Our second stop in the Loire Valley was Amboise, right on the river. Today it’s a cute, quiet, and quaint town of perhaps 14,000 people but it was once the home of the French royal court, particularly under Francis I. Mary, Queen of Scots, grew up here, as did Charles VIII of France who ruled from 1483 until his death in 1498 (from hitting his head on the lintel of a door here!). And no less than Leonardo da Vinci spent the last few years of his life here, welcomed by Francis I who put the great Renaissance mind up at a manor house just a very short walk from his Château.
We had a lovely and modestly lazy visit here. Actually, for me and Mark it wasn’t particularly lazy at all; we’ve gotten pretty good at taking our tourist stops easy. This was our brief visit with Mark’s sister Jeanne and her family, though, and they’d been pretty aggressive with their time in Paris and Normandy, so for them it was a bit of a break. In all there were three major things to see in Amboise:
1. Clos Lucé was Leonardo da Vinci’s official residence for the last three years of his life, from 1516 to 1519; it is believed that he finished the Mona Lisa here. Today it is a museum with period furniture in a bunch of rooms open for tour and, more interesting for most, a lot of his inventions on display. I have to admit, it wasn’t really for me. Presumably I just don’t have enough of a scientific, mechanical, or engineering bent to appreciate it. It’s really popular, though, and lots of other people love it so my relative boredom probably has more to do with me than with the actual merits of the property itself.
2. Château d’Amboise, just a few hundred yards from Clos Lucé and connected by an underground tunnel, was a favored royal residence during much of the 15th and 16th centuries. I loved touring the Château and found the scale far more comfortable than some of the huge castles we’ve seen. And – this is big – Leonardo da Vinci is buried here in the Chapel of Saint-Hubert. With this visit, Mark has now seen the burial places of all four Ninja Turtles (Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael, and Donatello). How many people can say that??
3. Finally, the Château de Chenonceau is just a few miles up the road from Amboise. Spanning the River Cher (contrary to common belief, the river was not named for the great American chanteuse of the same name) the Château is one of the most famous in the Loire Valley. I love part of the history. When Henry II inherited the crown from Francis I (da Vinci’s patron), he gave the Château to his favorite mistress Diane de Poitiers, a woman 20 years his senior. She laid beautiful gardens and built the part of the building that spans the river but, when Henry died from a wound incurred during a jousting match his widow Catherine de Medici, who’d never really taken to her husband’s mistress, wasted no time in evicting poor Diane. Catherine then laid out her own gardens and to this day there are competing gardens to stroll through. Those crazy Medicis!
Beyond those were the big attractions in Amboise we discovered a fabulous little restaurant, Chez Bruno, directly across from the Château d’Amboise in a touristy area where you just wouldn’t expect great quality. It was good enough, though, that we had lunch there twice and dinner once in our three-night stop. And a great bar/café across the river where we could have Negronis while admiring an evening view of the Château That, and of course the chance to visit with the various El Hindis made it a great stop.
From here the plan was to return the car in Paris and fly to Ireland for our last 12 days in Europe. Over the last few weeks, though, instead of researching what we wanted to do in Ireland and where we wanted to go, we were having fun with the Germains in Italy. Not until Amboise did we realize that we had no plans, no reservations, nothing for Ireland. We discovered the country was kind of booked up so at the last minute – literally the day before we were supposed to go there – we canceled our flight and decided to stay in France. Our flight back to the States was supposed to go from Dublin to Paris and then on to Minneapolis, so we just canceled the Dublin-Paris leg and will fly directly from Paris.
How’s that for spontaneous? In a perfect world we would have extended our car rental for a few days and driven to Normandy before heading to Paris but in case you haven’t noticed this is not a perfect world. Good, but not perfect. We were unable to talk to anyone who could extend our car rental without first returning it to Charles de Gaulle airport, so instead we just decided to return the damned thing and spend a few days in Paris. How bad could that be?