Friday, May 10, 2013

Loire Valley: Amboise and Le Choiseul

One of the reasons I love to travel is that new places offer a sense of wonder, a moment of openness, a sense of exhilaration. Exquisite landscapes, spots that seem to transport one back centuries, delicious food—this latest trip to France included many.

So now, how to share them with you? How to give you just a taste of what Paris and the Loire were like for us? After our trip to France I have over 1600 images and hundreds of GoPro video clips to sort through, so I've started breaking things up by day, and I thought the first day of the Discover France ( Deluxe Loire tour would be a nice place to start.
Amboise Chateau
Amboise is a town along the Loire topped by a chateau with Gothic and Renaissance elements. What you see today is actually only about a quarter of the size of the chateau at its height. Due to the bloody aftermath of a Huguenot conspiracy that left the chateau festooned with corpses, the place fell into disrepair during the age of the Louis XIV, the Sun King. But in its heyday, the Renaissance king Francois I, a contemporary of the English king Henry VIII, grew up here. In the early years of his reign he made many improvements, turning it into a showplace.
Portrait of King Francois I, who made the Loire very fashionable for chateau building

Amboise, with the ramp up to the Chateau at left
Francois brought Leonardo daVinci to his court and set him up with an atelier in Clos Lucé, a charming brick and half-timber house that was connected to the Chateau by an underground tunnel. At that time Leonardo was designing cutting edge weaponry and machines, as well as architecture and art. When he moved to Francois's royal court, he brought the Mona Lisa with him, which is how it came to be in the Louvre.
Leonardo's Last Home, Clos Lucé

Turrets and towers of Amboise Chateau
Amboise afforded us many many wow moments. The power of the castle looming over the sweet little village on the river - pictures barely do it justice. To arrive in Amboise we got off the train and walked down to the river, crossing the bridge - all recommendations of Rick Steves, by the way.

View of Amboise from the bridge across the Loire
And if you don't know who he is, go to his website,, and then when you get the chance, watch his travel show on PBS. The man is a genius, because he has made the charms of traveling to Europe much more accessible to us chiefly monolingual Americans. His guidebooks are an invaluable resource. His tips save you frustration, needless waiting on line, and open up unforgettable experiences.
Pennants flying at Amboise Chateau
Because history passed it by in the 1600s, the town of Amboise retains a medieval charm. On a major corner is the well-known chocolatier and patisserie, Bigot. As you can see here, they play the Leonardo theme to the hilt.
DaVinci-Inspired Chocolates in Amboise at Patisserie Bigot
Frozen Desserts at Patisserie Bigot

Pastries at Bigot
More to eat at Bigot

Beautiful little houses, Amboise
If you are an architecture fan, you won't run out of eye candy in Amboise. So many little adorable houses.
Room at Le Choiseul, Amboise
Le Choiseul, our hotel, managed to be humble and four-star all at once, homey and comfortable with lots of little buildings, a pool, and a pretty garden. Our room was in the Hermitage, and it had its own little patio. And even though it was up against a fairly busy road running along the Loire, it managed to be quiet.
Brasserie in Amboise - order the petillant, the local fizzy wine. It is delicious, has a flavor profile more like prosecco than Champagne, and it's reasonable.

Sunset over Chapel St.-Hubert, where DaVinci may be buried, at Amboise

Leonardo on an Apocryphal Bicycle -
the bicycle sketch in his notebooks is believed to be a fake.

Amuse bouche at Le 36, Le Choiseul
The food at Le 36, the restaurant at Le Choiseul, was exquisite, bordering on molecular gastronomy. Of all the very swanky food we had in the Loire included - yes, included - in our bike tour, this was my favorite. The view from the restaurant was lovely and peaceful, over the river and its island.

I could say much more about just this one place, but I will stop here, as I dream of returning to the Loire.

Cheers, Beauty Fans!

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