisfaction we had from our first couple of days, plus the realization that we may not have a car next time we visit France, prompted us to research other nearby Impressions de France locations. That led me to this map, which showed a cluster of castles not too far from us in the Loire Valley. I have no idea who created it, but a huge thank you to them; their map led directly to our best day of the trip.
While our spontaneity proved beneficial, it was also detrimental. Going in, the only thing we had was a strategy for hitting the 5 castles (ChÃ¢teau de Chambord, ChÃ¢teau de Cheverny, ChÃ¢teau de Chenonceau, ChÃ¢teau de Montpoupon, and ChÃ¢teau de Chaumont) arranged by a combination of Google Maps efficiency and hours of operation. Beyond knowledge of the Impressions de France visuals, we had done zero research into what each had to offer.
If you ever plan on recreating this itinerary, hopefully you can learn from our mistakes (which I’ll cover as we go) and iterate on what we did…
The instant we arrived at ChÃ¢teau de Chambord, we knew we had made the right call heading to Loire Valley. Even though the front was under refurbishment, the building and its grounds were beautiful, just like in Impressions de France. (No CGI enhancements here!)
I would describe this chÃ¢teau as regal–it is the largest in Loire Valley and features a stunning mix of Renaissance and medieval architecture–but it was built as a hunting lodge. Look at that glorious building. A hunting lodge.
Notwithstanding its intent of being a place where bloody pheasant carcasses were dragged up a grand spiral staircase (I envision this as being every bit as farcical as depicted by The Rules of the Game), this chÃ¢teau is lavish.
One thing I really appreciated about Chambord was the mix of visual artifacts with engaging displays (in English) about the significance of said items, rooms, and just general history of France and its royalty.
My knowledge of French Revolutionary history doesn’t extend much beyond high school. In a small Midwestern town, the depth of coverage at my school was essentially, “oh yeah, France had a revolution, too. Napoleon was there.”
I was rapt by the various displays, and Chambord has definitely motivated me to learn more about European history.
Additionally, Chambord had a glorious hall of antlers (a motif of the day), and you can’t go wrong with that.
Mark took our photo out front (back?) to serve as proof that Sarah and I visited ChÃ¢teau de Chambord.
We ended up spending more time here because the experience offered so much variety. In addition to the interiors and various items on display, the self-guided tour climbed spiral staircases and ended up at the top terraces, with sweeping views of the Loire Valley.
All in all, it was an incredibly satisfying with a lot to explore, see, and read. I cannot recommend ChÃ¢teau de Chambord highly enough.
On the planning v. spontaneous front, this was a small victory for spontaneity. Had we done our due diligence, we would have discovered the refurbishment work on the front side, and I think we would have skipped ChÃ¢teau de Chambord. That refurbishment in no way impacted our visit, so skipping it would’ve been a mistake.
Anyway, I won’t fixate on Chambord further here, so if you want to read more, please refer to my ChÃ¢teau de Chambord Photos & Tips post on TravelCaffeine.com.
Our late start coupled with an approximately 3-hour visit to ChÃ¢teau de Chambord, meant we’d have to cut something from the day. We had absolutely no basis for making our cuts and didn’t have time to do any research, so we chose arbitrarily.
Well, not totally arbitrarily; the decision-making process went something like this…
Mark: “Which one is the place in Impressions de France with all the dogs?”
Sarah: “That sounds good to me!”
Me (sarcastically): “Do you think those dogs are still there…?”
The fact that my last comment there was sarcastic is demonstrative of just how little research we did. None of us had any idea that ChÃ¢teau de Cheverny is famous for the hunting dogs that live on site. I had just assumed that part of Impressions de France was staged for added visual interest.
Granted, the film was shot 30+ years ago, so those dogs are probably…uh…living on a farm now, but still…
On the other hand, there’s something to be said for a nice surprise. We were all really excited when we got to Cheverny and heard dogs barking. As soon as I heard them, I was elated. My mind began racing with photo possibilities and the potential for re-creating another Impressions de France scene.
My enthusiasm was deflated when I asked a staff person when the dogs come out, and she responded, “first thing in the morning.” We had missed ‘the running of the hounds,’ or whatever they call it. (Online sources are less specific, indicating the dogs go out a couple of times per week–I’d want to nail times down before returning, as that’s a ‘bucket list photo’ now for me.)
I felt a renewed sense of enthusiasm almost as soon as we entered the chÃ¢teau and we were greeted by dinosaur antlers. Like Chambord, Cheverny featured antlers in all of some of its decorating. (Your move, Gaston.)
Technically, these are cervus megaceros antlers, which is not a dinosaur, but the prehistoric ancestor of the elk. Whatever. Counts as a dinosaur in my book.
Interestingly, unlike many of the other castles in the area, this one is not owned by the French government. It remains privately owned and occupied, and the owners allow tours.
Perhaps as a result, less of the castle is open to the public. While this might seem disappointing, the upside is that the ‘stuff density’ of each of the rooms you can explore is high.
Each room packs a powerful punch (moreso than either Chambord or Cheverny), and is filled with numerous tapestries and works of art.
Likewise, the grounds are exquisitely manicured and are quite the joy to explore.
For some reason, there was a LEGO exhibit at Cheverny when we visited (see the dogs above). Now, I love LEGO just as much as the next 8-year old trapped in a 31-year old body, but the execution here was tacky. LEGO creations were actually placed within the room displays, which are otherwise period-specific time capsules, either displacing authentic parts of the room or “supplementing” them.
A lot of Disney fans (myself included) lament how the parks have been ‘dumbed down’ over the years, and this is a perfect example of how that is a societal thing, and not confined to Disney. To me, this is far more egregious, as ChÃ¢teau de Cheverny presents itself as a historic landmark. (Both of the ‘paintings’ above are made of LEGO.)
In fairness, the impetus for my visits to historic landmarks is rad toys, but usually I find them in the gift shops, not crammed into historic displays. Frankly, I was pretty shocked to see this in France, of all places, which has spent millennia refining the whole ‘condescending intellectualism’ game. If this sticks out to some unrefined Disney blogger as tacky, I can only imagine how France’s intellectuoso must feel.
Of the three chÃ¢teaux we visited that day, I would rank Cheverny last. This should not be read as an indictment of Cheverny, as it was really cool. Were it the only chÃ¢teau we visited, I would’ve been impressed. I mean, it had pretty rooms, dinosaur antlers, nice grounds, and an embarrassment of canine riches. It just had incredibly staunch competition from Chenonceau and Chambord. You can judge for yourself with the photos here, and also with additional ones I will share in a post on TravelCaffeine later this week.
The great thing about ChÃ¢teau de Cheverny was that it was distinct from the other two spots we visited that day. Its highlight was the lavish interiors, which were superior to those at Chenonceau and Chambord. Its grounds were also quite lovely, albeit not on par with Chenonceau. Still, it felt like it was lacking a wow-factor, which is what causes us to rank it 3 of 3. Perhaps if I saw the ‘running of the hounds’, I would have felt differently. If you’re visiting the Loire Valley, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it (nor would I recommend avoiding it). I don’t know how awesome the chÃ¢teau we missed are, nor do I know how much time you’ll have in the Loire Valley–two important variables.
I spent a summer living in the Loire Valley based in Saumur and the Chauteau there is beautiful and right in the centre of the town! well worth a visit. Usse is my favourite but these ones you hit are perfect too! I lived there for 8 1/2 months and still didnt manage to see everything the Loire Valley has to offer!
Well done for visiting somewhere a bit less popular too! not many people outside of Europe have ever heard of the Loire!
I just wanted to add my voice to the “i love these trip reports” list. I also wanted to add that I like your tone in these reports as well. Thanks!
You seriously lucked out with your spur-of-the-moment chateaux itinerary, cause Chambord and Chenonceau are the BEST. Not sure if you already knew this (or someone told you in a previous comment), but that double-helix staircase in Chateau du Chambord was designed by Leonardo da Vinci. And it was created so that the king’s mistress could be coming down the staircase and the queen going up it at the same time without either one ever seeing the other. Gotta love monarchs, eh?
The gas station only took the Esso card and the Maestro card, I believe. And so did the second one we found. It was quite entertaiing as we dropped lower and lower in gas (we started looking for a gas station when slightly under 1/2 tank, luckily.) We were finally at ~1/8 tank at a lawnmower dealership with a 1970’s-era gas pump on the sidewalk. The store owner spoke no English and my French wasn’t good enough to get much beyond that we could purchase gas. So we were basically playing charades as I’m trying to get him to put gas into my car and take whatever he needed from my wallet (running out of gas in the French countryside didn’t seem like a great option). Luckily, a man out walking his dog spoke a little English and resolved the communication issue.
In case you didn’t find this – the (expensive) toll roads also don’t take Visa/Mastercard/AmEx. So have a local credit card or a healthy amount of cash (it cost us ~40 EUR to travel from Mont. St. Michel to the Loire Valley).
Chaumont was neat – we were hurried and I would have liked to have read more of the history, but the castle and the grounds were very pretty. I liked Chenonceau better, but am glad we visited both. This is the only decent shot I got of it: https://flic.kr/p/Kmyisb
I have loved this trip report so far! I went to Paris last year for a weekend (before a week in London,) and I’ve been wanting to go back. I appreciate seeing what you have to say about all these different places–I’ve been following your blog for a while now, and I think you do a great job presenting a balanced report of what you’ve experienced. I’m definitely putting the Loire Valley on my travel list, thanks to you. 🙂
I just wanted to say I am really enjoying these posts too – I love France and cannot wait to go back someday. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised when these trip reports turned out to be non-Disney related.
We did a day trip through a wine tour company to Burgundy region and the Loire Valley in early October and really loved it. The trip went so fast I feel like we didn’t get to appreciate the region enough. This is an amazing recap of how much we missed!
France is definately the most beautiful country on Earth (OK, I’m French, but that doesn’t count :D)
You have visited probably the three most visited castles of the “vallée de la loire” but there are so many (probably more than two hundreds only in this part of the country).
I also would recommend to visit ChÃ¢teau d’Ussé (https://www.chateaudusse.fr), aka “chÃ¢teau de la Belle au bois dormant” (Sleeping Beauty castle), Chaumont sur Loire (with an incredible garden festival), Amboise (the place where Leonardo Da Vinci lived), Villandry (with a fantastic “French Garden”) and Le Lude.
Thank you for the recommendations. ChÃ¢teau d’Ussé looks excellent!
In defense of Legos: I have been to Chambord and Chenonceau, but not Cheverny. I would agree, it’s possible to look at Lego installations in a historical site and think “tacky”. But, it’s also important to consider that these are places not only of French history, but of French culture and art. Modern art and Pop art have long been a really important part of France’s cultural history.
In some ways, (this is just my opinion from visiting the Centre de Pompidou) I think that France really struggled to redefine its culture in the later half of the 20th century after the horrors of the occupation. Modern and pop art gave expression to a whole new feeling about “Frenchness”. The juxtaposition of Lego art with traditional French art and architecture may seem jarring and commercial to us, but it may be an effort to show the struggle to connect with a past that, while visually present, may feel very foreign in present-day France. It may also be an effort to try to interest French children in their cultural history by adding elements that may seem relevant to them.
I would probably also think “yikes! what the heck is that doing here?!” if I walked into a room like that with big Lego dogs. But, if my time in France taught me anything, it’s that “being French” is a very different thing than being American and that the motivations and feelings about many things, especially art and history, can be totally different from what they are here.
Personally, I kind of like the idea of modern day France “claiming” its past by adding to it with present-day media. In some ways, it’s no different than having a video about the place at the entrance or an electronic screen with information. Or, maybe it’s just tacky commercialism. I’m not French, so I can’t really say.
Thanks for sharing your perspective on this; very thoughtful and compelling.
To your point: I like modern art, including pop art, and I think it’s great that Europe has not stagnated in the arts. Additionally, I think pushing the envelope on new ways to entertain and educate should be lauded, even if they fall a bit flat.
For me, though, this doesn’t just fall a bit flat–it’s wholly incompatible with the aim of the exhibits, which are time capsules of a different era. To me, those time capsules themselves are art. The decor in them is quite deliberate, the walls feature murals and/or tapestries, and the style is striking. Given that, adding LEGO to those exhibits is akin to painting a can of Campbell’s soup on the Mona Lisa. Now, that’s no doubt hyperbole since the LEGO displays can easily be removed from these displays, but the idea is the same.
I have no issue with historical exhibits (such as these chateaux) having an area reserved for rotating exhibits or art installations. In fact, that’s what Cheverny does with its Tintin exhibit. I think that is a far better approach, and less intrusive.
I come here for the photos, I stay for the STD jokes.
Ha, thanks…I guess? That’s not a joke, though. I mean, juxtaposing it against my life sort of was a joke, but Baudelaire is quite infamous for this.
Loving this Trip Report. Definitely putting many of these locations on my list of must-visits. Excellent job of capturing the magic of these places, and thanks for sharing.
Absolutely wonderful point about the vagabond quote! I love that poem. How fantastic that you connected this with many parallels in your own life Well done!
Love this installment. You experienced so many picture perfect moments on this trip. I feel the magic of those hot air balloons over Chenonceau in your photos and video, hard to imagine it in person.
Thinking back on it is still sort of surreal. It really felt like a scene in Impressions de France. Being a cynic, I had assumed all of those scenes were carefully staged (and I’m sure they are), and stuff like that and the running of the hunting dogs didn’t happen in real life. But, apparently, it does. France is a fantastic place.
I think you followed us through France! We were there at exactly the same time on our honeymoon. We spent four nights in the Loire Valley based in Amboise with a car to drive around. I agree, it was spectacular!
How did you feel about 4 nights there? Was that still not enough time, too much, or just right? Already debating what to do our next visit, and I think it’s coming down to more time in Loire Valley or trying to make it to Cannes.
If we went back (we’re from Australia, might take us a while)… we’d probably do one less night in Amboise and pick another town in the region for an extra few nights, maybe towards the coast. I could easily spend weeks in the Loire Valley. The restaurants in amboise are so amazing though. We went to a different one each night, all Michelin worthy.
We actually drove down to the Bordeaux region afterwards and spent four nights staying in a chateaux in Saint Emilion which was incredible! Definitely recommend that.
Have you been to nice? I’ve found most towns on the French Riviera to be very similar. We loved Avignon and the Provence region on our last visit though!
I’m always commenting because this might be my favorite series of articles you have published! Thanks again for writing.
You aren’t alone on the cause of your trip. After staying at Mont. St. Michel were were driving pack to Val D’Europe to visit DLP. I saw that the Loire valley was “only” 3 hours out of the way and we could visit some of the castles from Impressions de France, so I convinced my wife to take the trip.
We had planned to see Chenonceau, Chaumont, and Chambord but only got to the first two. Traffic, spending an hour finding a gas station that took Visa/Mastercard or cash (who knew!), and the necessity of sleeping and eating ate away too much time. I’m glad to see your pictures of Chambord and that will be on the list if we ever get back to the region.
Well, I really appreciate the comments on these trip report posts–it lets me know those reading are enjoying them. I didn’t expect there to be much interest in content that is so tangentially Disney, and these are certainly far less popular than an average Walt Disney World trip report, but it has been fun to write. Plus, having ‘deadlines’ for these posts hanging overhead keeps me motivated to get photos edited, which is good!
What did you think of Chaumont? That’s on our list next time regardless, so I guess it doesn’t totally matter, but I’m nonetheless curious.
I’m also curious…if they didn’t accept credit card or cash, what did they accept as payment Schrute Bucks? 😉
Thank you so much for indulging those of us who have been thrilled by this series. But . . . am I the only one not seeing photos on this one?