CENTRE amboise castle

Amboise (pop 11,500) is a market town that was once the home of the French Royal Court, sheltering a young Charles VIII and François I. It is also said to be the resting place of Leonardo Da Vinci, who spent his final years in the town, under the protection of François I. Besides the reputable names and genuine antiquity, Amboise also presents a rather pleasant aura that exists all year round except summer, when the tourist crowds arrive to visit, Da Vinci’s old mansion. The town is also a good base to begin exploring the various châteaux around the Loire.

Amboise lies on the southern bank of the Loire, connected to the small Île d’Or via Pont du Général Leclerc. Its town centre is located close to the riverbanks and its main commercial street rue Nationale, runs westbound. You can arrive via train at the station across the river at Bd Gambetta or via a daily bus that stops at the Amboise Post Office [20 Quai Gén de Gaulle].


AMBROISE STREET MAP:   1. Tourist office  2. Train station (north of map limits)  3.  Hôtel de Ville  4. Château Royal D’Amboiseentrance  5.  Town centre  6. Clos Lucé  7. Église St-Denis 8. Pagode de Chanteloup (south of map limits; zoom out 3 clicks) 9. Parc de Mini-Chateaux (south of map limits; zoom out 3 clicks)

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FRANCE CENTRE INDRE ET LOIRE Amboise castle.Chapel where Leonardo da Vinci is buriedThe iconic Château Royal D’Amboise [ +33 247570098, ad/ch, €9.50/6.70] stands guard of the town on a rocky escarpment. The castle used to be at least 5 times its current size, but it remains impressive nonetheless. The château was once home to Charles VIII who remodelled the Italianate features into the castle in 1492 and the council chamber still bears the initial of its king and his wife- Anne de Bretagne. The castle also saw the growth of François I and his sister, Margaret of Angoulêne.   

The Château maintained a rather quiet reputation throughout history, until its encounter with the Huguenots during the War of Religions in 1560. This castle was the site of the first battle that marked the beginning of the war and although it defended itself successfully, it suffered significant damage. Due to this and many other factors, few of the ancient features remain intact in the castle today. Some of the survivors are- the Flamboyant Gothic wing, the small Chapelle St Huber and the interiors of the guard rooms and the belvedere.      

Located southeast of the château is the historic Clos Lucé [2 rue du Clos Lucé, +33 247570073, ad/ch€ (9.50-12.50)/(6.50-7.50)]. The old mansion was initially a manor residence that was presented to a kitchen boy by King Louis XI, in 1471. Back then it was simply home built with pink bricks and tufa stones. During the reign of Charles VIII, it morphed into a royal summer residence that saw the presence of Anne de Bretagne and a young François I. In 1516, François I, a great admirer of Da Vinci’s works, issued an invitation to the artist. Leonardo Da Vinci accepted the royal invite, but he was already 64 by the time he arrived at Amboise. Hence, he spent most of his time here, sketching new inventions. Today, the house showcases many of his ingenious contraptions in the rooms and the landscaped grounds.      

Lying west of the castle is the Église St-Denis. Said to be built in the 12th century, this Romanesque church is a fine white building that comprises of components from later periods as well. For example, it houses a 16th century Entombment and a 17th century depiction of Charles VIII welcoming St- François de Paule to Amboise.    

If you head on south of the church, to an area that lies between Chambord and Chinon, you will come across the Pagode de Chanteloup [ +33 247572097,  ad/ch, €8.40/6.40]. It is the only remaining structure of the former castle of Ducs de Choiseul. Built in 1775, the pagoda blends the features of classic French architecture with Chinese motifs. It stands 44m high, presenting sweeping green views of the countryside below.     

South of town is the quirky Parc de Mini-Chateaux [La Menaudière, +33 247234457, ad/ch €13.50/9.50] - an amusement & entertainment park that collects various scale models of the Loire’s castle. Each model is made with great detail and intricacy, and it provides a good replica of the actual castle. The children-friendly place also organises many interesting activities for visiting families. The park includes the Aquarium du Val de Loire [] displaying thousands of saltwater and freshwater fish.

A popular activity in Amboise is cycling. The surrounding landscape provides many options for seasoned bikers and leisure riders, as you can head on to have an intense mountain biking workout or a calming riverside ride. There are a number of rental shops around town that provide the necessary equipment.