July 5, 2004 -- Bonjour mon amis from the beautiful Loire Valley! My first day of this trip started early with breakfast on the balcony overlooking the vineyards of the valley.
I sat for a long time reflecting on my good fortune to be experiencing another trip produced by Cross Country International. All of the arrangements have been so smooth that my fears of traveling in an area where I do not have a command of the language quickly disappeared. I do have to credit my high school French teacher for giving me the basics -- otherwise, left to my own devices, I might be writing these postcards from Germany.
We were greeted last night by our host for the week. He is a lovely gentleman named Patrick Germain. He is fluent in both French and English and has a charming sense of humor as well as a gift for imparting interesting historical facts about the region.
We were transported by van to a marvelous stable built during the Napoleonic Era where we were introduced to our horses. Within a few minutes we were mounted and ready to go. It was obvious that everyone in the group was a good rider and very comfortable with the horses.
Patrick pointed out many interesting sites as we made our way through hundreds of acres of vineyards. Pointing to the top of a large wheat-covered hill, he told of the incredible efforts of the Allies during World War II. A troubled plane had landed on the hill but could not take off after repairs were completed because it needed a long runway. The plane was dismantled piece by piece and shipped back to America where it was reassembled and flown again.
I could hear the pride in his voice at the actions of his fellow country-people during difficult times. There is a noticeable affection between the French people I have encountered. They are very patient and respectful of the Americans who come to experience their beautiful country.
Lunch was an experience in itself. We dismounted and left Patrick to tend to the horses, who stood quietly as they were tethered to a rope. We had the pleasure of sharing the ride with Patrick's wife and teenage daughter who brought us to a charming outside café where I relaxed and had the longest lunch of my life. I drank in the spirit of the French joie de vivre as well as the wine of the region -- Sancerre!
Lunch was an unhurried three-course meal with lots of talking and laughing. Two young women, Jenny and Ruby, really put their years of French classes to excellent use. We sat around a table under an umbrella and shared stories -- by the end of lunch we were sharing dessert as only friends can.
After another stint in the saddle with Jenny and Ruby now leading us confidently through the vineyards at a brisk trot, we stopped at a farmhouse and thanked our new friends with a bucket of oats and turned them out into the lush fields for an evening of rest and munching.
We were driven a short distance to the fabulous chateau from which I am writing this postcard. As we drove up the long driveway, I was touched by the obvious age and courage of the structure. The Chateau de Beaujeu is both impressive and gentle. The exterior is magnificent with the pepper pot turrets and classic indoor-sized windows which open out.
The interior is equally as warm and inviting. My room opens to a view of the courtyard. The interior features a room Martha Stewart would approve of with 12-foot tray ceilings, a black marble fireplace, sitting room, sumptuous bathroom and a tub which begs for a diving board.
Drinks and dinner are at 8 p.m. and I don't want to miss any of the gastronomical delights awaiting us or the charming company of our hostess this evening -- the lady of the manor! I enjoy the local hosts chosen by CCI -- they entertain us with pleasant company and conversations during our stays in otherwise unfamiliar surroundings.
Au revoir for now!
Read Kathryn's Postcard from France: Day 2.