Anticipating summer

Loire Travel Blog

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Kitchen, Chenonceau
Just when you think winter is over and spring is about to begin a cold snap arrives out of nowhere throwing you off balance. The shutters you folded back in great expectation now have to be shut. The bikes you hauled out of storage and chained to garden furniture now need to be covered with sheets of plastic (with little bags over the seats for extra protection); even the azalea’s and roses have shrunk back to a petrified state after so confidently thrusting out new shoots and buds. It’s so sad and I am so disappointed. I have been playing Vivaldi over and over again, so much so my husband threatened me with a Led Zeppelin disc the other day if I didn’t snap out of it.

He is probably right. Winter was not particularly bad this year but there was a real sense when you stepped into the garden a few days ago that the world had turned. You could smell the greenness in the air, the sunshine was delicious and sparkling birdsong woke you well before the grumbling radiators did. More importantly it was becoming lighter as you sat down with the children for their evening meal before bath and bed. But now the rain has returned to splatter the blue Ardoise roofs of my home and the sky is a sheer film of grey and there’s a feeling things have been put back a week or two. The big Bay tree near the Gloriette is constantly bent the other way and I haven’t heard any birdsong for the last three or four days, just the usual crows cawing in the wind and ducks flapping in the leaden pond. Still, this is Easter and perhaps it is fitting things remain somber for a few more days at least.

The Loire valley is generally more settled than other parts of France but whereas in Paris friends tell me the hyacinths and tulips are already flowering in the Tuileries and in Provence the temperature is creeping consistently above the twenty Celsius mark, here we are in that ragged seasonal in-between period. ‘Things will get better for sure,’ Monsieur Gaspar tells me. ‘Do not worry. This weather is also very good. It means the flowers will be fatter and more resilient when spring officially arrives.’ Monsieur Gaspar, a proud native of the Tourangelle with a face the colour of rosy apples, runs a big stall at the flower market in Tours, the largest town in the Touraine, each and every Wednesday and Saturday. Naturally it is one of the best flower markets outside Paris. Running down the centre strip on the Boulevard Béranger, from the fountains at Place Jean Jaures towards the old church on rue Léon Boyer, the market is also reputedly the oldest of its kind in France. Come rain, hail or shine there are always stalls to be found selling lots of plump, healthy flowers.

Even during the winter months the market keeps running, supplying the blue-veined citizens of Tours and neighbouring hotels and chateaus with everything from tulip and jonquil bulbs to standard azalea’s, dry-root roses, fruit trees and winter herbs. Since March, many stall-holders absent during the winter break have returned to their old positions. Wearing their Michelin-man styled puffer jackets and beanies, their presence was another sign things were moving forward towards brighter weather and lighter, more brilliant colours. The pots and jardinières of snow-drops and pansies have now been replaced with chrysanthemums, daisies and geraniums. Creeping roses, especially the lush Tourangelle Pierre de Ronsard variety, are making a comeback and topiaries and box hedges have been pushed to the back of displays. The marche is a riot of colour for two or three hundred metres on a good day, before it eventually peters out to the rag-tag strip of cheap clothing and haberdashery shops that sprout up everywhere in France on market days.

It is not for nothing that Tours is known as the Jardin de la France. Apart from the flower markets there are many other gems. Take for example the magnificent cedar tree planted by Napoleon near the cathedral, in the garden of the ancient Palais des Archevêques (now Musée des Beaux-Arts) or the many parks and gardens that dot the area like the amazing Botanical gardens with its green houses and rare plants or the eccentric Safari Train near Amboise where in the auberge you can feast on filet mignon de sanglier, ostrich steaks, entrecôte de bison and most other animals you see roaming around the thirty kilometer estate. Then of course there is Villandry, some nine kilometers outside Tours itself. But my favourite, especially if I’m in the neighbourhood, would have to be the intimate and atmospheric Jardin de Prébendes d’Oe tucked away in the centre of town. Even in the middle of a cold snap it is moody and spectacular, from the flinty fountain celebrating Pierre de Ronsard to the green cast-iron bandstand; the many cedars, sequoias and maples planted between 1734 and 1820 (most were gifts from a fledgling United States); to the towering canopies of rhododendrons. It is very neat and immaculately maintained. The gravel is raked daily and at each entry point there are well sign-posted dispensers for the distribution of sacs pour déjections canines as well as designated areas for their use.

Aside from all that, the garden contains my favourite statute in the whole of the Loire: the romantic, languid, cobalt green bust of the seventeenth century poet Racan. Currently it is surrounded by masses of jonquils and dripping trees. It is a wonderful spot to meditate on life and the weather during glistening wet days. Especially with a little Vivaldi playing through your ipod. From my blog site
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Kitchen, Chenonceau
Kitchen, Chenonceau
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photo by: wanderlass