Royal Jubilations

An all-American girl explores England

France Day 7 (Thursday): Chinon and Ussé

on September 6, 2012
Chinon FortressChinon from across the riverChinon ceilingLouis in the dungeons at Chinonview atop ChinonChinon
Louis at ChinonJoan of Arc American WWI poster at Chinonview from Chinonview from ChinonChinonthe clocktower at Chinon
France Day 7, a set on Flickr.

Chinon was my absolute favourite castle because it is all about Katharine Hepburn (and you thought I wouldn’t mention The Great KH on this blog!). Well, it’s not about her, but it does mention a great deal about the great Eleanor of Aquitaine, played by Miss Hepburn in 1968’s THE LION IN WINTER, starring Peter O’Toole as England’s King Henry II. Chinon was the location of the royal family’s last Christmas together before Eleanor was returned to imprisonment and Henry died and their sons started vying for the crown. Joan of Arc also visited Chinon several years after that to meet the future king of France. It also served as the prison for members of the Knights Templar – how cool is that!?Louis and I went around Chinon together. Unfortunately, until recently Chinon was nothing but a pile of ruins. But massive refurbishments have taken place since 2007 and it looks much more like it would have back in the day. They have done a fabulous job using different forms of media to teach the public. In some rooms of the castle, they used video to explain the historical characters and events. In another room they displayed a collection of Joan of Arc statuettes and images from various points in history. My favourite was a poster of Joan of Arc from WWI that called on American women to buy war bonds. There were also touch-screen monitors placed here and there where you could look at profiles of the monarchs and flip through timelines, etc. In other parts of the grounds, you could sit and listen to narratives about the meals prepared for feasts, machines and weapons, and battles that took place there.

Our guide leaflets served as electronic triggers for each room, so we always heard the presentations in English, which was great for the children. The kids also had little booklets with quizzes and games to complete as they went through the grounds. It was so much fun! There were lots of stairs, though – up the clock tower, down to the dungeons – we were pooped! We had a lovely picnic lunch across the river from Chinon, so we got some great pictures of the fortress through the boughs of a weeping willow tree. Beautiful.

After lunch we drove to nearby Chateau d’Ussé, a privately owned property that charged 14 euros entrance fee, so I sat that one out. The girls really liked Ussé because it had served as the inspiration for many fairy tales, including Sleeping Beauty, and each room contained mannequins in full costume. I’m not a fan of those sissy castles – I much prefer knights and sieges and dungeons and stuff like that. All that showy stuff is just so vulgar and ostentatious. I don’t blame the French for revolting. Gee whiz.

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