Thursday, May 18, 2006

Easter In The Loire Valley - France 2006

Easter’s pre-Christian roots are in celebrating the beginning of the warm season. This is when ancient farmers’ year used to begin. The English word “year”, the German “jahr”, the Russian cognate “yaro” all refer to the spring. It is also the reason why the ninth month’s name, September actually means “the seventh” as the Roman calendar also started in the spring. The celebration of the Sun’s return to longer shifts in the sky, the resurrection of the Sun god, dates back to Pharaonic Egypt.

Where else could it be better to celebrate Easter than in the Loire Valley, the original fairytale land and the Garden of France where both royal and land-tilling tradition form a gloriously enjoyable symbiosis. Majestic châteaux and abundance of fresh land produce – here you get the best of beauty and taste (culture and gastronomy).

In this land of the Sleeping Beauty, Richard the Lionheart and Descartes, every turn of the road brings you back into your childhood fairy tales, school textbooks or favourite novels of youth. This was the playground of real and fictional characters belonging to the whole world’s heritage: Catherine de' Medici, Jeanne d'Arc, Gargantua and Pantagruel. Here Jules Verne was writing his pioneering science fiction, Marcel Proust was trundling the Guermantes Way, Cardinal Richileu was born and Leonardo da Vinci died.

With the prosperity brought by continuous royal presence, the Loire Valley is the likeliest the cradle of la doceur de vivre - that very quintessential French art of fine living. Madeleine cakes, Cointreau liqueur, Le Mans car races, tarte Tatin, the Chartres Cathedral, light-and-sound shows, Balzac's and George Sand's novels are just a few of the Loire Valley's contributions to the world. On the banks of the Loire, "the most sensous river of France", as Flaubert called it, a great variety of glorious wines is made. For those in the know: Muscadet, Vouvray, Anjou, Chinon and Pouilly-Fumé all hail from here, as well as Saumur, Sancerre and Bourgeuil.

Mild climate and fertile soils earned the Loire Valley the moniker of the Garden of France. It is famous for the abundance of high quality food produce: most fresh vegetable and mushrooms that end up on Parisians' tables originate here. What you buy in the supermarket as the champignon de Paris has most likely been grown in Anjou. Most famous cheeses here are made from goat's milk, like Crottins de Chavignol, served grilled on a bed of lettuce, but my personal favourite, the sinfully decadent, runny Selles-sur-Cher is based on cow’s milk.

Highlights of the trip

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