Jun 7, 2012

Chateau d'Amboise, Loire Valley, France

Walking along the Naples terrace, castle wall and river to my right.  This is the Louis XII wing of the castle and the medieval Minimes Tower to the right.

I'm a country girl by heart so after a week of city-life in London and Paris, I took a train south and spent two days along the River Loire in the quaint town of Amboise.

We dropped our bags at the hotel and walked the narrow alleys over to the chateau/castle.  This was my daughter's first time to visit a castle and first time to roam ancient alleys so I was enjoying her excitement.

The castle dates to Medieval times but has been entirely restored, part in the Gothic style and part in the later French Renaissance style, both around the 14th - 18th centuries. 

The castle stands along the main street - the hub of activity - in Amboise, lined with cafes, bakeries and the fabulous Bigot Chocolatier.  The cross street has sandwich and pizza joints as well.....

We paid our way into the castle, grabbed audio tour headsets and ascended the ramp that guards, horses and carriages traversed so many years ago.

Our first stop was the St. Hubert's Chapel - the Gothic little building pictured above on the castle wall.   This chapel was built when Charles VIII occupied the castle in the late 1400's and was for his personal use.    The chapel now contains the grave of Leonardo da Vinci.

I love art and was awestruck to be at da Vinci's grave.   At the age of 64, da Vinci was invited to join the French court at Amboise.  He lived in the Manor of Cloux (Clos Luce' - open for tours) and was put on a salary for teaching, designing canals and urban planning.  He participated in designing other nearby chateaus and was very close friends with the King.  He died in 1519 and was buried in the chapel at the castle.  By the way, this is how the Mona Lisa ended up in Paris instead of a museum in Italy.  It was one of the few paintings da Vinci brought over with him.

Let's go back to Charles VIII for a minute.  Poor Charles.  He loved the castle and was responsible for so many of the renovations and improvements, but didn't live long enough to enjoy them.  One April morning in 1498, Charles and his wife (Anne of Brittany) made their way through the castle to go watch a tennis game on the court overlooking the moat.  On the way, poor Charles bumped his head on a door frame and died a few hours later, only 28 years old. 

I just love these old castle walls!  Such fortification! I try to image what it was like living there.  And not bumping my head of course.

Charles and his successor cousin Louis XII campaigned aggressively for French occupation in Italy.  There was constant back and forth for many generations and you can still see the Italian influence in Amboise today.  Louis brought in his cousin Francois I to grow up in the castle, acceding to the throne in 1515.  Francois added the Louis XII wing in the Italian Renaissance style and is responsible for bringing da Vinci over.   He loved the arts and is the King you always see pictured with a beret cock-eyed on his head.

The Renaissance rooms are furnished as they were back then.  I was happy to tour the Cup Bearer's room because I had just begun a study of the book of Nehemiah who was a cup bearer.   Both Gothic and Renaissance furniture was on display here.

I took a breather in the Franciscan Antechamber because I could not resist this monstrous bench.

The intertwining ropes carved above the fireplace are a symbol of the Franciscan monastic order.  There is a lot of other symbolism in the fireplace, but the most peculiar was the salamander, Francois' fave.

The castle survived all the King Henries and then the French Revolution and Napoleon wiped out a lot of it, then in the 1800s it became popular once again.  There is a lot of empire style furniture on display and a 19th century grand piano that is gorgeous.

I loved the audio tour, learning all that history, but our favorite part was the great outdoors.  Standing on the tower roof provides beautiful views of the river and the town below.  We had a beautiful mid-May afternoon, cool and sunny.

Touring the chateau/castle in Amboise is a must.  But let me tell you this:  also a must is having your morning coffee at the cafe' at the foot of the castle.   This was my view at 8:45 the next morning.  That busy street was almost empty, only 4 or 5 people on the cafe' terrace, talking, drinking espresso.  A woman walking by calls out "bonjour!" to me. 

I sip my tiny drink in its tiny cup in the shadows of the castle looking up at where da Vinci hung out and is now buried.  Da Vinci himself walked around up there!  I sip and I wonder What did he do up there?  What did they discuss while they walked?

Travel Tips:

You can walk from the train station (north side of river) to your hotel, but it's a long walk and difficult pulling a suitcase.  Plan ahead and have a taxi waiting for you.  Both taxi drivers we met spoke very little English. The tourist places are on the south side of the river.

If you use the laundromat (close to the Tourist Info. building), get your clothes out early.  We left our clothes in the dryer while we went to dinner.  When we returned, the laundromat was locked up and wouldn't open until after our train left the next morning.  (we left half our clothes for a three week trip in that laundromat forever)

We stayed at the Hotel Blason and it was an excellent experience.  The staff speaks English and is very helpful.  We had sketchy internet in our room and great internet in the lobby, but the lobby is small.  From the Blason, you can walk to the castle, Da Vinci's home, the river walk and the wine caves.

Rent a car in nearby Tours if you want to tour other nearby chateaus or do a bus tour.  Public transportation isn't available.  Taxis are good, but expensive and difficult to schedule.  It cost us 20 or 30 euros one way to get out to Chenonceau and the driver wouldn't come back to get us - we actually got stuck out there.  You can rent a bike and get over there, but it's a hilly, tough ride.  Chenonceau is one of the most beautiful chateaus and is on the Cher River.  We took a narrated boat tour on the river, going under the chateau.  Chenonceaux en Bateaux  

1 comment:

Jen said...

I hope i get to see it one day!