from St Jean de Luz I drove to a small village in the Loire valley region, Candé-sur-Beuvron, to stay at the Auberge de la Caillière, a small hotel with a very good restaurant, where I had a gourmet meal for a very reasonable price. from there only one and a half hours drive to Le Mans where we would stay before getting the shuttle at Calais.

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there was time to visit a couple of Loire valley châteaux, which I’ve never done before.

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this is the Château de Cheverny, an iced cake of a building with a big hunting pack of hounds kept in the grounds.

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it’s difficult to tell quite what period this architecture is,

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it was originally built in the seventeenth century and renovated in the eighteenth, lost at the revolution but bought back by the family at the restoration in 1824.

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on the way to the next planned château visit, I passed this one which is in the middle of its village.

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this looked much more romantic and thoroughly medieval

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with towers and turrets and small windows

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and small gardens rather than a big park

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it was shut because it was lunchtime, so these are just from the street.

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then we arrived at Chaumont sur Loire, which is a pretty spectacular château. this is the toy farm belonging to it.

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all nineteenth century

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it was founded in the tenth century by Odo 1, count of Blois, rebuilt in the fifteenth century and then extensively renovated in the nineteenth century, so I would say most of what you can see is nineteenth.

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there is a big focus on garden design and landscape art in the grounds, which is exciting.

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it is perched on the edge of steep banks above the Loire.

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and has a real fairytale glamour.

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the wonderful stables are nineteenth century. each stall and box has a horse’s name above.

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it was in the stables that I first discovered the installation art which is a special feature

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vertical garden art …

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and all sorts in the park

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it was very cold, a piercing wind

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but a fascinating walk, worth getting frozen

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we found a dog cemetery in a little grove

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I think this was my favourite piece

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the textures and lettering burnt into these attenuated figures make them fascinating close up.

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by then we were very cold and unfortunately there was no café or tea room. we wandered through the toy farm, the donkey house, and then the winter gardens

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which were a little warmer

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the cactus house was the best

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then on to the rather mundane but extremely comfortable and well known to us Ibis hotel on the outskirts of Le Mans.

the next day our return to the UK was uneventful, there didn’t seem to be any extra security  at the shuttle, Tilda’s paperwork was all correct, and the car got us home ….