Loire Valley – Episode 2

August 6th, 2011

As I was saying in the previous post, after 4 days in Saumur, I moved to Amboise for the rest of my stay in the region. On the way, I stopped first at the Chateau D’Ussé

I then stopped in Azay-le-Rideau (8). This is not a Royal Castle and actually the person who built it paid with his life for it. He was Tax collector for the King, and apparently, not all taxes collected ended up in the Royal Coffers! It is one of the most picture-perfect castles, right in the middle of a small town.

Any angle that you look at it is special.

The pond and garden in the back offer even more striking views.

It also has some of the best interior decorations that I have seen. A bit more modern than others (I am not sure when pool tables were introduced) but quite interesting.

Next stop was the Chateau de Villandry (9)

This is where you come if you are a gardener and not afraid of competition! The castle has the most intricate, most decorated and most varied gardens I have ever seen. The shot below only shows a small portion of the gardens nearer to the castle. In the background are the vegetable gardens..

Every available space is organised in a different way, always with very symmetrical and geometrical patterns.

Plenty of fountains too.

What I found amazing too are the different colours present everywhere.

There is a great flower garden, but I was not able to get a good photo of it as there is no place to stand far enough away… Instead you get a single flower, and a Ladybug.

It’s not Wimbledon, but they do have a grass tennis court – not sure when this one was built…

As I said earlier, they also have a very impressive vegetable garden. The vegetables are not chosen for the food, but for the looks, to make sure that the symmetry and colour contrast is maintained.

They now continue the tradition. Unfortunately, French law forbids them from selling or even donating the food that they grow (with state subsidies) and therefore most of it ends up as animal feed!

There are fountains and canals everywhere in the garden. All the fountains are fed by a natural spring above the castle – there are no pumps to operate them.

I finally made it to Amboise and immediately went on the Balloon ride which I described earlier. I am now moving into an area where the castles are much more popular and I therefore decided to visit them first thing in the morning, before the crowds arrived. I started with Chambord, THE castle that made the Loire Valley famous.

The castle was built by Francois 1er, some time after the ones I had visited earlier in Chinon and Blois. It is surrounded by the largest “private” hunting reserve in the world. What used to belong to the King, now belongs to the French Government and the reserve is set aside for the President, top ministers and their guests.

The approaches are quite impressive enough. The castle itself does not disappoint.

The most famous feature of the castle is the double internal staircase. There are two separate helical staircases to go from one floor to the next and they never meet…

Another bedroom – this is where the King slept whenever he was here.

The Queen’s bedroom.

This chateau had quite a few bedrooms – there needs to be space for visitors as well…

This corridor joins the main part of the castle to the private chapel.

It is not very important, but just above this one, there is another which has been decorated by a more recent owner of the Chateau. These trophies are mainly from Eastern Europe (Bulgaria, Hungary and Russia) and all date from the 1930’s!

The roof of the castle is a fascinating place. This is the decoration at the top of the double helical staircase. The “Lantern” at the very top (This is actually what it is called) was designed to provide light all the way down the staircase.

The weather was not the best while I was there. Still, the views from the upper terrasses was not bad.

A view of the decorations on the roof…

After Chambord, I drove 150 km to visit this bridge. It may not look very impressive to you until you look at it a little closer. It was built in the late 1800’s, so not particularly old… The one interesting feature is how thick the beams are. There is a very good reason for that!

This is the Pont Canal de Briare – a bridge which actually supports a canal that crosses the Loire River.

Here it is from above!

A view that shows better the fact that the canal, with a boat in it, crosses a river.

There is quite a bit of traffic on the bridge, mostly pleasure crafts these days.

A bicycle is essential to be able to move around town once you stop… The people in all the boats I saw crossing the bridge were taking as many pictures as I was – this is clearly one of the highlights of the trip for the boaters as well. Some probably must go a long way just to be able to cross this.

Enough of modern engineering and we are back to castles. On the way back to Amboise, I visited the Chateau de Chaumont-sur-Loire (10)

What a surprise – on this window we have the symbol of the Medici (the shield with five oranges) – this is another of Catherine de Medici’s bedrooms….

I have not quite understood why she needed so many in the same area. I realise that travelling 100 km at the time may have taken a few days, but still… Notice the two travel cases in front of the bed. Ready to leave at an instant’s notice?

Maybe she did, just because she could! As a way of showing her power over men… This was her ‘study’

Even though I had flown over it in a balloon, I still went to visit Chenonceaux (11) the following day. I was very early and one of the first persons to walk through the gates after they opened, so again I was able to get a first view of the castle without anybody else around.

I went inside first and saw the bedroom of Cathrine de Medici … one more!

Here, in order to give more credence to the story, they even have a picture of her on the wall.

Here is a view of the room right over the Cher River. This wing of the castle (the one that makes it so famous) was actually added much later by Diane de Poitier who wanted a quicker way to her hunting grounds which happen to be on the other side of the river. During WWII, the Cher River actually marked the border between Occupied and Free France; while the Germans had stationed border controls on most of the bridges across the river, they seemed to have forgotten about the castle and the back door of this room. Chenonceau became a favorite place for Resistance fighters to cross in and out of Occupied France.

I was not very impressed with most of the internal decor of this castle, except for the kitchens. I thought it had the best I had seen anywhere.

There was this very nice copper samovar even though I doubt they called it that at the time.

The collection of copper pots is quite impressive.

However, it is the rotisserie mechanism that I was most impressed by. There is a counterweight on the outside that is capable of operating the rotisserie for several hours at constant speed. You can prepare quite a few chickens at the same time here…

A view of the Gardens of Diane from the castle

and a view of the castle from the gardens of Diane. Symmetry is good sometimes!

The front porch … how to impress your visitors.

This is the oldest remaining portion of the original castle. The Marque Tower was left from the original building that was otherwise totally destroyed in the 16th century to build what we see today.

You know that I had to try to get decent reflections of the castle in the Cher River. There is just a little wind, enough to disturb the surface of the water closer to where I am…

Even closer, it is not quite perfect, but getting better.

Afterwards, I went to visit the Chateau de Cheverny (12). I only visited the gardens here, as I believe that I snuck in without paying … I walked in through the normal gate, but there was nobody there so I kept going.

You may ask – why go to this particular place, which is not one of the most famous castles in the Loire Valley.

Tintin fan may know the answer to that question. This very castle became the inspiration for Hergé when he created the ancestral home of Captain Haddock. Here is how he saw it – I tool this from wikipedia so you have to understand the somewhat lower quality of this picture…

The gardeners have a sense of humor! In French, the trees are just falling – in English, you are encouraged to forgive the trees as they are so old!

The prettiest part of the garden is actually just outside the fence. took this picture looking through a solid cast iron gate.

Later that day, I took a Segway tour of Amboise which took me to this viewpoint. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the curch in the distance was actually part of another town and the valley in between was marshland. In the last 100 years, it was gradually dried and occupied and there is not more separation between the two towns which have now become one.

The oldest house in Amboise – La Maison du Page. It is actually 7 stories high, built right along the cliffs and so it has a font door on the ground floor and a back exit on the 6th floor…

I took the two hour Segway tour with visit of Amboise and a wine testing. I was very happy that they let me do this as they normally require two people minimum to organise a tour and I was all by myself. I had a very good time and would strongly recommend anyboy who visits Amboise to check out the possibilities at the Segway Tour Office which is right across the street from the Tourism Bureau.

The main reason why I decided to stay in Amboise was Leonardo da Vinci. I discovered totally by accident, while researching this trip, that he actually died in Amboise as a guest of François 1er, King of France. He was given the Chateau of Clos-Lucé (13) where he could live and work. He spent the last three years of his life here.

A lot of Leonardo’s inventions have been recreated in the garden around the house. Here is a double decker bridge that was shown in severl sketches. This was part of his Model City. Leonardo understood that people would be moving more and more into cities and these would be crowded. The main justification for the double decker bridge was to separate pedestrian traffic from the carts and horses that could sometimes be very dangerous.

I can well imagine walking around here pondering my next invention. I wish my employer would give me a garden like this to provide better inspiration.

The cantilever bridge.

Everybody recognises his armored tanks.

Large reproductions of his drawings were also hanging amongst the trees.

A model of the mechanism he designed to lift heavy loads – this was used in construction of cathedrals and castles even before Leonardo, but he perfected it.

More views of the castle and garden, with the famous helicopter screw.

The Saturday I was in Amboise there was a national celebration of artists and artisans. Everywhere, it seems, people would present what they did, or entertain the passers by. This group danced to jazz, accompanied for this dance by just a flute and saxophone. I saw them with a guitarre or double bass later.

These guys, insted, played classic tunes from the 60’s and 70’s.

My last visit was to the Chateau d’Amboise (14). This is the chappel where Leonardo is now burried. He was originally burried somewhere else on the grounds of the castle, in another chapel. whne that was destroyed, his tomb was briefly lost. When it was re-discovered, his remains were brought to a new location inside this building.

A nice entrance with trees on both sides.

And a simple monument for anything but a simple man.

There is only a small portion of the original castle still left. There were more than 14 buildings in the park at one time. When François 1er abandonned this for Chambord, it was left in disuse and apparently, the local population actually used the stones from the various buildings to build their own houses…

A view from the past. Two reconstructed typical Loire sailing barques on the river. One of them is moving away, with an outboard motor unfortunately.

Do not ask – no this was not Cathrerine’s room, but the King’s.

I liked the gardens here too.

and the view with the Loire RIver in the background. In these photos, you can see the most triking feature of the castle. Is was situated at the top of the cliffs and therefore they had built a spiral ramp to allow horses and carts to get to the top. You can see the top of the ramp – it is the round tower on the right of the castle.

This is what it looks like on the iside. Now we call this a multi-story carpark!

Here is where it comes into the garden.

There is a part of the garden that looks moorish.

This was created to celebrate the life and death of the Emir Abd El-Kader Ben Muhieddine and his companions and family who sojourned in the castle during their exile. He was the leader of the resistance agains the French invasion of Algeria and eventually taken prisoner. In 1852, he was freed by Napoleon III and allowed to return to the Middle East, but not Algeria. He died in Damascus.

This is the actually location where Leonardo was originally burried.

A view of Amboise from across the river.

It was soon time for me to head back home after a great week…

Logistic Details:


I stayed at the Hotel Le Blason (www.leblason.fr), in Amboise. It is in the very center of town and is adequate without being a luxury hotel. Good quality for the price and a friendly staff.

Segway Tour – http://www.freemove.fr/Decouvertes-Loisirs-Tourisme/insolite_amboise-AA.html?idactualite=124

I took the “Insolite Amboise” tour which includes a wine tasing of a different kind. I will not let the cat out of the bag on this one – you will have to do it for yourself to know.

They are located in Amboise, across the street from the Tourist Office – the web site does not seem to be up to date… (3519 Page Views)

2 Responses to “Loire Valley – Episode 2”

  1. Beeon 08 Aug 2011 at 21:39

    Awesome! I’m glad you had a great trip. So much history, art, invention and life all contained in a small area. Even our Leo chose to spend some time here. That says something. Chenonceau will always be my favourite though.

  2. David Ingon 04 Sep 2011 at 16:12

    Pierre, the double staircase at Chambord looks the same as I remember it, from 1979. My eyes were sharper, and my energy was higher in those days.

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