From rallying to renaissance….

….or, as John says, yet another bloody castle.

Having decided against Diane’s recommendations to visit Tours and Blois, and Gillian’s for Chenonceaux, as ‘too far’ we drove 1.5 hours to the Matra Museum at Romorantin-Lanthenay. Interestingly, Google said it would take 7.5 hours to cycle 125km. Clearly Google still doesn’t understand how slowly Kim cycles.

For those of you who know nothing about Matra, feel free to skip ahead and miss a whole paragraph about one of France’s most innovative car manufacturers. But before you do, the museum also hosts a small display of Beaulieu cine cameras. These cameras had a reputation for making very high quality cine films and were favoured by the rich and famous, including Grace Kelly. Like so many other manufacturers Beaulieu couldn’t compete with the digital revolution and ceased trading in 2002. However, should you be lucky enough to own one, you can still get it repaired and serviced at Beaulieu’s remaining site in Romorantin.

Kim was interested enough to choose her car of the day, one of five Matra 530s customised and sold at auction, in 1967, to raise funds for French medical research. This one was designed by Ukrainian-born French artist, Sonia Delaunay and Kim is thinking the Beetle would look good like this.

Matra is one of many French names known for its completion cars, as well as aerospace and missile defence and now forms part of the MBDA group based in Stevenage and Henlow. At one time Matra did produce road cars in association with other manufacturers such as Talbot and Simca including a range of quite pretty three seater sports cars. They also created the concept of the Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) with the Rancho, its off-road look designed to build on a new trend created by the Range Rover and was eventually developed to become the Renault Espace.

We stopped briefly in a traditional French bar, the owner looked horrified when we asked for a menu! Our choices were very simple, coffee, cigarettes, wine or a Loto ticket. Lunch was therefore picked up in a nearby Patisserie, duck and goats cheese tart for Kim, not a combination you would expect, but it’s officially her favourite meal of the trip. We can’t the say the same for the snail petite bouchée which made it straight to the bin. We knew we were in trouble when the baker said it needed to be cooked and eaten hot. We didn’t think it would survive an afternoon left in a warm car.

Next stop, Villandry, an hours drive back towards Chinon. Temperatures had risen to over 30 degrees as we walked 500m from the wrong car park, and before starting our tour of chateau and gardens refreshed ourselves with ice creams. John chose lime and tarragon sorbet while Kim settled for verbena, mint and nettle ice cream. Quite frankly, it’s worth the trip just for the ice cream.

Well, the chateau and gardens are certainly impressive. The chateau is still owned by the Carvallo family, the current owner’s grandfather bought it in 1906 and set about renovating it using his wealthy wife’s money. It was clearly a labour of love and, despite its grand proportions and historic furnishing, you can also see how it could be a home.

Views over the gardens are truly stunning with everything tamed and manicured to within an inch of its life. Views across the knot gardens were at their best from the upper rooms of the chateau. Even John admitted the gardens were impressive.

We popped into the Office de Tourisme on our way back to the car and discovered Maurice Dufresne Museum of Technological History is at Azay le Rideau, far nearer than the Matra museum and would have entertained John just as well.

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