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Europe 2006
Our "Castles and Chateaux" Tour

Europe Notes & Observations
Lodging:
  Hotel reservations are not always necessary. Hotels are well marked; find an interesting area and look for an attractive, clean building. Ask to see the rooms before committing.
  Other than the price, the main difference between a 4-star hotel and a 3-star hotel is air-conditioning.
Breakfast:
  Many hotels include a continental breakfast with the price of the room. Most consist of hard rolls, lunch meats, fruit, coffee or tea and juice. Take an extra piece of bread, cheese, a piece of fruit, or make a small sandwich to have as a snack later.
Restaurants:
  Restaurants recommended by guide books seldom live up to their promises. To find a good restaurant, ask the locals on the street, your cab driver, or hotel staff.
  Most restaurants have set hours for lunch and dinner and will close for a few hours between the two.
  Read the menu boards posted outside, then look inside to see if there are many customers & what the food looks like.
  Don't be embarrassed - ask for an English menu. Or just point to something another dinner is eating that looks good.
  Ask for tap water instead of paying for bottled water. Tap water IS safe in Europe!
  Food is brought out when ready. All diners at your table won't necessarily get their meals at the same time.
  Many restaurants include service charge in the bill. Check the menu. If unsure, ask.
See our trip photos
Budapest, Hungary
 

Lodging:
Budapest Hilton WestEnd - Recommended
Nice, spacious rooms. Extremely friendly and helpful staff - they helped us locate and recover our lost luggage, gave us dinner recommendations, and allowed us to use the internet for free.

Excellent location next to the train station (Nyugati) and metro hubs. The back door of the lobby leads to WestEnd City Center, Central Europe's largest shopping mall.

  Food:
Firkász Kávéház-Étterem
- Highly Recommended
(Dinner) Small and cozy with great atmosphere (including walls decorated with objects associated with the newspaper trade) and excellent Hungarian food and wine. Average prices.
  Food:
Kiskakukk Étterem - Highly Recommended
(Dinner) Excellent, authentic Hungarian cuisine. We liked this restaurant so much that we came back two nights later. They had an outstanding goose liver appetizer and perfect noodles with cabbage. Reasonable prices.
  Food:
Gellért Espresso
- Highly Recommended
(Pastry & coffee) Homemade tortes and pastries in the front outdoor terrace of the Gellert Hotel.
  Food:
Gerbeaud Cukrászda
- Highly Recommended
(Pastry & coffee) Quite possibly the best Dobos Torte in all of Hungary. A must to visit - it's Hungary's most famous cafe. (See the Dobos)
  Food:
Rézkakas Étterem -

(Dinner) Expensive, touristy restaurant. The gypsy music and desserts were good, but the food servings were small for the prices that were charged. (See chef's surprise)
  Notes & Observations on Budapest:
    Unique breakfast idea:
Go underground - the metro stops have walk up coffee bars and fresh baked pastries.
   

Great lunch:
Shop for lunch meats, cheese, bread, fruit and wine at the Central Market Hall (Nagy Vasarcsarnok) and find a spot to eat it along the Danube, facing Gellert Hill.

    The Central Market Hall has the best prices we found on hand made crocheted items such as table cloths and doilies.
Szentendre, Hungary
  Food:
Aranysarkany
- Not recommended
(Lunch) Highly touted, with numerous excellent reviews, but we were disappointed. Our goulash was greasy and the beef filet tough. The open kitchen also allowed us to observe barely-older-than-teenaged kitchen help heating our meals in a microwave.
  Food:
Nosztalgia Cafe - Not recommended
(Pastry & coffee) This cafe claims to be where the Dobos cake (a hard-caramel-topped Hungarian specialty) was first invented. We found their Dobos to be dry and slightly stale tasting. The cafe was touristy and the wait staff was rushed and rude.
  Notes & Observations on Szentendre:
    Take the boat from Budapest to Szentendre. Relaxing & a great place to meet locals and other tourists.
    Try a 'lángos' at one of the food stalls along the waterfront.
Siofok, Hungary
  Food:
Fogas Étterem
- Highly Recommended
(Lunch) Delicious, fresh Balaton"fogas" (pike fish) deep fried and filleted at our table. The waiters spoke very little English but were extremely helpful and pleasant. The restaurant is located in the former post office of the town. (See our fish entree)
Kezsthely, Hungary
  Lodging:
Erika Pension
- Recommended
Small, clean, family-operated guest house. Surprisingly, there was no soap in the bathroom and barely a half a roll of toilet paper. But a very nice breakfast was included in the price of the room, complete with hot sausages and scrambled eggs. There's no air conditioning, so it might not be as pleasant in the summer.
  Food:
Park Vendeglo - Very Highly Recommended
One of the best meals of our trip! The food was basic Hungarian cuisine but prepared perfectly and creatively. The stroganoff of veal is not to be missed - the imaginative preparation here contained dill pickle slivers. The prices were so low we were certain the waiter made an error.
Heviz, Hungary
  Notes:
Heviz Thermal Lake - Disappointing
Europe's largest natural thermal lake. In summer the water temperature is between 32 and 38°C, cooling in winter to 24 to 26°C. The lake is entirely surrounded by fenced health spas and resorts - we found no public access without payment.
Ljubljana, Slovenia
  Notes:
Take the white "train" trolley up to the castle - it's a good way to get a view of the city.
  In January, 2007, Slovenia will change currency from Tolars to Euros.
Lake Bled, Slovenia
  Lodging:
Pension Meyer
- Recommended
Great location, within walking distance of the lake and the town center. The rooms are clean and comfortable. Hotel staff was non-existent; one of the waiters from the adjoining restaurant checked us in, another settled our bill and checked us out.
  Food:
Restaurant Meyer
- Recommended
Huge portions - mainly grilled meats, simply prepared.
  Food:
Podruznica Pizzaria Gallus

(Lunch) Unusual pizza combinations. Our waitress said the ham, mushroom, cheese and corn one was the most popular. Nice, thin crust.
  Notes & Observations on Lake Bled:
The public library has free internet access which they allow anyone to use.
Vintgar Gorge, Slovenia
  A great nature hike around a gorge of amazingly clear and blue water. Look carefully at the opposite shore for hidden wildlife.
Salzburg, Austria
  Food:
zum Eulenspiegel
- Recommended
Located in Hagenauerplatz, along with Mozart's birth house, this is a great place to sit at an outdoor table and people watch. The food is good, regional cooking, with large portions. For this location, the prices are surprisingly not astronomical.
  Notes & Observations on Salzburg:
Take a stroll through the old section of town and window shop the unusual little stores.
Grassau, Germany
  Lodging:
Sporthotel Achental
- Recommended
We arrived in Chiemsee too late to take the boat out to Herrenchiemsee, decided to spend the night in the area, and get an early start in the morning. The information station at Chiemsee recommended this hotel. Room prices were surprisingly low for the amenities, especially a heated indoor pool and spa which we had all to ourselves. The included breakfast was one of the best of our trip, with a large variety of hot and cold items. (See breakfast)
  Food:
Cavalier Pizza

This was quite a surprise - an Italian restaurant in Germany, owned by a Pakistani. The pizza was just ok, but the owner was very friendly. Even though he knew no English, he wanted to talk to us. He let us know, "I love Clinton!"
  Notes:
There are many small towns in this area that are fun to explore. The neighborhoods are a strange mixture of cow pastures right next to businesses, right next to private homes and hotels.
Chiemsee, Germany
  Notes on Chiemsee:
Beautiful lake and a very busy resort area. There are many things to do in this area, but all we had time for was the tour of King Ludwig's castle.
Castles, Palaces & Chateaux Notes & Observations
  Many German palaces and castles were to some degree or another destroyed during wars, or were altered during the years as they were put to wartime uses.
  French palaces and chateaux were destroyed and looted during the French Revolution and during wars. Most do not have original furnishings or artwork, but have been "re-created."
  In palaces that remained as private homes, furnishings were updated to meet the decorating styles as they changed.
  The private castles of King Ludwig II - Herrenchiemsee, Linderhof, and Neuschwanstein - were seized by the state at his death and opened as museums within a short amount of time. The furnishing in these is authentic, as selected by Ludwig II.
  Ironically, the money that Ludwig II had supposedly "wasted" on his castles has been returned thousandfold to Bavaria through the tourist industry surrounding them now.
King Ludwig II Castle Herrenchiemsee
 

Herrenchiemsee Notes:
If you only have time for just one of King Ludwig's castles, this is the one - it's awesome, sumptuous and magnificent.

Modeled on Versailles, this palace was built as a "Temple of Fame" for King Louis XIV of France, whom the Bavarian monarch, Ludwig II, fervently admired.

Munich, Germany
 

Food:
Hirschgarten -
Recommended
The Hirschgarten is the largest beer garden in Munich. They have capacity for something like 10,000 guests. It is called the Hirschgarten because they have deer.

You can buy your meal and beers from vendor booths, or eat at the restaurant like we did. The food was traditional heavy German fare, but very tasty and perfectly prepared. The menu includes venison, stag and rabbit. The roasted duck is outstanding. (See drinks and dinner)

Nymphenburg Castle
 

Nymphenburg Notes:
The former summer residence of the rulers of Bavaria is located in the west part of the city in the middle of one of Munich's most beautiful parks. Five generations of Wittelsbach rulers were involved in the construction of this Baroque castle.

Take some time gazing at the famous "Gallery of Beauties" of Ludwig I with portraits of 36 beautiful women from all levels of Munich society.

Schwangau / Hohenschwangau, Germany
 

Lodging:
Hotel Alpenstuben

This was one of the few hotels we had actually reserved in advance: two double rooms for four people for two nights. We got lost on the way from Munich and arrived very late at night, had a hard time finding the hotel, climbed three sets of narrow steps to find one room with four single beds!

During breakfast, which was nicely stocked, a very busy waitress allowed us to check out and waived the charges for our second reserved night.

 

Lodging:
Hotel Müller
- Very Highly Recommended
Can't say enough good things about this hotel and its staff. When we were trying, late at night, to find our reserved hotel, the Alpenstube, the night manager of the hotel Muller brought a flashlight and came outside to walk us to our hotel. We would have switched to the Muller right then, but they were full for that night. We switched over the next morning, they held our bags until a room was ready.

Breakfast is served in a bright, glass-walled, "Sun Terrace" with a view of Castle Neuschwanstein. (See breakfast)

 

Food:
Hotel Müller Restaurant
- Very Highly Recommended
(Dinner) The waiters were friendly, funny and totally accommodating. The braised venison was tasty and tender. Every dish was served with a flair and with great pride by the waiters. We received a free slice of birthday cake with a large sparkler & the staff sang "Happy Birthday!"

One of our best dining experiences of the whole trip. (See dinner, dinner and desert)

  Notes on Schwangau / Hohenschwangau:
Hohenschwangau is the village in the municipality of Schwangau, Ostallgäu district, Bavaria, Germany.

It's located between Schloss Neuschwanstein and Schloss Hohenschwangau and annually visited by about 2 million people who take a tour to the former royal palaces from there.

The scenery in this area is jaw-dropping: glassy, crystal clear lakes, mist covered mountain peaks, green valleys. Other than castle visits, this would be a great place to spend a week and relax in nature.

King Ludwig II Linderhof Castle
 

Notes on Linderhof Castle:
Linderhof was planned as a modest villa but had become a splendid Rococo palace in the ornate French style. Linderhof is the smallest of the three royal castles, and the only one which was completely finished, in1878.

Linderhof, of all of Ludwig's castles, is where you most feel the total withdrawal from reality and utter loneliness that this man must have felt during his lifetime.

The castle and grounds are magnificent and well worth visiting. Be sure to see the Venus Grotto. This artificial cave and lake were built to indulge the king in his Wagner opera fantasies. He had a swan boat made so he could float around in his grotto while live musicians performed his favorite arias.

Castle Hohenschwangau
 

Notes on Castle Hohenschwangau:
King Ludwig II lived in Hohenschwangau Castle and could watch the construction of Neuschwasntein Castle from his bedroom window.

After Ludwig's death in 1886, his mother, Queen Marie, was the castle's only resident until she died in 1889. Her brother-in-law, Prince Regent Luitpold of Bavaria, the castle's last inhabitant, lived on the 3rd floor of the main building. He was responsible for the electrification in 1905 and the installation of an electric elevator. Luitpold died in 1912 and the palace was opened as a museum during the following year.

It is still owned by the former royal house of Bavaria, the Wittelsbach family.

Local gossip:
The Wittelsbach family trust actually owns much of the area surrounding the castle, including many of the lodging businesses. The trust is able to offer lower prices on hotel rooms, which will eventually drive the smaller, individually owned, establishments out of business.

King Ludwig II Castle Neuschwanstein
 

Notes on Castle Neuschwanstein:
The structure was built in a Romanesque style, and is the embodiment of a romantic medieval knight’s castle. Although it was worked on for 17 years it was never finished.

Each of the living and bedrooms is a homage to Richard Wagner’s operas: Lohengrin, Tristan and Isolde, Parzival. Ludwig’s obsession with Wagner’s music was so great that he often dressed himself up as his favorite opera character, the swan knight Lohengrin.

Ludwig was certified insane in his bedroom at Neuschwanstein and, a few days later, on 13 June 1886 he and his physician were found drowned in the Lake Starnberg.

Lucerne, Switzerland
  Food:
Restaurant at Hotel Schiff
- Not recommended
(Lunch) Great location, right on the water, for people watching BUT the service was awful and the food was horrible. The guide books all said you "must have fondue" in Switzerland, so we tried it here. It cost close to $50.00 for melted cheese and stale bread! The most insulting part: the cheese wasn't even good.
  Notes on Lucerne:
All the stores are closed on Mondays.
Interlaken, Switzerland
  Lodging:
Hotel Royal-St Georges
- Recommended
We found this lovely hotel because it looked nice from the street, so we went inside and asked to see the rooms. A 4-star hotel, after a little negotiating, they allowed us rooms for the same price as the 3-star hotel across the street. Our rooms were large and furnished with antiques, the bathroom was gorgeous.
  Food:
Restaurant at Best Western Hotel Bernerhof -

(Dinner) We really stopped here for the show - the wait staff were all wearing fuzzy black with white spotted "cow-pants" and the host was a loud, friendly, gregarious guy we fell in love with. His accent sounded just like the crocodile hunter, Steve Irwin, but he swore he was native Swiss. The menu was awful - a conglomeration of popular foods from around the world - hamburgers, french fries, spaghetti, wiener schnitzel, and even a "Chinese Fondue" which was boiling chicken broth in a crock pot, meant to simmer bits of raw meat and vegetables. Another bad meal in Switzerland.
 

Notes on Interlaken:
Don't buy jewelry, clothing, or luxury items in Interlaken. The prices are astronomically high, but the hordes of Asian tourists are lined up and happy to pay for them.

An unusual concept for a town filled with high-priced hotels, luxury stores and expensive restaurants: a cow pasture in the middle of town. The mooing of the cows actually woke us in the morning.

Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland
 

Notes on Lauterbrunnen:
The Lauterbrunnen valley provided the pictorial model for J.R.R. Tolkien's sketches and watercolors of the fictitious valley of Rivendell, and possibly also the name of the Bruinen river (meaning 'Loudwater') which flowed through it.

Breathtaking scenery.

Stechelberg / Schilthorn, Switzerland
  Food:
Piz Gloria
- Recommended
(Coffee & Hot Chocolate) Enjoy the breathtaking panorama from this revolving restaurant at the top of the Schilthorn. The wait staff allowed us to eat the sandwiches we had brought with us. We ordered only drinks, but the menu and the food being served looked great.
 

Notes on Schilthorn and Piz Gloria:
The restaurant claims to be the world's highest revolving restaurant.

Piz Gloria served as the location for Blofeld's hideout in the James Bond novel and film On Her Majesty's Secret Service; which contributed to its reputation. The movie contributed to completion of the restaurant in return for having exclusive use during filming.

It takes 32 minutes by cable car to reach the summit of the 2970 m high Schilthorn.

Kandersteg to Goppenstein, Switzerland
  The fast way across the alps! Sit in your car on a train and pass to the other side of the mountain.
Zermatt, Switzerland
 

Lodging:
Hotel Antares
- Recommended
The hotel was suggested for us by the information office at the train station. We were told it was a "6-8 minutes walk" from the station. It turned out to be well over a half hour walk, in the pouring rain, in the dark. The rooms were small, clean, and comfortable. The bonus surprise: a "wellness spa" with steam room, sauna, whirlpool baths and heated ceramic lounges in a room that looked like ancient Pompeii. (See spa)

Breakfast was included with our room. When we arrived at the dinning room at 8:00 a.m. for breakfast, we found no bread, no rolls, no lunch meats - just a few slices of cheese. The one poor waitress, trying to clean an ocean of dirty tables, said, "the Japanese have just left. Nothing is left. We try to get more food for you."

 

Food:
Restaurant at Romantic Hotel Julen
- Not recommended
(Dinner) A charming, cozy, quaint, busy restaurant with a lot of happy looking diners. They offered a "Plat du jour" complete with salad bar, beef stroganoff entree, and desert. The salad bar was amazing and delicious, with a wide variety of salad and cold appetizer items ... then, disaster ... We waited for close to two hours for our meals. The single, harried, running, waitress kept coming to our table and apologizing, but no food. Finally, the stroganoff: a plate of beef chunks, in a red sauce, with a blob of sour cream on top. The beef chunks were seared on the outside, but raw.

When we complained to the manager, he stated that they cooked only in "the French style," not over-cooked, as we Americans were obviously accustomed to. Trying to explain that "stroganoff" is a slow-simmering cooking process, he became almost hostile and said he would deduct one entree from our bill. When asked why we had to wait two hours for our meal, he said we should have complained earlier. Another bad meal in Switzerland.

 

Notes on Zermatt:
From Visp, we took the Matterhorn Gotthard railway, which arrives in Zermatt after a 90-minute journey through the Vispa Valley.

Like Interlaken, Zermatt is inundated with bus full after bus full of Japanese tourists. Many of the smaller hotels and restaurants contract with their tour groups but really can't handle the inundation.

Sion, Switzerland
  Food:
Picnic lunch high on the hill above town, in the courtyard of an old castle. We bought bread, cheese, wine, fruit and chocolate in town. (See cheese shop and our picnic spot)
  Notes on Sion:
Great town for strolling and window shopping.
Vevey, Switzerland
 

Notes on Vevey:
Beautiful, long, plane tree shaded walk along the shore of Lake Geneva.

Take a picture with Charlie Chaplin. His statue is on the waterfront.

Charlie Chaplin died on Christmas Day, 1977, in Vevey, Switzerland, following a stroke, aged 88, and was interred in Corsier-Sur-Vevey Cemetery in Corsier-Sur-Vevey, Vaud. On March 1, 1978, his body was stolen by a small group of Polish and Bulgarian mechanics in an attempt to extort money from his family. The plot failed, the robbers were captured, and the body was recovered 11 weeks later near Lake Geneva (and reburied under six feet of concrete to prevent another attempt).

Cully, Switzerland
 

Lodging:
Hotel Au Major-Davel
- Recommended
The hotel was suggested for us by the information office at Vevey. Again, the challenge of climbing steep stairs with luggage, but the staff were helpful in dragging it all up for us.

The hotel is right on Lake Geneva, with lots of outdoor seating to watch the lights twinkling along the lake at night.

  Food:
Au Major-Davel
Restaurant - Recommended
(Dinner) Finally, a good meal in Switzerland! Simply prepared fresh fish and meat dishes.
 

Notes on Cully:
Cully isn't really much of a town, but there are many small, local wineries. If you arrive at harvest time you can observe the production.

One of the few surviving "Freedom Trees" planted in 1798 when French troops invaded Switzerland, and overthrew the reactionary rulers is in front of the Au Major-Davel hotel.

Macon, France
  Food:
Le Story
- Highly Recommended
(Lunch) Very busy, obviously very popular restaurant with good, hearty local cuisine. No English menu and the waitress/owner, although very busy, took time to help us order. We had the Plat du Jour: braised beef in a toasted onion and mushroom sauce. (See our meal.)
Dijon, France
  Notes on Dijon:
Visit the tourist office on rue des Forges. It's located in the home of the mayor from the middle ages. The office is located in the former vaulted kitchen.
Flagey-Echezeaux, France
  Lodging:
Hotel Lasson

The hotel was suggested for us by the information office at Dijon. Hotel Lasson is barely a year old, but constructed to look antique. The rooms are clean and spacious, the bathrooms are beautiful.
 

Food:
Restaurant Francois Simon
- Not recommended
(Dinner) An upscale, nouvelle cuisine type of place, not open until 8:00pm. A traveler's nightmare. The only restaurant in a small town. A very snooty waitress who emphatically snarled "NO!" when asked if she spoke English, when asked if she spoke Italian, when asked if she spoke German, when asked if there was an English menu. We wound up with tiny portions artistically arranged and decorated, edible - but we don't know what we ate.

There were other dinners. An older, well dressed, affluent looking crowd, very quietly eating and intent on their food. We couldn't tell if they enjoyed their food, either. (See the chef's surprise.)

  Notes on Flagey-Echezeaux:
The information office in Dijon said this was "in the heart of wine country, where they're bringing in the harvest," but we found only a few small wineries - closed for the night, small suburban houses - shuttered and security gated, some grazing sheep, a small cemetery, and nothing else.
Vézelay, France
  Food:
Auberge de la Coquille - Recommended
(Lunch) Rustic, cave like room in what seems to be an old house, serving traditional buckwheat crepes and sweet desert crepes. Reasonable prices. (See our lunch) [The Japanese tour group arrived just as we were finishing our lunch.]
  Must visit:
The Benedictine abbey church of Saint Mary Magdalene
One of Europe's largest and best-preserved Romanesque churches. Vezelay was a major medieval pilgrimage destination due to the basilica's claimed relics of St. Mary Magdalene.
Orleans, France
  Lodging:
Hotel de l'Abeille
- Recommended
Owned by the same family since 1910, this charming little hotel is decorated with Art Deco posters and antique furniture. Very pleasant owner and a nice place to stay.
  Food:
l'Ardoise
- Not recommended
(Dinner) No English menu available and neither the chef/owner, nor any of the waiters spoke English. No clue what we finally received to eat. The owner and waiters were friendly and hospitable, the food was tasty but was not worth the extremely high prices. (See our dinner)
  Food:
Les Musardises Salon de the - Recommended
(Breakfast) Freshly baked croissants - plain or filled with chocolate. Good coffee with milk and hot chocolate. Beautiful room.
Chambord, Loir-et-Cher, France
  Royal Chateau Chambord: The largest of the Chateaux of the Loire built as hunting grounds for François I. Impressive and majestic, it has architecturally innovative terraces with the famous “double revolution” staircase attributed to Leonardo da Vinci.
  Food:
Chateau cafe
- Recommended
(Lunch) The sandwiches and pastries sold on the chateau grounds by several outdoor cafes were good and reasonably priced.
 

Notes on Chateau Chambord:
During the French Revolution, Chambord was sacked as a symbol of the overthrown monarchy and was nearly destroyed in its entirety

The castle became the property of the Government of France in 1930 but restoration work was not begun until a few years after World War II ended in 1945.

Cheverny, France
 

Chateau Cheverny: Built between 1624 and 1630, Chateau de Cheverny is built in the purest Louis XIII classical style, distinguished symmetrical architecture.

The exterior of the chateau has not been altered in 350 years.

This is the most magnificently furnished chateau in the Loire Valley with furnishings dating back to the Louis XIII epoch, paintings by old masters and Flemish tapestries.

 

Notes on Chateau Cheverny:
Still in the hands of the family that had it built over 600 years ago, the Huralts, Cheverny has been open to the public since 1922.. The chateau is inhabited all year long by the owners.

70 hounds, used for hunting, live in the kennel and their feeding called "la soupe" has remained an astonishing spectacle. See the video: Mealtime for the Dogs of Cheverny.

Blois, France
  Royal Chateau de Blois: The chateau of Blois comprises several buildings constructed from the 13th to the 17th century around the main courtyard. Its most famous piece of architecture is the magnificent spiral staircase in the François I wing.
 

Notes on Chateau Blois:
In 1841, under the direction of King Louis-Philippe, the Château de Blois was classified as an historic monument. It was restored and turned into a museum.

Today, the chateau is owned by the town of Blois.

Nazelles-Ambois, France
  Lodging:
Chateau des Ormeaux
- Highly Recommended
Owned for 8 years and lovingly restored by 3 partners, the chateau and grounds are comfortable and interesting to explore.
  Food:
Continental breakfast, served at the large dining room table. Meeting the other guests and eating "family style" is just part of the fun.
 

Notes on Chateau des Ormeaux:
There is no elevator, climbing several flights with the suitcases is a challenge. The owners will help carry the luggage upstairs.

Take a walk around the grounds. Take a look at the troglodyte rooms which are caves created when the tufa stone was excavated from the cliffs to build local buildings. Once you've noticed these troglodytes, you'll see them all over villages in this area - homes built right into caves in the mountain.

Amboise, France
 

Royal Chateau d'Amboise: The ruling house of France took possession of Amboise in 1431. Since that time, the chateau has been demolished and rebuilt repeatedly. See the original plan of Chateau Amboise, the parts in orange are all that remain today.

This is an interesting chateau, made more so by the fact that it is furnished, with excellent views over the town and the Loire River.

Leonardo DaVinci's tomb lies within the grounds of the chateau, in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert.

 

Chateau du Clos Luce: Leonardo da Vinci, in 1516, traveled to France to enter the service of Francis I. He spent his last years at the Chateau du Clos Luce where he died on May 2, 1519.

The Saint-Bris family has owned the house since the French Revolution they began restoration three decades ago. So far, the Saint-Bris family has restored four large rooms and the basement to their Renaissance glory.

  Food:
Patisserie Bigot
- Recommended
(Chocolate) Chocolate & more chocolate! Mouth watering cookies, pastries and candies.
  Food:
Anne de Bretagne
- Recommended
(Snack) Pastries, ice cream, coffee - Great location at the bottom of the chateau ramp, ideal for people watching.
  Food:
Le Parvis
- Recommended
(Dinner) A wood-fired oven sets the tone in this cozy neighborhood restaurant. Very good meals, friendly service, nice outdoor (but rainproof) seating, and fantastic deserts.
  Food:
La Florentine
- Not recommended
(Dinner) A joke in our family has long been that wherever you travel, you can't get a bad meal at an Italian restaurant. La Florentine proved us wrong. The place was very tiny, crowded, with an open kitchen to the rear of the room which made the room hot and stuffy. The pizza was passable, but the pasta sauces seemed to have come from a can.
 

Notes on Amboise:
A good place to view some troglodytes is above Amboise, between the chateau and the Clos Luce. Look carefully to the left as you climb the hill. The facades and gardens make them seem like built houses until you notice that they extend into the hillsides.

Amboise is a good location for a base to stay while making day trips to the neighboring chateaux.

Azay-le-Rideau, France
  Chateau d'Azay-le-Rideau:
The chateau of Azay-le-Rideau was built from 1518 to 1527, one of the earliest French Renaissance chateaux. Built on an island in the Indre River, its foundations rise straight out of the river.
  Notes on Azay-le-Rideau:
Since 1905, Azay-le-Rideau has belonged to the French state, and a Renaissance museum, containing some remarkable tapestries and furniture, has been added. 
Villandry, France
  Chateau de Villandry:
In the1800’s Emperor Napoleon acquired the chateau for his brother Joseph Bonaparte.

In 1906, Dr. Joachim Carvallo purchased the property and poured an enormous amount of time, money and devotion into repairing the castle and creating what many consider to be the most beautiful gardens anywhere.

  Food:
l'Orangerie
- Recommended
(Lunch) Located just outside the wall of Chateau Villandry. It is not gourmet food, just typical French lunch fare including salads and sandwiches with drinks.
  Notes on Villandry:
Look inside the chateau first and save your first sight of the gardens to be from the chateau balcony. Then, be prepared to be awestruck!
Chenonceaux, France
  Chateau Chenonceau: The castle was taken over by the King Henri II soon after it was completed in the 1500's and became a pawn in the struggle between his wife and mistress. The king installed his mistress Diane of Poitiers (twenty years his senior) in Chenonceau, but his jealous wife, Catherine de Medici, evicted her and took over after Henri's death.

Diane had the extension that bridges the river built in the mid-16th century, Catherine decorated it and added topiary gardens. She passed the castle on to her daughter-in-law, the consort of Henri III.

 

Notes on Chateau Chenonceau: Ownership passed hands many times, culminating in an early 20th century sale to the current owners, the Menier family.

Just one year after the Menier family purchased the castle, World War I broke out. They converted their new home into a hospital to treat the wounded, the gallery over the river being the primary ward. During World War II, a huge flood destroyed the gardens and damaged the house. But far more interestingly, the gallery across the river became a key touchstone, one bank of the river being in German-occupied France, the other bank being unoccupied territory.

After the war, the Menier family decided to restore the crumbling castle to its former glory. The gardens were replanted, the building was repaired, and the interior was converted into a museum to itself that was opened to the public for the first time in 1951.

Chaumont, France
  Chateau Chaumont: Catherine de Medici, wife of Henri II, purchased Chaumont after his death to give to his mistress Diane of Poitiers as a consolation prize when Catherine vengefully confiscated Diane's beloved Chenonceau from her.
 

Notes on Chaumont:
To access the chateau from the main entrance requires you to park and approach by foot up a huge, steep hill. Instead, drive around the perimeter of the of the chateau grounds, park by the rear fence, and walk in through the back of the estate.

Skip the tour of the stables. The horses are not real!

Versailles, France
 

Palace of Versailles: The palace grew through a series of expansions wrapped around the original modest hunting lodge, which still remains at its heart. This led to a certain incongruity in the architecture, as the centrepiece of the palace is not in scale with its final dimensions.

During the French Revolution, Versailles was completely stripped of its furnishings and art work.

 

Notes on Versailles:
Versailles was the unofficial capital city of the kingdom of France from May 1682 until September 1715, and then again from June 1722 to October 1789. During the entire period, Paris remained the official capital city of France, and the official royal palace was the Palace of the Louvre, but in practice government affairs were conducted from Versailles, and Versailles was regarded as the real capital city.

Versailles today (from Chateau de Versailles)
800 hectares (2,000 acres) of grounds
20 kilometres (12 miles) of roads
46 kilometres (27 miles) of trellises
200,000 trees
210,000 flowers planted every year
132 kilometres (80 miles) of rows of trees
23 hectares (55 acres): surface area of the Grand Canal
5.57 kilometres (3.3 miles): perimeter of the Grand Canal
20 kilometres (12 miles) of enclosing walls
50 fountains
620 fountain nozzles
35 kilometres (21 miles) of water conduits
3,600 cubic meters per hour: water consumed during Full Play of Fountains
11 hectares (26 acres) of roof
51,210 square meters of floors
2,153 windows
700 rooms
67 staircases
6,000 paintings
1,500 drawings and 15,000 engravings
2,100 sculptures
5,000 items of furniture and objets d'art
150 varieties of apple and peach trees in the Vegetable Garden

Some 800 people work at the institute, helping to protect and enhance the site and its collections.
They include:
11 national curators, responsible for maintaining, expanding, enhancing, and conducting scholarly studies of entire domain;
3 architects from the National Historic Monuments and Buildings Agency;
48 gardeners (at Versailles and Trianon);
8 fountain technicians;
363 guards (including 15 fire wardens);
18 art restorers (woodworkers, gilders, weavers, etc);
40 lecturers.

The museum now receives three million visitors per year, while the grounds attract an estimated six million.

Paris, France
  Lodging:
The Best Western Plaza Elysées
- Recommended
In Paris - with no hotel reservations! First, we found a location we liked, then we tried the 4-star and 3-star hotels in the area. The Best Western was the only one with 2 rooms available for 2 nights. We found the rooms to be a nice size by Paris standards, the bathrooms seemed to be newly remodeled and clean.
 

Food:
Chez Clement av. de Wagram - Highly Recommended
(Dinner) Chez Clement is a chain of 12 restaurants, but you'd never know it - the manager took so much pride in his menu and establishment, we thought he was the owner.

We all had the "Clément's Menu" for 19 euro: Starter + main course + dessert + drink. Everything looked appetizing, was well prepared and tasty. The Floating Island (for one person) could have been plenty for all four of us.

  Food:
Chez Francis, Place de l’Alma
- Recommended
(Lunch) Bistro food - sandwiches, pizzas. A great place to watch the people go by.
  Food:
la Mascotte Cafe - Recommended
(Dinner) Delicious, unpretentious local cuisine, with some unusual choices like bone marrow on toast with coarse sea salt. Prices were slightly high, but hey, it's Paris!
  Notes & Observations on Paris:
People watch - people watch - people watch!
Find a bench or grab a seat at a sidewalk cafe and soak it all up - you'll see just about everything in Paris!

 

 

 

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