|Royal Fortress of Chinon|
This post’s title refers to Eleanor of Aquitaine, who was duchess of that same region in southwestern France in the 11th century, and wife of King Henry II Plantagenet of England, for a time. They had eight children together, including the crusader king Richard the Lionheart and the disastrous king John of England, you know, the one who was forced to sign the Magna Carta in 1212. Eleanor herself was involved in her fair share of political and romantic drama and even traveled across Europe and Palestine. She even governed England and parts of France—something unheard of for a woman in the Middle Ages.
I got really interested in the lives of Eleanor and Henry in college, when I took a yearlong course on the history of Britain and did an independent study that included Eleanor. About this time, I came across the 1968 film starring Peter O’Toole and Katharine Hepburn, The Lion in Winter, an adaptation of a play about a fictional Christmas court involving Eleanor & Henry’s family and set in the château of Chinon.
|Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II’s tombs from Wikipedia|
I never got to visit the abbey; no public transport runs there and I wasn’t about to bike there in the winter or spend a fortune on a taxi. I did, however, get to see Chinon.
This castle starred in history again a few centuries later during the Hundred Years’ War, a dynastic struggle between English and French claimants over who would be king of France. In 1429, Joan of Arc rode here to inspire the dauphin (prince) of France, the future Charles VII, to accept his destiny as king of France and drive out the English from the country. It was a very surreal experience wandering around Eleanor’s old haunts from 800 years ago, as well as one of Joan of Arc’s most important stops.
The Rick Steves guidebook says Chinon’s fortress doesn’t have much of anything to see, it being in ruins, but au contraire, Rick! From 2003 to 2010, major reconstruction went on that resulted in a fresh, sharp, and gleaming complex of restored towers and dwellings rebuilt as they would have looked in the 1400s.
|Chinon and the Vienne River|
Despite being such a small town, Chinon has got a ton of really good restaurants scattered mainly along the pedestrianized streets in the old quarter. For example, I ran across a Tex-Mex restaurant called Le Tennessee—in the middle of rural France. I almost splurged for a hamburger and guacamole, but instead…
|Place du Général de Gaulle|
Would you stop off at Chinon if you explored the Loire Valley or would you visit other châteaux? Have you ever gone on pilgrimage to historical or movie-related sites? Talk about it in the comments below!
For more pictures, check out my set on Flickr here.