Saturday, 3 November 2012

Prieure de Relay - Loire - France

All too soon our short stay in Paris came to an end and we were off on the train to Tours to meet up with a large group of friends, and friends of friends, we were joining for our three week holiday in France.

All went well...that is if you don't count nearly forgetting to get off at the right station then scrambling to get off in time, finding the rental car company we had booked a car from closed, getting lost trying to find our accommodation, which wasn't recognised on the GPS, and spending an hour waiting for help in the blazing sun...yes, apart from that all went well!  Oh, and I won't mention that the nameless driver of our rental car seemed to be very drawn to curbs along the way!

After being rescued by some friends, who had already booked into the accommodation, we found we had been searching in the wrong direction and, to be fair to ourselves, the owners do not widely advertise their location because they get as many bookings as they can comfortably cope with without needing to.

The delays were soon forgotten, though.  We were thrilled when we finally saw the  Prieure  de Relay, a 12th century priory with a colourful and fascinating history.  Founded in around 1108 for Benedictine nuns it was visited by various kings of France from Charlemagne to Louis XIV.  Joan of Arc also called in for refreshments as she treked across France.  The pathway she led her troops along runs right beside the priory grounds and is still used as a horse treking trail.  The buildings were ransacked by the French revolutionaries and  occupied by the Nazis during the second world war.  There are bullet marks in the exterior walls where the Germans held rifle practice.  Today it is is a serene, tranquil place, in the private hands of a French couple who have fully refurbished the interior and rent most of the property out as holiday accommodation....and it is beautiful.

We were delighted when we drove through the stone gate to see the ancient buildings looking picture perfect in the afternoon sun.  With geraniums spilling from window boxes, roses climbing  up the walls and shutters framing the windows it is a photographers delight.  It is located in the forest of Villandry, the nearest village, Sache, the home of the famous 19th century writer, Balzac, is 3kms away. The property has 30 acres of land including several fields of sunflowers which were at their best during our stay, their smiling golden faces paying daily homage to the morning sun.

Our group had the priory to itself.  The accommodation included the main priory building, where I was, together with half our group of twenty, and an adjoining farmhouse where the other half stayed.  I was allocated the smallest and plainest room and I couldn't have been happier. It was an original nun's cell, simply furnished with a view over the gardens and away from the blazing afternoon sun.  At night I slept with the curtains open enjoying a million sparkling stars and the occasional aeroplane in the distance, the only sound the occasional hooting owl.  It was so peaceful.

Left:  My room

It was a great pleasure to stroll and explore the grounds at the end of each day. The remnants of the large vegetable gardens and orchard are still visible.  The chapel is surprisingly intact although the Germans built a wall through the middle of it to use it for storage.  It is a lovely chapel and still used on occasion.  Joan of Arc is celebrated in a modern stained glass window (picture below).  There are caves which were used for storing food and wine and for hiding from enemies (now gated off for safety purposes) and a large dove cote which has been largely restored. 


We had a blissful week at this divine location, relaxing, reading, chatting, making occasional forays to the nearby village of Azay le Rideau and sightseeing.  Evenings were spent enjoying long lazy meals under the stars by the priory's atmospheric stone walls.  It was extremely hot - in the high 30s and even up to 40 degrees which, thankfully, ensured that the nine children under nine in our group spent most of the days at the swimming pool, with their parents, some distance from the main building and us!