The history of the town of Amboise is totally linked to its location on the banks of the Loire River. The Romans built a settlement here and the Visigoths in the fifth century on their rampage through France spent some time here. The first fortress built here was in 880 by Louis II of France who also built a bridge over the ford of the river. The river that runs through this valley is a direct route between Paris and the west coast of France where significant Dukedoms such as Brittany, Normandy, Anjou and Aquitaine controlled the tributaries of the Loire and so controlled the trade heading for Paris. Controlling the Loire Valley was vital for the expanding French Kingdom and so Amboise was the most significant fortress on the river until the late Middle Ages. As a result of these strategic concerns, the Chateau of Amboise was home to various French kings and Princes for many centuries.
We arrived on our bikes in Amboise near where the most recent bridge over the Loire stands, ready for lunch. We chained up our bikes and went for a stroll down the main street with the Chateau towering above us on the parapets overlooking the river.
Perhaps the most important period in Amboise’s strategic control of the Loire Valley was during the 100 Wears War (1337 to 1453) with England. It was after these terrible years that the French Monarchy felt they could modernise the medieval fortress into a ‘modern’ chateau. This was done by Charles VIII from 1498 and it was an event in his period of rule that is today a significant part of Amboise’s attraction for tourists. Charles invited the ageing Leonardo da Vinci to come to France and spend his later years (1516-1519) working in Amboise and living in comfort in the King’s manor, Clos Luce. We didn’t get to see this Manor in our short time in Amboise but it is located in the centre of Amboise, not so far from the Chateau that a tunnel was built between these two major royal buildings. Today it is an historical monument and is a museum for all things Da Vinci.
The map below, courtesy of Chateau-Amboise.com, is a very useful for the visitor to orientate themselves with the grounds of the chateau and its orientation in the town of Amboise. The red arrows show our approximate walk around this beautiful place. The entrance to the grounds and the ticket office can be seen on the left side below.
The image below shows the entrance to the Chateau’s grounds as well as the small church of St Hubert on the left which is one of the first buildings the visitor encounters. It is apparently the burial place of Leonardo Da Vinci but even that concept is historically fraught, despite over 500,000 visitors attending this site in 2019 for the 500th anniversary of Da Vinci’s death. Originally, he was buried in St Florentin’s Church in the grounds of the Chateau but this building fell to ruin, along with other sections of the chateau in 18/19th century. During the revolutionary period, bones from the ruins of this church were reburied in St Hubert’s church and so this building is designated as the site of the interment of Da Vinci’s bones.
Despite the neglect of the property over later centuries, that Church of St Hubert survives and the sculptures above its main doorway are the most impressive in the grounds. The lintel above the doorway shows two scenes from the Lives of SS Hubert and Christopher.
From St Hubert’s we followed the path to the entrance to the Chateau. Despite its many former glories, this chateau didn’t experience the money and the renovations that Chateau de Chenonceau had continuously received over the centuries. From the end of the 17th century, the estate was neglected and large parts of the castle fell into ruin. Many features of the chateau were demolished and what we visited in 2011 was the result of some great restoration but its glory age of the 16th century has passed on.
If the inside of the chateau was slightly disappointing, the outside of this medieval building is a delight to inspect. We wandered along the battlements, checked out the towers and the views out over the Loire River. We decided we would wander the landscaped gardens on our way out, in particular checking out the memorial to Leonardo Da Vinci. As we headed towards the exit, we couldn’t help but be impressed by the topiary of the shrubs in the garden. (See image below for gardens against far wall.) We passed a gardener whose main job appeared to be moving around hundreds of shrubs and trimming them carefully to ensure their rounded appearance was maintained. I only hope he had other gardening jobs to do; trimming shrubs to the same round shape, day in, day out reminded me of the fate of the Greek hero Sisyphus who only had to roll one round boulder up hill every day.
Our Bike Company guide gave us careful instructions about heading out of Amboise over the ‘two bridges’, pointing out to us the pitfalls of busy roads and intersections. Our destination was St-Ouen-Les-Vignes but our guide made a note of one of the attractions of the village of Poce-sur-Cisse which we would be riding through. Appendix 2 at the end of this article has the reference to this 15th C chateau that we would have liked to visit if we had the time and energy. We kept going and arrived at St-Ouen-les Vignes, passed the Marie on our right and arrived at Hotel for the evening, L’Aubiniere.
APPENDIX 1: Two famous women who spent some time in Amboise
Two controversial women who had a significant impact on the history of their age, spent some time in Amboise. The other thing they had in common was that they were both executed by the English State.
Joan of Arc passed through Amboise in 1429 on her way to Orleans to the Battle of Patay. She was burnt at the stake two years later for ‘heresy’ by the English army in Rouen.
Mary Stuart (Queen of Scots) came to France in 1548 at the age of six and spent some years in Amboise as part of the court of Henry II of France. Ten years later she married the Dauphin of France and was Queen of France for two years before her first husband died of ill health. She returned to Scotland and was executed by her cousin, Elizabeth I of England, in 1587.
APPENDIX 2: POCE-SUR-CISSE
The Chateau in the photo on the right above is NOT the chateau referred to in the above tourist suggestion on the left. It is the chateau that Mick Jagger is renovating for his own holidays in France. No tourists are invited here but apparently Paul McCartney and the late David Bowie have visited.