Guidebook versus gut
Once in awhile, you just have to toss the guidebook and force yourself to trust your gut. That is what I did with the Royal Chateau d’Amboise (Am ‘bwahzz). Not that seeing this was a real gamble; I believe this majestic former fortress-turned-castle is underrated, yet still survives in the shadow of its chateau-sisters.
Reading between the lines to understand its features led me to realize that it's a real gem, inside and out. It happens to sit upon a towering parapet overlooking the Loire River and its immediate surroundings. Knowing some of its history also drew me in, as I imagined walking in the footsteps of Leonardo da Vinci, King Francois I, his sister, Queen Marguerite of Navarre, and Joan of Arc, to name just a few.
Other than a great view, I wasn’t sure what I would experience up on the ramparts, but I can say that everywhere you turn, a surprise seems to be waiting around the corner.
Granted, this is only one-fifth of what once stood here in this royal complex. But as it’s said, “Less is more.” And there is more. You just have to know where to look, or how to appreciate it. Every time I turned a corner, a surprise was waiting.
Surprise: St. Hubert’s Chapel
A surprisingly petite chapel, given the surroundings.
Gawk at the stone carvings adorning the doorway:
Compact, clean and...
...I came upon this:
A special guest of King Francois I, Leonardo da Vinci lived out his remaining years in France, within close proximity to this castle. (More about this here.) This grave marker was unexpected. There are contrasting opinions whether his remains are really buried here.
The Chateau's Interiors
Stepping into the Chateau, I encountered a famous name I had not seen, as of yet, in France. I walked into the Noble Guardsmen’s Room, where access to the king had been controlled. A description specifically mentioned one of these soldiers, the real-life D’Artagnan, captain of the Musketeers of the Guard, better known as one of the Three Musketeers. These men were multi-skilled members of nobility, with a proven track record as accomplished soldiers and as gentlemen. They weren't the type to lounge around their estates all day; they were committed to safe-guarding the king.
The initial rooms and halls on this self-guided tour are in Renaissance style, with emblems and shields displaying Francois I’s symbol: the salamander.
From these medieval apartments and up a curved stone staircase, you enter the 1800’s and the world of King Louis-Philippe, the last king of France, who desperately attempted to reconcile the French monarchy during a new era of post-Revolutionary mindsets. He was eventually forced to abdicate the throne. Notice the change in decor:
The Other Side...
On the other side of the chateau, the views and landscapes just kept getting better.
No French formal gardens to see here....these are Italian! Perhaps a tribute to da Vinci?
There were not many people around at the time I wandered through the small gardens. I really took my time to take in the views and ponder the beauty and history surrounding this spot.
A picture frame is available to make your own memory perfect:
A brief, pebble-lined garden walk takes you a wee bit higher for more expansive views.
This Cedar of Lebanon tree stands mighty while overlooking the chateau grounds.
What I really loved about this chateau experience was that everything was 'just right'. It was not overwhelming in size and scope, so I could take my time, get close, and gaze without straining at the furniture, paintings, and architecture. The formally-structured terraces were gently sloped with pockets of relaxing, miniature oases.
Technology has kept pace with visitors, as school-aged children and young people can opt to use a new iPad-mini application designed to give a virtual type of tour of the chateau in French, but with English subtitles.
If you visit: allow approximately 90 minutes to 2 hours for the chateau and grounds.
Allow yourself time to explore the village of Amboise, a town full of charm and energy itself, and just the right size to walk around and enjoy your day to the fullest. Relax and reflect on your day with crepes, galettes, and eclairs in abundance. There's even a small tram ride to get you around town easily.
If you've been to Paris and want to return to France and explore more, I highly recommend visiting the Loire Valley, with your 'base' around Amboise.