After an excellent breakfast at our rather posh hotel in Montreuil we are back in our car and on our way to the Loire Region of France. Our destination is the small village of Limeray on the banks of the River Loire about 10 km from the much bigger town of Amboise. Back in the 1970s just about everyone’s favourite TV show was Little House on the Prairie, an American western drama television series (an adaptation of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s best-selling series of Little House books) about the Ingalls family who live on a farm in Walnut Grove, Minnesota, in the 1870s and 1880s. Well we have rented our little house in Limeray where our intention is to spend a week resting, reading (background stuff for the doctorates we are working for with the University of Winchester), and visiting some of the wonderful chateaux that the Loire is famous for.
We have quite a long drive ahead of us, but we can’t get into our little house until 6.00 p.m., so we are in no rush. We take the scenic route rather than the motorway enjoying the beautiful French countryside. We are heading for Chartres where we plan to stop for lunch and then visit the famous Gothic Cathedral with its spectacular Labyrinth. We have been to Chartres before but have not been in the Cathedral for several years. We recall our first visit there with amusement. We were staying in a nearby campsite and drove into Chartres for dinner. We were tired and hungry after a long drive and rushed into the first restaurant we could find overlooking the Cathedral. I ordered steak and frites and made the mistake of asking for my steak to be medium-rare forgetting that to the French that means rare. Never ask for your steak to be cooked rare because that virtually means ‘raw’ by the way! I ate it anyway, washed down with a glass or two of red, and we had such a good evening that we somehow managed to leave the restaurant without paying the bill … only to be chased down the street by an understandably outraged waiter! Fortunately for us he understood that it was an unintentional error on our part and saw the funny side of it all. We not only paid the bill but gave him a good tip as well!
We arrive in Chartres later than planned but find a nice restaurant opposite the Cathedral that is still serving lunches. Fortunately, it is not the restaurant that witnessed the unpaid bill saga – that restaurant is already closed. We both fancy omelette and frites (this is a French speciality in our opinion) and really enjoy our lunch with the help of a fresh green salad and a glass of chilled white wine. After lunch we visit the Cathedral which is much larger, and more impressive, than I remember. There are various ‘treasures’ housed here but the thing I remember, and want to see most of all again, is the famous prayer Labyrinth set into the floor stones in the nave and recognised as one of the world’s most famous paths. Sadly, it is for the most part covered by wooden chairs, so it is not possible to walk it. Even so, it is impressive.
Surrounded in mystery, the Labyrinth is thought to be a representation of the spiritual quest of the pilgrim traveling to the Holy Land. Apparently, labyrinths like this began appearing in Europe during the 12th century, mostly in Italy. The Labyrinth at Chartres is approximately 42 feet in diameter, and there are many theories surrounding its original construction. It was most probably constructed early in the 13th century, but we can’t be sure exactly since no documents have yet been found, and an excavation in 2001 revealed nothing of any real significance. Nevertheless, pilgrims have been coming to Chartres to walk the famous labyrinth for thousands of years now, and the tide shows no sign of slowing. Although the labyrinth is partially obscured by chairs, it is traditionally uncovered every Friday from 10.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. from the beginning of Lent to the end of October so that pilgrims can take time to prayerfully walk the Labyrinth. We are in Lent, but it is not a Friday, so the best we can do is stand in the centre and offer up a prayer or two.
We leave Chartres and complete the last leg of our journey to Limeray, only stopping once on the way to load up with groceries, etc. at one of those wonderful French hypermarkets. Our little house in Limeray is just what we wanted – quaint, rustic, set in the grounds of a small chateau where our hosts live, with open fires and plenty of kindling and logs. We soon have the fires lit and food on the table. The Ingalls family having nothing on us!