Old, Very Old, and Really Old.
Montsoreau is one of the villages in France recognized as being unique and special and, more than anything else, old. It’s located on the banks of the river Loire and it’s been here for . . . Well, Françoise, owner and proprietress of the B&B where I’m staying, just shrugs. “A very long time,” she says.
The buildings–all of them–are of stone blocks, even the newer ones, meaning those built perhaps a hundred years ago. The streets are narrow. The one in front of this house, rue Jehanne d’Arc, is probably a quarter mile long, but there are several stretches where the road can only accommodate one-lane of traffic.
Somehow it all works out and, when I expressed some concerns about parking my tiny rented Twingo (Yes, that’s really the name of the car made by Renault) just a few feet from a neighbor’s front door, Françoise dismisses my concern with a wave of her hand.
Everything is compact in Montsoreau, not just the cars. Many of the doorways were originally designed to accommodate people under five-and-a-half feet tall. Stairways are narrow and many of the buildings have odd shapes because they were built to fit exactly into an existing space.
Finally, Montsoreau refutes the idea that the French are not friendly. Walk down the narrow street and you get a smile and a soft “bonjour” from almost every local you pass. There’s no hustle or bustle. I had lunch yesterday in a local bistro and there were four middle-aged blue-collar types at nearby table. They were almost through with their lunch when I came in and they were just getting around to paying their check when I left. Sure as hell beats lunch out of a brown bag at your desk, doesn’t it!
I spent most of the day today in the walled fortress overlooking the town of Chinon, about 25 miles from here. There were a lot of people wandering around, admiring a view that holds your attention for several minutes at a time, and enjoying demonstrations of falconry.
A half dozen locals were there in medieval costumes answering our questions. That’s all well and good and it’s an obvious thing for the Office de Tourisme to be doing, but you don’t need that to appreciate these ancient towns.
The walls speak to you … they really do.
Tomorrow: Back to Paris.