Plan a trip to France in 2019 to celebrate 500 years of Renaissance through the exotic French gardens, music and gastronomy in the beautiful Loire River Valley. Well, that’s what I am planning to do this year!
The Loire Valley has been called the “Garden of France” and is studded with over a thousand châteaux (château is a large house or castle in France), reflecting the architectural heritage in the valley’s historic towns; each with distinct architectural embellishments covering a wide range of variations, from the early medieval to the late Renaissance periods. They were originally created as feudal strongholds, over centuries past, in the strategic divide between southern and northern France; now many are privately owned.
Loire River Valley in France is also referred to as the “Cradle of the French” due to the abundance of vineyards, fruit orchards such as cherries, and artichoke and asparagus fields, which line the banks of the river. Notable for its historic towns, architecture, and wines, the valley has been inhabited since the Middle Palaeolithic period. In 2000, UNESCO added the central part of the Loire River valley to its list of World Heritage Sites, calling it “an exceptional cultural landscape, of great beauty, comprised of historic cities and villages, great architectural monuments – the châteaux – and lands that have been cultivated and shaped by centuries of interaction between local populations and their physical environment, in particular, the Loire itself.”
In 2019, the region is celebrating its Renaissance heritage: during the entire anniversary year, events, expositions, scientific symposiums, visits, and regional and European-themed courses revive the spirit of the Renaissance while confronting modern challenges, creating a dialogue between the history and the future. The spirit of the Renaissance manifests itself in three important elements that form part of its essential art de vivre: gardens, music and gastronomy.
As soon as spring arrives, Catherine de Medici’s garden at Chenonceau Chateau will bloom exclusively into black and white flowers, echoing its iconic queen and her famous gallery that overlooks the Cher. On July 5-6, and again on August 2-3, Villandry’s gardens will be illuminated by thousands of candles for magical, romantic evenings in the Loire Valley’s most iconic French gardens. Chambord Chateau’s French gardens made their return last year, offering unique views from the chateau’s terraces.
In Amboise, the Naples terraces are where you can contemplate panoramic views of the Loire and the Royal Chateau, and with the sweet scent of citrus from Dom Pacell’s orange grove on the neighbouring Domaine de Château-Gaillard; you could almost be in Tuscany.
The greatest hits of the Renaissance in the Loire Valley! Renaissance concerts will be held throughout the summer, featuring Doulce Mémoire, a group specialising in music of the period. The most beautiful melodies will ring out from Bourges to Tours, stopping by Valençay, Amboise, and Chambord Chateaus.
Every year in late September, Clos-Lucé Chateau hosts the European Renaissance Music Festival. For its 14th edition, the festival is granting carte blanche to the Spanish musician Jordi Savall, a specialist in Renaissance and Baroque music. He will also be present at the Chambord Festival on June 28 to July 13, whose theme this year will be Italy. As for Amboise Royal Chateau, it is bringing great Italian melodies back to life at the “Avanti la Musica” festival, running from mid-May to mid-August.
Balls were hugely popular during the Renaissance. At Langeais Chateau, the “Dance to the Renaissance” exhibition will provide a taste of the era’s dancing, with the Branle, Pavane, and Gaillarde, with master classes and a reconstruction of a Renaissance wedding. And to put your new skills into practice, head to Riveau Chateau on May 18 and Amboise Royal Chateau on July 25 to take part in a great Renaissance ball. In costume, of course!
The spirit of the Renaissance is everywhere in the Loire Valley... even on your plate!
What do the artichoke, the fork, and ginger have in common? All three appeared in the Renaissance and revolutionised gastronomy and dining in the Loire Valley! 500 years later, and the region’s chefs have decided to celebrate the culinary art of the 16th century by offering a gourmet experience to 21st-century visitors.
42 restaurants are participating in the “Taste the Renaissance” initiative, serving Renaissance menus from May to September. Back then, spices like cinnamon, cloves, saffron, nutmeg, and ginger were the predominant flavourings. They are found in almost every recipe, even in Hippocras, the spiced sweet wine, served cold alongside your meal. Sugar was also hugely popular, in both sweet and savoury dishes.
Stewed fruits and fruit preserves served as the desserts of the day. In the Renaissance sugar, just like spices, was a marker of social class. The “Taste the Renaissance” menus served in participating restaurants will showcase the produce and recipes of the time. Asparagus in gravy, lentil soup, aubergine cake, lemon chicken fricassee, chicken liver brochettes and pears stewed in wine... So many mouth-watering dishes!
Do you want to admire the beauty of the French gardens? Or marvel at the architectural wonders called Chateaux? Or get drowned in the music? Or simply fall prey to the food coma? The choice is yours!
(The author is a documentary filmmaker and travel writer; she blogs at vijayaprataptravelandbeyond.com)