Caitlin and I just returned from a magical adventure.
The Loire Valley is littered with castles, yet in our seven months here, we had visited only one castle each (the closest one) and hadn’t even laid eyes on the Loire River. For the sake of stories and photo albums, we decided to rectify that situation by biking to the nearby village of Ponts-de-Cé. When we got there, we were devastated to discover that the Loire had disappeared. “How will they make wine?!” we cried in disbelief.
False alarm! A few meters farther, we got a real view of the Loire, which does indeed contain water.
After snacking on bread and apples in the park, we had over an hour to twiddle our thumbs until the castle museum opened. Ponts-de-Cé itself was fairly nondescript, but Caitlin had a great idea. “This would be more fun if we pretend it’s another country,” she said. So we did.
Like France, Ponts-de-Cé was still in Easter Sunday mode—that is, closed—so our only possible option for entertainment was a tabac that sold wine for —not kidding—1€10/glass. A country where wine is as cheap as water? Yes, please.
After a glass or three, we headed to the most ridiculous(ly wonderful) museum in the world.
From outside, Pont-de-Cé’s castle doesn’t look like much. It has neither moat nor ramparts, and kind of looks chopped in half. Because theirs lacks the grandeur of so many castles so very close by, I think the good people of Ponts-de-Cé knew they needed an edge. So once upon a time, someone said, “Hey I know! Let’s fill our B-list castle with bonnets!”
Inside, therefore, now lies the Musée des coiffes et des traditions—no joke, a museum full of hundreds of white lace bonnets.
France has a thing for putting glorious creepy mannequins in museums. This one was no exception.
The Ponts-de-Cése (the way I pronounce their nationality in my head, just by the way, sounds like “pond disease”) taught me an important lesson on my role as a woman. Most of the bonnets featured some motif (flowers, leaves, bells) in a set of seven, to symbolize the Seven Virtues of Women.
Throughout the museum, we pretended we were shopping for my wedding veil.
It got even better. Mindful of its castle setting, the bonnet museum invites you up the tower. On the way up the winding stairs, you pass the ominously-labeled “Room of Discipline.”
The “Room of Women’s Security” housed an impressive collection of dolls and some unlabeled pottery. Most of the dolls came from France, but also elsewhere in Europe, and just for fun, Guatemala.
What I loved about the museum, other than its obvious ridiculous factor, is that I’ve always loved old-fashioned clothes. My mother will gladly regale you with tales of the Laura Ingalls Wilder costumes she made me for Halloween. Seriously, it’s fascinating.
To visit a whole museum of old-fashioned accessories—set in an ancient castle, no less? What a day!