The ”Acropolis of France”

Photo by Alex Bethke

If Gothic cathedrals are a hallmark of France, Chartres is the center of the universe. With the presence of the sancta camisa, the veil that Mary wore while giving birth to Christ, Chartres and its cathedral have been a pilgrimage destination for well over one thousand years. It is only fitting, then, that the grandest of Gothic cathedrals be built to honor Notre-Dame. Chartres’s cathedral cannot be missed. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and for good reason. While the original 11th century Romanesque cathedral burned in 1194, there are a few noticeably extant portions that remain from that period in the much larger and now Gothic cathedral that resulted. Of the original basilica, the west, or Royal Portal, and the south tower remained. In fact, the northern tower was not constructed until the 15th century to finally provide symmetry, albeit in a different style, to the edifice. My personal favorite are the differences in the figures that adorn the Royal Portal and the south porch. These two features literally stand to personify the difference in architectural and even ecclesiastical style between the Romanesque (c. 1150) and Gothic (1250) periods. On the front portal, the figures stand staring into space without expression and are elongated, evoking a more Byzantine influence. By contrast, the south porch apostles are more realistically human, both in size and expressions of despair on their faces. While a study in contrasts, Chartres is celebrated as one of the original High Gothic period cathedrals that was not touched by the centuries of turmoil that followed, another more violent hallmark of France’s past.

La Feuille de Dreux

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It took us to Stage 8, but finally the 2018 Tour de France hit its first highly localized cheese near the start town of Dreux. Here, la Feuille de Dreux shines with local charm as evocative as the ancient town after which it is named. This soft, creamy cheese made from cow’s milk was traditionally the snack of field hands, although now it has taken on a sort of artisanal form. Most notably, the cheese is embellished with a chestnut leaf, which prevented the cheeses from sticking to each other when stacked. Aside from aesthetics and functionality, the chestnut leaf also imparts a chestnut scent and subtle forest flavor that pairs well with a Loire red wine like Touraine (from around Tours). It’s definitely a delicacy that is worth seeking out while in Dreux.

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