Blois, the City of Kings
Blois may be the City of Kings, but after a 24-hour flight from Australia and a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Charles de Gaule, we felt less than regal. Our surprise upgrade of a new Citroen C6, known as the President’s Car, was not the best choice for driving on the wrong side of the road. Also, it was not the ideal car to drive around the narrow streets of Blois or the surrounding countryside, particularly when the onboard GPS tried to put us into the Loire river. We were feeling less than presidential.
Hotel Anne de Bretagne
Ruth is not one to pre-book accommodation, so we usually have to drive around for some time looking for a hotel. Thankfully, her eagle eyes spotted a quaint, two-star hotel, Hotel Anne de Bretagne. The hotel had no lift, which is not uncommon in many lower-budget hotels. So, drag our luggage up the stairs, we did. Why does luggage seem to grow exponentially and take on a life of its own when travelling? The bed was comfortable, but I probably could have slept standing up. The staff were attentive and courteous, breakfast adequate, and price reasonable.
There was no stable for the C6, so it had to go outside on a parking meter, a natural magnet for thieves. Thankfully, we found a parking station the next day, just down the road from the hotel.
Our first call anywhere in France is usually to the Orange Boutique to pick up a French sim card. Then, it was off to the local Citroen dealer to discover how to fit the sim card into the C6. Yes, the C6 has a telephone; none of this Bluetooth business. That it took them over an hour to find out how to do it shows how many C6s they sell. Then, it was off to explore.
Blois is the capital of the Loir-et-Cher department in central France, situated on the banks of the lower river Loire between Orléans and Tours. It is the perfect centre to explore the beautiful cities with their impressive castles and châteaux along the river valley, Chambord, Cheverny, Chaumont and Chenonceau, to name a few.
It is a thriving university town with manicured tree-lined streets, paved squares, restaurants and taverns. A walk along the Loire to take some photos of the iconic Pont Jacques Gabriel, a stroll around the city centre, a sandwich in the relaxed atmosphere of the Jardin Augustin Thierry, a quick visit to the nearby Église Saint-Vincent-de-Paul, on to the Château Royal de Bois and finish the day with a bit fun at the House of Magic.
Pont Jacques Gabriel
The Pont Jacques Gabriel was built by Jacques V Gabriel, father of the better-known Jacques-Ange Gabriel, between 1717 and 1724. Of the eleven arches, only three of the original ones remain. The others were destroyed in 1870 (Prussian war), in 1940 to slow the progress of the German forces, and in 1944 for their withdrawal. Consistent with the style at the time, it does not have a flat deck but peaks in the middle.
L’Église Saint Vincent de Paul
L’église Saint-Vincent de Paul is the former chapel of St. Louis of the Royal College founded by Henry III in 1541 and entrusted to the Jesuits by Louis XIII in 1622. Destroyed during the Revolution, it did not return to worship until 1847, under the patronage of Saint Vincent de Paul. The building is typical of French religious art in the first half of the seventeenth century.
Initially, the chapel had beautiful stained glass windows. All but one, “Vow of Louis XIII”, survived World War II, and contemporary styles have replaced the remaining ones. Nevertheless, l’église Saint-Vincent is one of the most beautiful churches I have visited and an excellent place for quiet reflection.
The Château Royal de Blois
The Château Royal de Blois, built as a promontory, combines four distinct wings around a single courtyard, each corresponding to a particular period and style, forming a unique panorama of French architecture.
Take your time. There is much to see here. The standouts for me were the Louis XII and François I periods. The two Kings added their personal touches with a wing from the first and a magnificent staircase from the second.
The royal apartments on the first floor of the Louis XII wing became the Fine Arts Museum of Blois in 1869. The eight rooms contain a collection of paintings and sculptures from the 16th to 19th century and a group of French and Flemish tapestries.
The Francis I staircase overlooks the courtyard, and its half-in and half-out appearance suggests a ceremonial function. It allows users to see and be seen; the king could be admired from the courtyard, whether going up or coming down.
The House of Magic
Ideally located in front of the Château Royal, the House of Magic is a large 19th-century house that recounts the history of magic and conjuring and the life and work of the famed conjurer from Blois, Eugène Robert-Houdin. Inside, over 2000 m² spread over five levels, discover the history of magic and original exhibitions and optical illusions of all kinds. Be amazed by the six-headed dragon that pops up from the windows every half hour.
You will need more than a day to do justice to the sights of Blois. The Sound and Light show at the Château, the Cathédral of St. Louis of Blois, the Denis-Papin staircase, and the four pedestrian circuits called À nous les p’tits clous, marked with bronze studs to guide you, are on our next visit.
And the Chateaux Chambord and Cheverny are minutes away. Although there are many good eateries in Blois, one deserves mention, Le Triboulet ( great view).
5 Rue de la Voûte, 41000 Blois
+33 2 54 90 41 41
9:00 am – 1:00 pm then 2:00 pm – 6:00 pm (Mon-Sat); 9:00 am – 1:00 pm (Sun).
Train: Paris-Austerlitz to Blois 1h23. Car: A10 from Paris.