Have you ever been somewhere that makes you feel like you’re walking in a real life fairytale? That’s exactly how I felt as we pulled into Amboise, France, a small medieval town in the Loire Valley. The final home of Leonardo da Vinci and home to Château Royal d’Amboise, it’s as if you’re walking in the real life version of Beauty & the Beast. The people are friendly, the food is outstanding and if the walls could talk...it would be a hard to top history lesson. About 140 miles outside of Paris, Amboise is one of many stops to make throughout the Loire Valley and believe me when I say - there are many. Known for the highest concentration of chateaus in the world, the Loire Valley is one of France’s largest wine producing regions, especially white wine and sparkling wine (not to be confused with Champagne which can only be made in the region of the same name). While Amboise is not the only town I suggest for a visit in the Loire Valley, it is one of my favorites. If I haven’t convinced you yet, here are five reasons why you should visit Amboise....
1 - The History. Amboise has seen much of history from being the home of kings and hosting notable historical figures to being the epicenter of religious turmoil. It’s been used as a place of celebration and a place of incarceration. It’s amazing to realize how much this town has been through over centuries - like I said, if the walls could talk I could only imagine what they’d say. Amboise also served as a fortress during its long life. Because of this, there are underground passageways which offer a unique look back into history. Lucky for us, these tunnels as well as the towers within the fortress are accessible through special tours. The town and château especially was nearly destroyed during the French Revolution. After being returned to the heirs of Louis Philippe in the late 19th century, the château went under a complete restoration only to be damaged once again during World War II during the German invasion. Restorations took place for the final time after the war and are now kept by a local organization. Today, Amboise still maintains its Renaissance charm which is what gives it such a fairy tale-like character that seems at times, unreal.
2 - Château Royal d’Amboise is breathtaking inside and out. The château is smaller in size compared to many others but the quaint size is what makes it so charming. Amboise has seen its fair share of neglect but it’s always been rebuilt and today, it shares a window to the past so that we might understand what life was like throughout the centuries that came before us. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, there is much to see at Château Royal d’Amboise. For starters, Leonardo da Vinci is buried in Saint-Hubert’s Chapel which sits atop the castle gardens. For anyone who adores Renaissance art and the great minds from that generation, this is an absolute must. The rooms inside the chateau have been returned to their former glory when royalty made it their home. The gardens that sit on top of the château overlook the town and the valley for some of the best views you’ll find in the Loire.
3 - Château du Clos Lucé was the final home of Leonardo da Vinci. He lived here for the final three years of his life with a select few students and it is now a museum dedicated to his life and work. Located just outside the town’s borders, Clos Lucé holds many of Leonardo's unfinished work as well as finished pieces and drawings of ideas and inventions he had not yet gotten to. Clos Lucé was originally built by the Amboise family who the town was named after in the 15th Century. It later became a summer home of the Kings of France which is how it came to be da Vinci’s final home. King Francis I admired da Vinci and asked him to be the “Premier Painter and Engineer and Architect of the King” which obviously, he accepted. Clos Lucé pays tribute to more than just the famed artist. There are rooms dedicated to other periods of time and figures who also took up residence on the property, for example, Queen Anne of Brittany.
4 - The Amboise Sunday Market is a favorite among visitors and locals within the entire Loire Valley. The market features vendors selling everything from food to clothing to furniture. Many people make a day of it and finish with a picnic by the river or tour one of the aforementioned châteaux. Because of the market’s popularity, it’s important to get there early to beat crowds. Grab all the produce you need for the week with freshly grown vegetables and fruits, purchase fresh meat butchered that very morning, and enjoy pre-made cuisine that proves French street food is as good as anywhere else. The market takes place in the Place du Marchée beside the Loire River. It’s quite large and busy but 100% worth experiencing at least once.
5 - The town of Amboise is as charming as its château of the same name. Because Amboise has higher tourist traffic than similar small towns within the Loire Valley, it has novelties and conveniences that others might not. There are many restaurants, bakeries, cafes, shops and fun things to do and see. The gardens of the château provide unbeatable panoramic views of the Loire Valley. The streets of Amboise take you to a different place and time. The people are friendly and welcoming. The food is simply fantastic. It’s hard to hate Amboise from its charming personality to welcoming nature to historical significance. The town and the château have had a rough life but that alone speaks to the people’s tenacity and strength. In fact, I fell in love with Amboise so much that it’s my #1 choice to settle down for a time when I manage to get back to Europee indefinitely. When a place leaves a mark on you that strong, you know it’s meant to be.