July 9, 2004 -- Bonjour (sob!) Bonjour. I must begin with our delightful stay last night at the charming farmhouse called Chambres d'Hotes a la Ferme in Montigny. Our extremely charming hostess of the evening was Madame Elizabeth Gressin, who came to the stabling area to greet us upon our arrival at her sparkling farmhouse gleaming with shiny red shutters and doors. The inside was modern and cheerfully decorated in vivid colors. Madame showed me to my private room with bath on the third floor and generously brought me a pot of delicious hot tea to top off a long day of riding. Her lovely home showed the pride she had in her surroundings and the hard work she must perform to maintain the property to its charming degree.
Dinner was served, and it was a delicious display of home-cooked delicacies, which began with a lovely quiche of light pastry crusts, tomatoes and goat cheese followed by a delicate chicken dish and a special vegetarian dish for several of us. As we have come to expect, dessert was wonderful. French meals are very unlike our meals at home. They are more an event to communicate and enjoy each other's company while sharing in the delight of wonderful home-cooked food.
After a restful sleep, we enjoyed another delightful breakfast and mounted up for our (sob!) last day with our gracious host, Patrick. The morning ride was even more special knowing that it was our last ride. These beautiful, trusty horses had become our friends over the past week, and it was sad leaving them. These horses are strong, handsome and well cared for, and they took good care of us in this charming land during our vacation.
The trip started by passing through miles of hay fields that waved to us as we passed. Delicate poppies and cornflowers punctuated the softly swaying fields as we trotted by. On the horizon we could enjoy the ring of brilliant trees interrupted briefly by the tower of an occasional chateau. The solitude was disarming and enchanting.
As is often the situation on the last day of a ride, riders, mounts, and guides feel more confident to pick up the pace. We experienced several exhilarating canters up hills and through the vineyards. I must say that on both of the horses I had the pleasure of riding, they had such comfortable gaits that I did not use my two-point position until the pace was very aggressive going up hill.
The horses were that comfortable.
Lunch was at a wonderful little restaurant Le P'Tit Zinc, which featured a fabulous luncheon and dessert. From there we walked along a lovely canal to observe the lock system which is used to raise/lower boats to the next level of the canal.
Our next stop was that of the Chateau de Thauvenay to meet with the owners, who were most gracious and educational. The Count Georges de Choulet and his lovely wife, Anne, gave us a complete tour of their winery, explaining to us the process used in producing their exceptional white wine. They spent hours with us and generously arranged a wine tasting opportunity which was not only interesting, but extremely tasty. Many of the group purchased bottles to enjoy at home as the wine is not readily available in the States...yet! Once people become aware of the purity and bouquet, they will be clamoring for it. It is a citrus and white flower aroma with a raspberry after-taste. YUM! It was really fun to be deep below the earth in the wine cellars and sampling the wine harvested from the vineyards we had just ridden through.
I really could have listened to Georges for hours because he is the fifth generation to live in the family chateau, and he had many fascinating histories to tell, including the fact that his great-great grandfather was a schoolmate of Napoleon's who went on to become Napoleon's Minister of the Interior.
From there we went back to the beginning. With bittersweet emotions we were returned to the wonderful hotel from whence we began--the Hotel le Panoramanic. I cannot think of a better name for this beautiful hotel: Eavy room features a panoramic view over the pool to the expansive countryside.
This evening we gathered with Patrick and his wife and daughter to spend one last evening enjoying fine food and conversation. The dinner tonight at the Panoramic was outstanding. The hotel management went out of their way to make our last night in the Loire Valley one that would be memorable--and it was. They served several different types of Sancerre wine to compliment each course and each course was delightful and beautifully presented.
We passed around a paper on which we wrote all of our names and addresses so we could share photos and keep in touch.
After a final bon soir we retired to our rooms for a final night in the magical area known as the Loire Valley.
I will have some final thoughts about this beautiful journey--and photos!--but for now au revoir, my friends.
Read Kathryn's Postcard from France: Day 4.