Road Trip, The Royal Route

Fol­low the traces of France’s royal his­tory, from the Saint-jean-de-luz of Louis XIV to Bordeaux’s 18th cen­tury ar­chi­tec­ture to Ab­baye de Fon­tevraud and the great châteaux of the Loire Val­ley

Bordeaux J'Adore - - Contents - SUZANNE NEL­SON

‘take ver­sailles, add an­twerp and You have Bordeaux’, said the great French nov­el­ist, poet and drama­tist Vic­tor Hugo. Hugo was re­fer­ring to Bordeaux’s ma­jes­tic 18th cen­tury ar­chi­tec­ture and its great river and com­mer­cial port. Bordeaux’s golden age was the 18th cen­tury, in the pe­riod be­fore the French Revo­lu­tion, when mer­chants re­mod­eled the city, be­queath­ing us the ar­chi­tec­ture we ad­mire to­day. Royal ar­chi­tects were com­mis­sioned to de­sign châteaux and build­ings like the Grand Theatre, the city’s sump­tu­ous opera house. In re­cent years, the city has scrubbed the build­ing façades of their soot, cre­ated pedes­trian zones, and now her out­stand­ing ar­chi­tec­ture blends smoothly into con­tem­po­rary life. Bordeaux is the ideal set­ting off point for a trip to ex­plore France’s royal ar­chi­tec­ture and his­tory. To the south, the Saint-jean-de-luz of Louis XIV, and to the north, Tours, Ab­baye Notre-dame de Fon­tevraud and the great châteaux of the Loire.

Bordeaux

Bordeaux’s Saint-an­dré Cathe­dral has served as the lo­ca­tion for two spe­cial events in his­tory, sep­a­rated by al­most five cen­turies! Eleanor of Aquitaine mar­ried the fu­ture King Louis VII of France here in 1137, while Louis XIII was be­trothed to the Span­ish In­fanta, Anne of Aus­tria, in 1615. The cathe­dral be­came a his­tor­i­cal mon­u­ment in 1862, then in 1998 it was placed on the UNESCO World Her­itage list as part of the Routes of San­ti­ago de Com­postela.

Saint-jean-de-luz

When Paris and Ver­sailles were the cen­ters of power in France, the roy­als trav­eled with their en­tourages, signed al­liances and owned pala­tial es­tates through­out the coun­try. Head­ing south from Bordeaux to­wards the bor­der with Spain is the Basque Coun­try. The charm­ing sea­side town on the bor­der, Sain­t­jean-de-luz, was once prime-pick­ings for pri­va­teers in the 16th and 17th cen­turies. The for­mi­da­ble Basque sailors were given per­mis­sion to seize en­emy ships, then shared the booty with king, the ad­mi­ralty and his crew. One pri­va­teer named Jo­han­nès de Suhi­garay­chipi com­man­deered more than 100 ships him­self. It was in this town that King Louis XIV de­cided to marry Maria Theresa of Aus­tria, In­fanta of Spain. Both roy­als ar­rived with con­sid­er­able en­tourages, and fes­tiv­i­ties en­sued. To­day you can visit the church where they were mar­ried and the house Louis XIV stayed in while in Saint-jean-de-luz.

Tours

Head­ing north from Bordeaux to­wards the Loire, stop in Tours, the gate­way to the fa­mous châteaux of the Loire Val­ley and once the seat of royal power. It was the cap­i­tal of France dur­ing the time of Louis XI in the 15th cen­tury, who en­joyed his res­i­dence at Château de Plessis-lèz-tours. In the 16th cen­tury the French no­bil­ity re­lo­cated to the Loire Val­ley and the build­ing spree be­gan, draw­ing the most tal­ented ar­chi­tects

and artists. Charles IX came through Tours in the 1560s, with his court in tow. To­day Tours is a lovely walk­ing city for his­tory and ar­chi­tec­ture buffs. One of the hall­marks of the city is the Place Plumereau with its half-tim­bered houses and Ro­manesque and Re­nais­sance façades. You can walk down the rue Na­tionale, once the ‘Royal Street’ link­ing Paris to Spain, north to south. From here, head to the Mu­seum of Fine Arts, housed in the mag­nif­i­cent for­mer Palais des Archevêques (Bishop’s Palace). It has one of the finest and most ex­ten­sive col­lec­tions of early Ital­ian works in France. It’s fit­ting that Tours would have such a lovely art col­lec­tion, given its his­tory of wealthy pa­trons. In the 16th cen­tury, Leonardo de Vinci ar­rived in the Loire Val­ley un­der the royal pa­tron­age of King Fran­cois I.

This golden age in the Loire grad­u­ally faded with the War of Re­li­gion be­tween Catholics and Protes­tants, fol­lowed by The Plague. The King and his court re­turned first to Paris, then to Ver­sailles. But the cas­tles and parks re­main to­day.

Châteaux of the Loire

Set­ting off from Tours, the châteaux of the Loire are all within an easy drive: Am­boise, Azay-le-rideau, Chenon­ceau, Chev­erny, Chi­non, Cham­bord, de Gizeux, de l’islette, du Clos Lucé, Jal­langes, Mar­cilly-sur-maulne, Am­boise, Blois, Valençay, Vil­landry… Im­pos­si­ble to list them all! Only on ar­rival in the re­gion do you be­gin to re­al­ize the con­cen­tra­tion of mag­nif­i­cent châteaux in this area. It seems fit­ting to end this royal tour at the Ab­baye Royale de Fon­tevraud (Royal Abbey of Fon­tevraud), the fi­nal rest­ing place of the for­mi­da­ble Eleanor of Aquitaine and her son Richard the Lion­heart. The Abbey is set in 13 hectares of park­land. It was founded nearly a thou­sand years ago, and over many cen­turies it was beloved of Kings and Queens like Eleanor of Aquitaine — which brings us back to Bordeaux. Eleanor mar­ried Henri Plan­ta­genet (the fu­ture King of Eng­land) in Bordeaux in 1189. Eleanor out­lived her younger hus­band, and even­tu­ally re­tired to Fon­tevraud, run­ning the af­fairs of the king­dom from the Abbey. Af­ter a long life of po­lit­i­cal in­trigue as Queen of Eng­land, she died here in 1204. Her hus­band, King Henri was also buried here, along with her son, King Richard the Lion­heart, all three in tombs in the royal abbey. Fon­tevraud con­tin­ued for cen­turies as a place of wor­ship, con­tem­pla­tion and art. At the time of the French Revo­lu­tion, the last abbess was evicted and Napoleon turned it into a prison. In 1963 the prison closed and restora­tion be­gan on Fon­tevraud. Af­ter 900 years of be­ing closed to the pub­lic, it opened its doors 1975. To­day, it re­mains a serene and beau­ti­ful place, and there’s a ho­tel and restau­rant mak­ing it an un­miss­able stop on your royal jour­ney.

PHOTO ANAÏS DUTOUR

Place Plumereau in Tours.

PHOTO TERRE ET CÔTE BASQUES

Saint-jean-bap­tiste Church in Saint-jean-de-luz.

PHOTO SHUT­TER­STOCK

Ver­sailles Palace.

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