We have finally left the region of Brittany and are now in the Loire River Valley staying in Saumur. We picked up Marilyn, the third member of our party, from the train station, and headed over to our digs at St. Georges Villa, right along the river. The manor was built in 1834, and you can see from the staircase, which is big enough to accommodate any piece of furniture you’d want to move, that it had been a large grand house. It’s still grand, just divided into smaller apartments.
Our host, George, lives in one, his brother in another, their mother lives on the main floor, and a student lives on the third floor. We are in an apartment on the west side of the house, with 12 ft ceilings and large windows that open to the river and the backyard. Right outside the bedroom and bathroom windows stands a huge evergreen tree, almost 300 years old. Actually all the trees in the yard are monsters. George and his family have been taking care of them for a long time.
This is the perfect spot from which to admire and explore Saumur, whose buildings are mainly constructed of light-colored tuffeau stone. The villa is on the island in the Loire River, with picturesque bridges on either side. It’s an easy walk into town.
At night we can see the sun setting behind the main bridge. Then another show begins when the lights of the city come on. The Château de Saumur, built in the 10th century as a fortress, and the Saint-Pierre-du-Marais Church are lit from beneath. They reflect in the water, as do the lights on the bridge. Marilyn and I walked along the river path most nights that we stayed here.
I got the extra bed in the living room on the river side of the flat. At night I fell asleep to the sounds of street music and people passing by. In the morning, I heard the birds waking up and then sheep bleating loudly. Sheep? When I asked George about them, he said they were here, on the property, keeping the grass trimmed. How ecologically fun!
We spent our days driving through the countryside and visiting chateaus. We saw fields of sunflowers, heads drooping heavy with seeds. And vineyards!
The Loire Valley is wine country, and we viewed a wine cave storing the red wine of three area vintners and then experienced a tasting. I bought a bottle for later, but truth be told, I like the Breton cider better.
As luscious as all this sounds, the highlight for me was when we transferred from the villa to the houseboat right on the river. We had all the comforts of the villa, plus the cache of being on the water. We were astonished when George told us he built the house part of the boat himself. It took 14 tons of wood to do the job.
He also built the nearby boathouse modeled after an historic public washhouse design for use along the river. George is a busy man.
At first Marilyn and I startled and gasped every time the boat hit the bank. Dianne, being the consummate earthquake-weary Californian, didn’t bat an eye. But soon we were rolling with the jostling. Frankly, the river is so low this summer that we could probably walk across, so it’s not like we had speedboats rushing past, making large wakes. We were in our own little world, many feet below the level of the main bank.
Small ripples on the surface of the water reflected the sunlight like diamonds. We watched a small plane circling over the city in regular intervals, probably a sight-seeing flight.
As dusk came on, the sun sank behind a bank of clouds and a stillness settled on everything. The river seemed to quiet down too. River ripples disappeared and the water became glassy, reflecting the buildings on the other bank almost perfectly. We could see insects flying just inches off the surface. Small expanding circles appeared where fish kissed the surface of the water, searching for a meal. Every now and then, a fish jumped into the air, splashing down and disturbing the silence. A lone frog, deep throated like a bullfrog, swallowed hard with his ‘gulump’ sound.
Sunset burst above the cloud bank about 9 pm. We could see the silhouette of a fisherman casting his rod from the north bank. A boat floated across the river and nosed into a spot at a nearby dock. A large flock of birds cruised just above the river then soared up and over the bridge. It was magical – until the mosquitoes showed up. Then it was time to dive under the covers with just enough opening to stick our noses out and fall asleep.
With the morning light we enjoyed coffee on the fantail in our jammies. People walked above us along the cobbled walkway, and we waved at them, calling out “Bonjour,” cheerfully.
After showers and an initial packing up to leave Saumur, we discovered the biggest problem we’ve come across during the whole trip: we couldn’t figure out how to use the stovetop. It wouldn’t have been a problem if we hadn’t already cracked the eggs into the frying pan. We went up to the villa to look for George, but two workmen said he had just left.
So we improvised and microwaved them. Not the same as fried, but if this is the worst coping we have to do on this journey, we will be fortunate travelers indeed.
For other essays on our rural France journey, see:
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