Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Paris, Normandy, Brittany & Loire Valley

France! What comes to mind? Wine, Paris & French!

When my parents and their friends asked me if I’d like to join them on a trip to France, I said why not.. After all, I had visited in 1998 during the FIFA World Cup, and that too was just a week’s stay in Paris, and I hadn’t had a chance to anything else other than Paris and Versailles. Besides visiting Paris alone (1998) would probably be different than with a group of friends. So, to France we went.. Seven of us in a group. Three families.. :D

This trip was my fourth with Insight Vacations, and my parents’ fifth, and our friends were first timers. The tour of “Normandy, Brittany & Loire Valley” started and ended in Paris.. gay Paree… We made it to Paris from Kuala Lumpur via Singapore and Munich without any incident, except when we reached our Hotel to discover that only 5 of our 7 bags made it out of the bus, while the other 2 needed to go for an additional ride to tour Paris. C’est La Vie (such is life).

P.S. Please note that all images in this blog are from However, should you like to view my Photos, you can do so at my Webshots Community Album. You can also read my other Travel Blogs here.

P.S. Please note that some of the images in this blog are from However, all other images are copyrighted © 2009, Karen Toh Guek Bee, and can be viewed at my Webshots Community Album. You can also read my other Travel Blogs here.

Travel Blog References
• Contents compiled and written by Karen Toh Guek Bee.
• Wikipedia

Photography Images:
• Copyright © 2009, Karen Toh Guek Bee,
• Courtesy of,

Versailles: The Chateau and Gardens of Versailles

Transport yourselves back into the period of the Sun King, Louis XIV and imagine the King, Queen and their courtiers gossiping, dancing, flirting and plotting intrigue.

The Chateau and Gardens of Versailles has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979: The Chateau was the principal residence of the French kings from the time of Louis XIV to Louis XVI. Embellished by several generations of architects, sculptors, decorators and landscape architects, it provided Europe with a model of the ideal royal residence for over a century.

The Chateau of Versailles was transformed from a hunting lodge built by King Louis XIII, into an extravagant palace over a period of 50 years. It was Louis XIV who set out to build a palace that would be the envy of Europe, and where he could keep an eye on the Nobles of France, where he summoned them to live at his court.

However it was Louis XVI who was the last king to live in the Chateau, mainly due to the Queen’s frivolous spending that led to their downfall. Marie Antoinette and Louis XIV were at Versailles on October 6, 1789 when they were notified of the hungry mobs marching towards the palace. The people of Paris were hungry as there was high unemployment and the cost of food to high for the general populace to afford. It was on this date that the Royal family was forced to leave Versailles and move to the Tuileries Palace in Paris.

The magnificent Grand Appartements are in the Louis XIV style, each named after the allegorical painting on the room’s ceiling. The most famous room at Versailles is the 71m long Hall of Mirrors, begun by Mansart in 1698 in the Louis XIV style, decorated by Le Brun with 17 arched windows faced by beveled mirrors in simulated arcades.

Gardens of Versailles: From the central window of the Hall of Mirrors, provides onlookers with a grand perspective that leads the gaze from the Water Parterre to the horizon. Two large rectangular pools reflect the sunlight and light up the façade of the Hall of Mirrors.

The Orangerie with its wide space, high trees and pure lines is one of the crowning achievements of Jules Hardouin-Mansart which best shows his talent as a great architect. Some of the orange trees from Portugal, Spain and Italy, and lemon and pomegranate trees are over 200 years old. They are kept indoors here in winter before being spread during the summer on its flowerbed.

Normandy (Normandie)

  • Rouen

    Rouen is known for the location in where Joan of Arc (Jeanne D’Arc) was burned alive as a heretic and a witch. Tied to a stake, she was burned on May 30, 1431. Her ashes were gathered and tossed into the Seine.

    A modern church “Place du Viuex-Marche” with stained glass windows from St-Vincent sits in the centre of the monumental complex in the square. Beside it is a bronze cross that marks the position of St. Joan’s stake.
    (Place du Viuex-Marche Image: Courtesy of

    The Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Rouen was immortalized by Claude Monet in his paintings.

    Also a popular tourist attraction is the Rue du Gros-Horloge or the Street of the Great Clock, now a shopping mall that runs between the Cathedral and the Vieux-Marche and the cathedral. On this street is an arch that with an ornate gilt Renaissance astronomical clock, which dates back to the 16th century.

  • Honfleur

    Honfleur is known for its old, beautiful picturesque port, with it prettily painted and slate-covered houses and the yachts and fishing boats docked alongside. This port was originally founded by Vikings. The port itself is bordered on three sides, by large stones houses on the Southside, and high and narrow wooden houses to the North.

  • Trouville-sur-Mer

    Trouville by the Sea is a popular fisherman village in Normandy in the region of Calvados, well known for fine beaches, beautiful villas and a Casino.

  • Bayeux

    Bayeux is the the home of the Bayeux Tapestry, one of the oldest surviving complete tapestries in the world. The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux was the original home of the Bayeux Tapestry, and was the site where William forced Harold Godwinson to take the oath, the breaking of which lead to the Norman conquest of England.

    The Bayuex Tapestry is a 50 cm by 70 m (20 inches by 230 feet) long embroidered cloth – not an actual tapestry – which explains the events leading up to the Norman Conquest of England as well as the events of the invasion itself – the Battle of Hastings of October 1066.

    The French legend maintains that the tapestry was commissioned and created by Queen Matilda, William the Conqueror’s wife, and her ladies-in-waiting. (The Bayeux Tapestry Image: Courtesy of

  • D-Day Beaches

    • Courseulles-sur-Mer, Codename: Juno Beach

      Juno Beach stretched from Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer on the east to Courseulles-sur-Mer on the west. It was one of the five main landing sites of the Allied invasion of the coast of Normandy on D-Day during World War II.

      At 0730 hours 6th June 1944, the 6th Canadian Armoured Regiment in support of the 7 Canadian Infantry Brigade of the 3 Canadian Infrantry Division, assaulted and overpowered enemy defences between Courseulles-sur-Mer and Bernieres-sur-Mer.
    • Arromanches-les-Bains, Codename: Gold Beach

      Gold Beach is the code name for the main landing point of the used by British troops in the Allied invasion of the Normandy landings. Arromanches was selected as one of the sites for two Mulberry Harbours built on the Normandy coast, the other one built further West at Omaha Beach. Sections of the Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches still remain today with huge concrete blocks sitting on the sand, and more can be seen further out at sea.
      (Arromanches-les-Bains Image: Courtesy of
    • Colleville-sur-Mer, Codename: Omaha Beach

      Omaha Beach is the code name for one of the main landing points of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France in the Normandy landings on June 6 1944, during World War II.

      The beach was located on the northern coast of France, facing the English Channel, and was 5 miles (8 km) long, from east of Sainte-Honorine-des-Pertes to west of Vierville-sur-Mer on the right bank of the Douve river estuary.

      The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial is located at the top of the bluff of the Omaha Beach, one of the landing beaches of the Normandy Invasion during World War II. The cemetery covers 70 hectares (172 acres) and contains 9,387 American military dead, most of whom were killed during the invasion of Normandy and ensuing military operations in World War II. The graves face westward, towards the United States, and include some graves of those shot down over France as early as 1942 (before the 1944 invasion).

    • Pointe du Hoc

      Pointe du Hoc is a cliff top location west of Omaha Beach, standing on 100 feet (30 m) tall cliffs overlooking the sea. It was a German stronghold and the point of attack by the United States Army Ranger Assault Group during invasion of World War II.

  • Mont-Saint-Michel

    Le Mont-Saint-Michel is a rocky tidal island located approximately one km off France’s north coast, at the mouth of the of the Couesnon River near Avranches.

    A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Mont-Saint-Michel was connected to the mainland via a thin natural land bridge, which was covered at high tide and revealed at low tide.

    Over the centuries, the coastal flats have been reclaimed to create pasture, hence the distance between the shore and the south coast of Mont-Saint-Michel has decreatsed. The River has been canalised, reducing the flow of water and thereby encouraging a silting-up of the bay. In 1897, the land bridge was fortified into a true causeway, which prevented the tide from scouring the silt around the mount.

    In 2006, France decided to build a hydraulic dam that will help remove the accumulated silt and make Mont-St-Michel and island again. The project is expected to be completed by 2012 and introduce a more environmental friendly way for tourists to visit the rock, while preserving it for future generations.
  • Brittany (Bretagne)

  • Saint Malo

    Saint-Malo is a walled port city in Brittany. In the Middle Ages, it was a fortified island at the mouth of the Rance River, controlling not only the estuary but the open sea beyond. Later, Saint-Malo became notorious as the home of the corsairs, French privateers and sometimes pirates. Jacques Cartier, born in Saint-Malo, sailed from Saint-Malo up the Saint Lawrence River and visited sites of Quebec Citny and Montreal, and is thus credited as the discoverer of Canada.

  • Cancale

    Cancale lies along the coast to the east of Saint-Malo. A picturesque fishing village with a reputation as the "oyster capital" of Brittany, Cancale attracts tourists with a large number of choice restaurants serving seafood.

  • Loire Valley (Vallée de la Loire)

  • Château d'Ussé

    The Château d'Ussé was built in the fifteenth century as a stronghold at the edge of the Chinon forest overlooking the Indre Valley. The Chateau’s picturesque aspects inspired a fairy tale classic published by Charles Perrault’s “Sleeping Beauty”, which became 1959 Walt Disney’s animated film.

  • Château de Rochecotte

    The château de Rochecotte is a late 18th century château located in the French village of Saint-Patrice, near Langeais. The chateau originally belonged to the comte de Rochecotte, who was executed during the French Revolution. In 1828 it was sold to Dorothée de Courlande, duchess of Dino, who undertook the reconstruction.

  • Château de Chenonceau

    The Château de Chenonceau is a castle near the small village of Chenonceaux, built on the site of an old mill on the River Cher. The castle was seized by King Francis I for unpaid debts to the crown, and it was his successor, King Henry II who gifted the chateau to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. She had the arched bridge constructed, joining the chateau to its opposite bank, and oversaw the plainting of extensive flowers, vegetable gardens and a variety of fruit trees.

    However, upon the death of Henry II in 1559, his strong willed widow and regent Catherine de' Medici had Diane expelled, and forced Diane to exchange it for Château Chaumont.

    (Château de Chenonceau Image: Courtesy of

  • Tours

    Tours is famous for its original medieval district, called le Vieux Tours.

    Unique to the Old City are its preserved half-timbered buildings and la Place Plumereau, a square with busy pubs and restaurants, whose open-air tables fill the center of the square.

    (Tours Image: Courtesy of

  • Château d'Azay-le-Rideau

    The Château d'Azay-le-Rideau was built on an island in the Indre River, with it’s foundations straight out of the water.

    Giles Berthelot, state treasurer of King Francis I of France and major of Tours began building this already fortified site, that was partly his wife’s inheritance.

  • Château de Villandry

    The Château de Villandry is a castle-palace located in Villandry, known for its beauty and famous Renaissance gardens which include a water garden, ornamental flower gardens, and vegetable gardens. The chateaux is a World Heritage Site.

  • Chartres

    The town is best known for the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres, widely considered to be the finest gothic cathedral in France. The cathedral was the most important building in the town, as it was the centre of economy, the most famous landmark and the focal point of almost every activity.

    The Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres can be seen hovering in mid-air above waving fields of wheat, and as visitors draw closer to the City of Chartres, two contrasting spires can be seen. Its historical and cultural importance is recognized by its inclusion on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.

    Noted for its many large stained glass windows, the cathedral is noted for its three large rose windows – the Last Judgment, the Glorification of the Virgin; and the Glorification of Christ.

    Another interesting feature of the cathedral is its labyrinth. It is perhaps the best known classical labyrinth, as it is also the only one of the larger medieval labyrinths still existing. The Chartres labyrinth measures about 13 metres (43 feet). It has unique decorative elements which make it easy to identify and which certainly contributed to its fame. Its general design is that of the 860 manuscript: it is, by far, the most common design in the manuscripts and even on the floors of the cathedrals. (Reference:

    This labyrinth was meant to be walked but is reported to be infrequently used today. In the past it could be walked as a pilgrimage and/or for repentance. As a pilgrimage it was a questing, searching journey with the hope of becoming closer to God. When used for repentance the pilgrims would walk on their knees.


  • Arc De Triomphe

    The Arc de Triomphe is a famous landmark, and a horror for foreign drivers trying to use the roundabout which has a star shaped configuration that radiates into avenues.

    The triumphal arch honors those who fought for France, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. On the inside and the top of the arc there are all of the names of generals and wars fought. Underneath is the tomb of the unknown soldier from World War I, with an eternal flame that burns in memory of the dead who were never identified (in both World Wars).
    (Arc De Triomphe Image: Courtesy of Wikipedia)

  • Eiffel Tower

    The Eiffel Tower was built as an entrance arch for the 1889 World’s Fair, and is the tallest building in Paris. It is the most visited paid monument, and was named after its designer, engineer Gustave Eiffel. Standing 324 metres (1,063 feet) tall, the structure is made of steel and weighs approx 10,000 tonnes.

    The tower has three levels for visitors. Visitors can choose to ascend either on stairs or lifts to the first and second levels. Walking up to the first and second levels requires fitness as it takes over 300 steps per level. The third level is only accessible by lift.

    In order to maintain a uniform appearance to an observer on the ground, three separate colors of paint are used on the tower, with the darkest on the bottom and the lightest at the top. On occasion the colour of the paint is changed; the tower is currently painted a shade of brownish-grey.

  • Notre Dame de Paris

    This Gothic masterpeice, built on an island on the River Seine, is the first building to have flying buttresses (arched exterior supports).

    Notre Dame meaning Our Lady in French, has seen many interesting events over time, namely the petiton to the papal delegation to overturn Jeanne d'Arc’s conviction for heresy; her beatification and later her canonization; It also bore witness to the coronation ceremony of Napoléon I and his wife Joséphine, with Pope Pius VII officiating. It was Napoléon Bonaparte who who crowned himself emperor!

  • La Conciergerie

    The Conciergerie is a former royal palace and prison, located on the west of the Île de la Cité, near Notre-Dame. It is part of the larger complex known as the Palais de Justice, which is still used for judicial purposes.

    Hundreds of prisoners during the French Revolution were taken from La Conciergerie to be executed on the Guillotine at a number of locations around Paris, including Queen Marie Antoinette.

  • Basilica Sacré-Cœur

    The Basilica of the Sacred Heart is a well known landmark in Paris, located at the summit of the butte of Montmartre, the highest point in the city.

    The basilica is built of travertine stone, which excludes calcite, ensuring that the basilica remains white even with weathering and pollution.

  • Musée du Louvre

    The Grand Louvre is the largest national museum in France, and houses nearly 380,000 objects ranging from prehistory to the 19th century. The Palais du Louvre is part of the Musuem, located next to the Tuileries Gardens.

    The Louvre Palace is an almost rectangular structure, composed of the square Cour Carrée and two wings which wrap the Cour Napoléon to the north and south. In the heart of the complex is the Louvre Pyramid, above the visitor’s center. The museum is divided into three wings: the Sully Wing to the east, which contains the Cour Carrée and the oldest parts of the Louvre; the Richelieu Wing to the north; and the Denon Wing, which borders the Seine to the south.

  • Moulin Rouge

    The Red Windmill which is what Moulin Rouge means in French, is a caberet built in 1889, located close to Montmartre, and is marked by the red windmill on its roof

    The Moulin Rouge is best known for its can-can dance, which has evolved from the dance by courtesans to its modern musical dance entertainment which still attract tourists worldwide. Watch the Video Clip on this site, for a sneak of the Feerie Show!

  • Champs-Élysées

    The Avenue des Champs-Élysées is a prestigious avenue, with cinemas, cafes, luxury specialty shops and clipped chestnut trees. The avenue runs for 2 kilometers (1.25 miles) from Place de la Concorde in the east, to the Palace Charles de Gaulle in the west, location of the Arc de Arc de Triomphe.

  • Les Invalides

    Les Invalides is a complex of buildings containing museums and monuments, all relating to the military history of France. It is also has a hospital and retirement home for war veterans, which was the building’s original purpose.

    Napoléon Bonaparte’s (Napoléon I) remains lie entombed in a porphyry sarcophagus in the crypt under the dome at Les Invalides.