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Da Vinci in France

Professor Arnie Greenberg

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 historically rewarding.

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 buildings.

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 ‘moveable feast’.

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

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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.

Go to: or contact him directly at

(More about the writer.)


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Last Revised: Friday, May 15, 2015 06:38:58 AM
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