My mom and I walked up to the French bike shop, shaking hands with our tour guide for the day. We had scheduled a biking tour through the Loire Valley, and I had been looking forward to this part of the vacation for months. Biking is one of my favorite ways to de-stress, and I knew that biking through the rural fields of France would make the activity even more serene. Once we were all settled with our bikes and bags, we kicked off the curb and started biking along the gravel roads that wind through the Loire Valley.

We biked past rich fields of lavender, dense woods of massive trees, and grassy fields void of anything except peace. The only word I could use to describe how I felt was serenity. I felt so free, so connected with the countryside that I forgot my troubles and responsibilities.

Along our journey, we came across a few quaint towns with only a handful of residents. The small cottages invited us to stop, promising new friends and good conversation. We did end up stopping by a few, purchasing fresh bread, cheeses, chocolate, and meats from the locals. My bag grew heavier and heavier, filling with the makings of a delicious lunch that taunted my nose and stomach.

Eventually, we arrived at our destination: the Château de Chambord.

We laid out the picnic blanket a good distance from the château, making sure we could see the entire structure all at once. As we ate the food we collected on our journey, I tried to envision this château at its prime. Did people actually live in manors and castles that looked like this? I was so used to these structures being only in fairy-tales and storybooks, yet I was looking at a real château in front of me. As soon as I finished the last of my meal, I grabbed my mom’s hand and dragged her with me into the château, excited to see the interior that was sure to match the majesty of the exterior.

Walking around the chilly halls, I desperately wished I was an old duchess that lived in this château. I could imagine the activity that once existed in this building: servants running around with tea trays, visitors gazing at the once-present portraits of the residents, late-night walks along the dark corridors only lit by candlelight. There were so many rooms and halls that begged my exploration, and I was willing to find all the secrets the Château de Chambord held. But eventually it was time to leave, so I whispered to the stone walls a promise to return again.

As I looked back at the Château de Chambord one last time, I engrained in my mind the grandeur of the building, kicked my bike stand back into place, and rode off to experience again the stillness of the Loire Valley.

—Madeline Dewsnup