My Summer Residence…

(Driving into Chambord)

We drove for hours after we left the policeman in Fontenay-le-Comte through beautiful countryside. The avoid toll roads was on again but this time everything worked out and we arrived at my Château in Chambord. (Not actually my château but for eleven euro I can pretend.)

(This is how close we are to the Château)

It was after five by the time we arrived so we had a quick cup of tea and some emergency long life Portuguese tuna patê on crackers and then off for a walk around the grounds. It was still sunny but not too hot and the French were doing what they do on a warm Saturday afternoon – walking in a royal garden. This garden is full of wildlife, birds swooped and frogs croaked and there were signs telling us about the wild boar. It seemed like our breakdown experience had reset something. The long drive hadn’t managed to tire us and we walked enough to hit our step goals.

(You can walk, boat, cycle and drive golf carts around the grounds of the Château at Chambord)

Next morning I was on a mission… I had been reading old reviews about the motorhome parking at Chambord Château and one of the reviewers was complaining about the early morning noise from the balloons… the hot air balloons. There were balloons? Wouldn’t that be amazing? Years ago I had seen pictures of colorful balloons flying over the countryside in France and the image had stayed with me. I didn’t want to go up in one but I’d love to see them floating over the Château.

(Sunrise at Chambord)

So I set the alarm (my 6am habit had taken a hit in the past week but here was my opportunity to start again) and hoped the rain would keep off. Next morning was cloudy and grey but I was energised. I had no idea, by the way whether there would be any balloons but even if there wasn’t, sunrise would be more than enough. I was half way across the field between the motorhomes and the gardens when I realised there was a big bird about 100 yards away from me stalking something in the grass. A very stork-like bird. Thanks to all my stork sightings I know it wasn’t a stork but I’ve no idea what it was. I couldn’t move in case it flew off but I needn’t have worried he wasn’t going anywhere he was dead still too. Then suddenly he grabbed at whatever he was stalking and swallowed it! That’s another reason he wasn’t a stork, they don’t grab, they’re very dainty.

(Sunrise on a grey day)

There was no sign of a hot air balloon and I realised I was expecting too much, I hadn’t even googled it to see when or where they go up or even if they go up anymore. I could just make out a break in the clouds where the sun was coming through so I went off to get my sunrise pictures. The hour after sunrise and before sunset are called golden hours and I was definitely getting opportunities on this trip to experience what that meant. It’s supposed to be a good time to take photos.

(Wild boar this way…)

There was no one around, I was completely alone taking pictures and wandering around, like I was a… I don’t know, a princess maybe? It does seem to be a theme… just saying. Next thing I hear something, not bird song, more a heavy breathing or wild boar snorting. I looked up, it was coming from above me (probably not wild boar then…?) And there it was… floating way, way up in the sky.

(Can you see the hot air balloon?)

A balloon! Yep, one solitary balloon way, way, way up high. Every now and again I could see the flame igniting to lift it higher, that was the wild boar snorting sound I thought I heard earlier. (Well, it might have been.)

(This was the closest I got to it)

I was so excited. The whole experience lasted only 15 minutes. I’m not sure hot air balloons have much control over their direction but on that morning some gust of wind brought this one in my direction.

And then it floated away, Mairead.

(Château Chambord: €11 parking for 24 hours, Princess experience included but no motorhome facilities except bins.)


(Can you see the hedges zigzagging up to the château? That’s the road)

On Thursday morning after breakfast I left our spot beside the river to climb to the château. It was cold, about 8 degrees but the sun was shining. We were going to do French lunch again as the cupboards were still bare so I needed to be back by 12.30pm. the walk according to google would take 37 minutes, it was now 9.24am. I thought the 37 minutes might be a little optimistic so I was allowing myself an hour to walk up, another to walk down, leaving me with a visit of an hour. In the end google was very close and in spite of my puffing and panting and my stops to take pictures the climb up took exactly 40 minutes!


It was such a beautiful walk too, I still feel it now. The slight chill in the air. The colours of the trees. The ducks floating in the canal. The cows eating the grass. After eleven minutes I reached the end of my journey along the canal and had to start on the road that I could see zigzagging towards the château. As I climbed higher the sun felt hot on my back. The gentle walk along the towpath behind me I was pulling myself up the slope. There was the sound of the birds and a distant hum of traffic and something else – my heavy breathing. Fortunately there was no one around I needed to impress.

(Isn’t this seedpod beautiful? The road in the background leads to the canal)

The first manmade structure I came to was the château wall with a wooden door, into the garden, I guessed. The door was locked and there was no indication whether I should go left or right around the wall. By now, 10.04am, the sun was beating down and there was no shade and even an extra few meters in the wrong direction seemed painful. I went right and I was climbing again. But it was a good choice as I was heading into the village of Châteauneuf. From below it’s not clear that there’s a village up here but there is and it’s incredibly pretty. I passed one of the Logis chain of hotels, a pizza restaurant, guest houses and a man charging electric bicycles for hire. I wondered if I should try to negotiate a one way trip back to the canal later.

(Oh look someone seems to have ordered coffee and cake… with cream)

There was also a cafe with tables and chairs outside, you know the ones that look French? Made of metal and circular and painted green. It was open. Having made such good timing and having used up possibly a cake full of calories I went along in and had a coffee and cake…. yes it was only just gone 10am (9am in Ireland…)

(Looking out the gate of the château into the village)

Fortified, I went along into the château and paid €5 for my ticket, well worth it especially for the story of the wife and the sugar dusted flans… So it was the Friday before St. Andrew’s Day in 1450 (or thereabouts) and Catherine of Châteauneuf put some sugar dusted flans on the window seat. (The sugar dusting seems to be important.) Her husband sits down to eat and disaster… he dies shortly after. Also dead is a young servant, Mariote. Everyone thinks Catherine put arsenic into the tarts to poison her husband, no one seems too upset about Mariote. Catherine ends up in jail and someone else gets the château. I don’t think she did it but if I’d known the story earlier I might have skipped the cake.

(I forgot to include the map last time… the red marker is where we were parked by the Canal de Bourgogne. Thanks google maps )

I spent an hour going around the rooms and buildings and then started back down, noting how much easier it is to walk down a hill than up.

I’m still wondering about Catherine and the flans, Mairead.