When living in a city as sprawling and culturally rich as Paris, it's easy to get lost there and forget the rest of the world. But Paris is not the center of the universe (despite what some Parisians might say), and a necessary part of study abroad should be to explore more of your host country.
The IES Abroad program helped us jumpstart this exploration with an included weekend trip to either the Loire Valley castles or the beaches of Normandy, and as a huge fan of all things historical and royal, I chose the first option. On our trip we saw the castles of Chenonceau, Blois, and Chambord, and stayed overnight in the city of Blois. I had already visited two of the three castles on a high school trip to France, but I was very grateful that I had decided to go again, as it was a much different experience the second time around. First, this time it was February instead of June, so it was quite a bit colder, but the castles also had a lot less visitors. In addition, this trip gave all of us an opportunity to meet and bond with other students in the program.
Below, you can see some of the pictures I took on the two-day getaway to the Loire Valley, and maybe even learn a thing or two about the history of France! And if you want to see bigger versions of the photos, scroll to the bottom and click through the photo album.
The castle of Chenonceau, our first stop and by far my favorite castle. It stretches across the river Cher and was home to many a French monarch and even an army hospital in World War I.
The great hall of Chenonceau, a room straight out of a Disney princess movie.
A view of the bridge-like castle through a window.
A room filled with art and information boards detailing the long history of the castle and its owners.
My favorite part of the castle by far. This castle was a favorite of royal spouses King Henri II and Catherine de Medici, so they had their initials (the large H and the intertwined Cs) put into many of the castle's decorations. However, this castles was also favored by the king's favorite mistress, Diane de Poitiers... and if you look closely at the monogram... those Cs and the H look a lot like a D for Diane. What a power move.
Next up, the castle of Blois, which is actually several architectural styles all stuck together in one gigantic but very drafty castle. This façade is neo-classical, built in the early 1600s.
As we move around the Blois castle courtyard, we move back in time. This spiral staircase is its most famous architectural piece and is in the Renaissance style.
One of the oldest sections of the castle, the Gothic wing, built at the dawn of the 1500s.
As I mentioned, we stayed overnight in the city of Blois, and all the food we had was so good! I'm insanely picky about salads, and even I loved this one!
Jumping for joy in front of the final castle of our trip, Chambord! This castle was massive, but for the most part empty, as much of the furniture and art was sold or destroyed during the French Revolution.
One really cool feature the castle offered was a virtual reality tablet. Just scan a medallion in your room of choice, and the tablet showed you a 360 degree view of that room that moved with you, showing you how it looked centuries ago.
Some rooms, on the other hand, were furnished, and what lovely furniture it was.
Some crockery actually used in the castle, salvaged from the 16th century.
A hallway lined with antlers... those poor deer.
And the pièce de résistance, the orntaely decorated roof of Chambord.