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downundergal Amboise - A travel report by Kerrie
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Amboise,  France - flag France -  Centre
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downundergal's travel reports

The Chateau's of the lovely Loire Valley

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Spectacular scenery, delightful villages and more Chateau’s than you could possibly hope to visit in a lifetime – the Loire has some of the best of France rolled into one very perfect package.

Chambord from the other side of the moat
Chambord from the other side of the moat
Spread across an area of just 200 kilometres long and 100 kilometres wide the Loire Valley boasts so many Chateau’s that to see them all is nearly impossible.

The trick is to pick the one’s that interest you the most, with some of them like Villandry you can actually skip the interior and just visit the gardens. Others are most famous for their setting such as Chenonceau but are still worthwhile entering. We found that all were unique and worth visiting but for different reasons.

Of the ones that we visited Chenonceau with it’s fairytale setting and graceful arches of it’s entry bridge along with it’s pretty garden was my personal favorite, I really enjoyed Cheverny as it felt like a family home (albeit a very large one!) and also the magnificent structured gardens of Villandry.

We chose to base ourselves in the very charming village of Amboise and we found it suited our needs perfectly; small enough for a truly Gallic experience without too much bustle of a big town and well placed to access the majority of the Chateau’s we chose to visit.

Set on the banks of the Loire River; Amboise boasts atmospheric narrow, cobbled streets, some great examples of houses with exposed wood beams and some essential shops including Bigot a divine Chocolateir and a fantastic Patisserie – mmm Tarte Tartin (the French really know how to do their pastries) and some great delicatessens to stock up on cheese, pate &bread along with some great French wines – what more do you need?

We were essentially self catering but we did discover a great little restaurant called L’Amboiserie. Fast service, reasonable prices and a lovely terrace to sit out on with views of the castle. We had a lovely meal of Lamb cutlets, great crepes and yummy desserts.

Favourite spots:
Chenonceau - entering via an avenue of huge, ancient trees the first glimpse takes your breath away. We visited late in the day & the soft pink hue of dusk was highlighting and warming the stone walls with a subtle glow that set off the perfect mirror image of the Chateau reflected in the River Cher. Reminiscent of a fairytale with it's whimsical turrets and graceful arches the Chateau also boasts an interesting history. The current Chateau rebuilding commenced in the early 1500’s when the original small fortress was demolished. The only part that was kept was the tower in the entry courtyard. Changing hands many times, at one time the home of Diane de Poitiers, mistress of Henry II, then in the late 1500’s one wing was used by the Ursuline nuns, then in 1914 it was then converted to a field hospital wwhere up to 2000 wounded were tended in WW1. It was also used as a base for the Resistance as they used to smuggle out the escapees over the back draw bridge into the forest behind.

What's really great:
Villandy Chateau & its gardens.
Villandy Chateau & its gardens.
Villandry - we opted to visit just the gardens of Villandry and they were “magnificent”. The Chateau was saved in the early 1900’s by the grandfather of the present day owners, Dr Joachim Carvallo and it was he who set about re-creating the Renaissance gardens that make the Chateau so special today.

I found the layout of the gardens enchanting – the contrasting plantings of the ornamental gardens pink, white and red bordered by the greenery of the hedges in a semi repetitive design of abstract shapes made the view when looking at the gardens from a terrace above sensational. The first four squares of these are actually designed to represent the four stages of love, tenderness then passion, followed by fickle, and finally tragic represented by red & the duels that were commonplace in this time.

The beautifully balanced Chateau Cheverny.
The beautifully balanced Chateau Cheverny.
Cheverny - although large had a warmer more homey feeling than any of the other Chateau’s that we visited. This is due in part to the fact that it has always been in the same family; they actually lived there until 1985 & have maintained the original feel. Each room was jam packed with magnificent furnishings and personal mementos.

As you approach the first thing that jumps out at you is the perfect balance it presents, each side is a mirror image and it does not have the additions that many of the others do. In fact it actually looks more like a gracious stately home than a Chateau.

The interior is sumptuous – each room perfectly preserved and with the majority of the walls and ceilings covered in painted patterns or motifs. The standout room for me was the nursery or children’s room, still containing a beautiful crib and a couple of early rocking type horses.

The front of Le Cardinal
The front of Le Cardinal
From the first moment we arrived at Le Cardinal with its pale blue grey shutters and cheery red front door we were totally charmed. And as we stepped over the threshold we did really feel at home. This was a homely little place to stay and although we were five in our party we never felt we were on top of each other.

Initially we entered from the rear door into the kitchen and dining room. The dining area held an eight seat timber dining setting topped with a lovely bunch of fresh chrysanthemums and a welcome note on the whiteboard. This was flanked by a beautifully carved & ornate dresser.

The kitchen held all we needed a big old square double tub sink with and an island bench. It also contained a drawer dishwasher & full stove.

These two rooms were where we spent the most of our time.

The main kitchen & dining area
The main kitchen & dining area
Off the kitchen was a formal sitting room holding a leopard covered sofa & ornate provincial furniture – sounds a little strange but it still worked.

Up one flight of stairs was the main bathroom with a shower along with one of the smallest bedrooms with an iron frame bed & fireplace which my Aunt opted for. Then next to this was an alcove with a big old timber bed that doubled as a day bed that my sister in law claimed. Then on the other side was the main bedroom which we opted to give to the mother in law; it held a magnificent timber carved bed & with strikingly red bed cover, canopy and curtains. On the wall above the bed was a huge hanging tapestry. This was a quite awe inspiring room.

Then it was up the stairs once again. (There were thirty stairs in total from bottom to top) and up into the gabled space just below the roof top. Up here was a small sitting area with a lounge & television and off here was our bedroom. This was a cozy little room with a small window & skylight so it was still light and airy. At the other end of the landing was a second bathroom with a bath & a hand held shower. The only thing was you needed to opt for a bath as the roof gabling made it impossible to stand and shower. This room contained a washing machine & dryer which came in very handy.

There was also a lovely little outdoor courtyard filled with greenery which we loved to use for a sunny, simple lunch of fresh bread, pate & cheese or unwinding after a long day touring with a glass of wine in that lovely soft twilight time.

Part of the gardens
Part of the gardens
Close de Luce - make sure you visit here especially if you have any interest in science and even if you don’t you will still find yourself marveling at the mind that was Leonardo’s.

Originally built in the late 1400’s and was the summer residence of French Kings; in 1516 Leonardo was invited by King Francois I to live here and where he spent the last three years of his life.

You visit the house first following a set route, thru Leonardo’s bedroom then study where he designed amongst many other things a model castle, a water course & self closing doors.

The highlight is really kept until last down in four rooms in the basement where the Models of Leonardo have been recreated. There are approximately 40 models that were 4 centuries ahead of their time and the first of many later inventions including a tank, the flying machine (aeroplane), plumbers wrench, car, helicopter, and parachute and so the list goes on. It is fascinating so allow yourself some time including the gardens.

Amboise town - with some of the interesting wooden beamed houses.
Amboise town - with some of the interesting wooden beamed houses.
Even if you only want to visit the exterior of the various Chateau's you still need to pay the dual ticket price for both inside and out. With most of them costing between 7 - 10 euro’s and 12.50 for Clos Luce it quickly adds up.

Another thing to keep in mind is you can quickly suffer “Chateau Overload” if you try to cram in too many in one day or even over successive days so do your research & choose which ones you really must see.

The town of Blois is also worth visiting for its lovely cathedral and timber gabled houses. It also has its own Chateau but we opted not to visit.

A car is definitely the easiest and most convenient way to get around. Driving here is easy, the roads are good and with a “nav man” all the sights are easy to find. If time is short it is possible to still do a compact circuit and still visit the main ones.

Other recommendations:
Chateau Amboise
Chateau Amboise
Amboise Chateau is charming and is set alongside the Loire River overlooking Amboise.

It was the home of the French Kings and Queens between the 15th and 17th centuries including Henry the second is the final resting place of Leonardo da Vinci who spent his final three years living in Amboise.The Chateau was used as a Royal Residence for many years and you can see it in the quality of the furnishings and the beautifully carved pieces of furniture. The standout inside is the bedroom of Henri the second and the magnificently furnished red room. From the outside apart from its unassailable fortress walls it has a fairytale look with the round towers topped with almost whimsical turrets and gables. Although set on a large piece of ground the Chateau itself is not that large as the lawns and gardens outside the main building take up quite a bit of space. The small but pretty chapel of Saint Hubert stands diagonally opposite the main Chateau & is here where the tomb of Leonardo is found.

Published on Friday July 24th, 2009

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Fri, Aug 07 2009 - 03:53 PM rating by eirekay

Beautiful Report Kerrie! This brought back some terrific memories!

Tue, Aug 04 2009 - 12:29 PM rating by bineba

Lovely report with beautiful photos

Tue, Jul 28 2009 - 10:02 PM rating by gloriajames

brilliant and i feel transported to this place!
great villandy chateau the red and green contrast garden
whens your next adventure??

Sat, Jul 25 2009 - 04:40 AM rating by aufgehts

Kerrie, you really have some good information in here and it was a very enjoyable read. Sounds like you had a wonderful time in the Loire!

Fri, Jul 24 2009 - 08:05 PM rating by krisek

Kerrie, thank you for a great report on the Loire Valley. I have not been to the valley for almost 20 years! I guess nothing has changed in this time, and the chateaux are truly timeless. I travelled by hitch-hiking back then and stayed at campsites and people's backyards, who often offered free meals and sometimes rides to the next chateau, in exchange for travellers stories. Great narrative in your report and lovely photos! I still preferred pate to anything else...

Fri, Jul 24 2009 - 02:01 PM rating by mistybleu

After such a while, it is great to read one of your reports. It is well composed and an enjoyable read.

Fri, Jul 24 2009 - 04:25 AM rating by pesu

Great report about a marvellous region, nice pictures - thanks for sharing!

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