Amboise: a taste of Italy in the Loire Valley
The town of Amboise, which lies on the south bank of the Loire below the proud remains of its castle, the Royal Château d’Amboise, is the most picturesque when seen from the bridge on the north bank of the river. This stunning sight is a must see on any Loire cycling holiday, and there’s really no better way to see Amboise than on a self-guided bike tour.
It is often said that Amboise has the most Italian flair of all the Loire Valley cities. It is here that Leonardo da Vinci spent the last days of his life, living the le Clos Lucé Castle. Amboise is a serene and easygoing town, where you will be able to stroll along the riverbanks and shop for local products in one of the largest markets in the area (Friday and Sunday morning).
The Royal Castle
The rock spur above the town, on which the chateau ruins stand, has been fortified since the Gallo-Roman period. The Royal Castle was once five times its present size, but has been much reduced by war and lack of finance. In the late fifteenth century, Charles VIII decided to turn the old castle of his childhood days into an extravagant and luxurious palace, adding the flamboyant Gothic wing that overlooks the river and the Chapelle de St-Hubert, which perches incongruously atop a buttress of the defensive walls. During the reign of François I, the chateau achieved notoriety. The Tour des Minimes, the original fifteenth-century entrance, is architecturally the most exciting part of the castle. With its massive internal ramp, it was designed for the maximum number of fully armored men on horseback to get in and out as quickly as possible.
This chateau was one of the first royal residences in the Loire Valley, where François I introduced the Italian taste in the Loire Valley. Full of history, the site includes an exceptional collection of Gothic and Renaissance furniture!
The Clos Lucé Castle
In 1515, Francis I won the Milano district and invited the great artist Leonardo da Vinci to France. The artist arrives at the Manoir du Cloux (today’s Chateau du Clos Lucé) in 1516 and never left, after a long trip through the Alps on a mule back. He brought with him 3 paintings: the Mona Lisa, John the Baptist and The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne. It is said that the King greeted him with these words: «Here you will be free to think, dream and work ».
Leonardo is appointed as « first painter, engineer, and architect of the King » and receives a salary of 1000 golden coins per year. He spent the last years of his life in France, splitting his time between the art of painting and his other passions until his death. In 1519, the master dies at the Clos Lucé, aged 67.
The chateau now houses several models of Leonard de Vinci’s mechanical inventions including the suspension bridge, paddle-wheel boat, and turbine. In July and August, son-et-lumière shows are held around 10 pm at both the châteaux and Clos-Lucé. The market takes place every Friday and Sunday morning by the riverside.