Did you know that Leonardo da Vinci
lived out his last few years in France? Had you ever wondered how the Mona
Lisa got to the Louvre in Paris?
It’s a story worth repeating.
At the invitation of the King of France,
in the early part of the 16th century, Leonardo left Italy and made his way
to the Loire Valley town of AMBOISE. There, he and Francois 1 sat and
discussed military hardware that Leonardo was designing. Such objects at
parachutes, tanks and revolving bridges were germinating in the mind of the
great inventor. He had spent time in the hills outside Florence, developing
wings so man might fly. Francoise recognized the genius of his guest and
gave him a large manor house to live and work in. During the few years left
to him, the master created drawings of futuristic devices many of which have
been recreated in modern times and are on exhibit in the Clos Luce,
Leonardo’s home within sight of the king’s palace. The Mona Lisa was one of
three paintings that Leonardo brought to France.
The Clos Luce is a large, ornate
building with large rooms and beautiful grounds. Today a visitor can reach
the rose colored building on foot from the nearby village where the old
king’s castle stands majestically looking out over the Loire River. It is an
area with hundreds of ancient chateaux lining the river banks and still
welcoming sight seekers. A trip to the area is visual, peaceful and
The town of Amboise boasts the castle
and Leonard’s home but it also offers quiet walking streets, good
restaurants and the short walk away from the river beside the castle takes
you by the ancient and new cave dweller homes built into the base of a rocky
mountain. Here the troglodytes built simple homes that today have been
enhanced to include gardens, balconies, chimneys, windows and television
antennae, not to mention electric lighting, unknown centuries ago. One has
to pass these ancient dwellings on the short walk to Leonardo’s grand house.
Here you walk through an archway onto
flowing lawns with a view and a building with the same architecture that
houses a souvenir shop and restaurant. To visit the actual residence
requires the purchase of a ticket but its money well spent just to see
Leonard’s bedroom and the models he designed. There is a portrait of Francis
attending Leonard’s death in that bedroom but there is debate by historians
as to where the king was when Leonardo died. Nearby, on the castle grounds
is a tiny chapel where Leonardo’s remains are said to lie. Even if you don’t
climb to the castle, you can see the chapel from below.
Just walking around Amboise is a treat.
There is parking along the river bank and interesting curios, food and
souvenirs waiting in the shops.
A visit here need not take more than
half a day but there are so many visual treasures in the area, you’ll be
happy you chose the region. To the east is Blois and a castle filled with
intrigue in the center of a charming town. Here you can see spiral
staircases in the courtyard designed by the master and farther east at
Francois’ hunting lodge you can visit Chambord with 365 chimneys and a
double helix staircase that allowed lovers to climb to the roof without
being seen by others coming down.
Here too you can see costumed riders,
showing trim Arabian horses every day. But had you gone west from Amboise
instead of east, you would have seen unforgettable Chenenceau built across
the Cher River with beautiful gardens and spacious halls. Even the old guard
house is still there only today it doubles as a souvenir shop. The
restaurant on the grounds allows you to have a snack or a complete meal
while seated under a sun umbrella watching people meander through the
gardens with the chateau as a beautiful backdrop. It is almost fantasy-like
but in modern days it served refugees an opportunity to span the river and
escape into Vichy France where, for some, it was safer.
From there, heading west it’s a short
drive to Tours, once the French capital. Here you will find a bustling city
with wide boulevards and spacious squares containing an amazing number of
gourmet restaurants. Don’t go to Tours without an evening on the Place
Plumereau. The Elizabethan beamed buildings bring back memories of the once
English construction styles and the feather merchants who occupied these
There are many hotels for all tastes in
Tours and for shoppers it is a Mecca.
But don’t stop there. Take a day or two
to head farther west. A visit to the Loire is incomplete without Azay Le
Rideau that smaller gem done to a woman’s delicate taste. Walk around the
building as the scene changes from every vantage point, especially near the
rushing water fall.
Farther a field you will discover Usse
which reminds one of Cinderella’s castle. And nearby you can walk through
some of the most sumptuous gardens in France at Villandry. The admission
price includes the châteaux and gardens. Every season there are changes so
any time you go, you will be delighted.
There are other chateaux in various
states of disrepair. You can continue west through Chinon and all the way to
the Atlantic coast. The delights are overwhelming. It will be a holiday
you’ll never forget.
Paris is not the only place that’s a
Drawing by author.
Note: The story of Leonardo’s inventions
and work in Amboise is expanded in Arnie’s recent novel A Man of Taste. For
more information, write to firstname.lastname@example.org
You can Contact Professor Arnie Greenberg at:
Over the past few years, Professor
Greenberg has traveled with groups to France, Italy, Spain, Greece,
Budapest, Vienna, Salzburg, Prague and both Sorrento and the Bay of
Naples plus most of Sicily. His tours traveled to the far reaches of the
globe including Italy and most of
China (Beijing -Hong Kong) and to Russia where his group cruised the waters
from St.Petersburg to Moscow.
"He took a group to Greece and another to northern
Russia. In Nov 07 he took a tour group to much of India and ended his tour
groups by revisiting France. He now travels with his wife and friends. They
winter in Argentina or San Miguel Mexico. His newly found spare time
is taken up with his painting and writing. "I must write every day." His
current work is a cautionary manual for would-be tour leaders.. "So
You Want To Be A Tour Leader."
Arnie now travels with friends. He continues writing
Travel articles about unusual places but often concentrates on novel
writing. Two books based on French Art will be published this year.
Keep reading his web for travel ideas. His next
novel HELLSTORM'S Folly,
will be available this fall. He now
lives in British Columbia.
www.top-travel-ideas.com or contact him directly at
(More about the writer.)