Although best known for the Chateau d'Amboise, the town of Amboise is also worth exploring. It is a beautiful small town running along the edge of the river and dominated by the beautiful chateau standing above the town. From the castle you get some excellent views over the town and river.
The town of Amboise spreads along the edge of the river Loire with the Chateau d'Amboise at one end of town and the streets spreading out below. The key streets and sights are close to the chateau and the Michel Debré Square.
One of the first buildings you will see is the church of St Florentin. This was built in the 15th century. Prior to this the inhabitants of Amboise went to the Collegiate church in the chateau grounds but in the 1470s King Louis XI lived in the chateau. He went to church regularly but was worried about becoming ill from one of the epidemics sweeping the country. He therefore had the Saint Florentin church built in town so that he could go to a seperate church to the locals!
Along from the church the Rue Nationale and streets radiating out from here contain an beautiful selection of stone and half-timber buildings in an interesting mix of styles. The half timber buildings date to the Middle Ages and the stone houses are generally Renaissance buildings built of tuffeau which is a local stone which whitens with age.
The Clock Tower and 16th century Hôtel de Ville (town hall) are the most notable buildings. The clock tower was built in the 15th century when it was the main gateway into town. It was turned into a belfry (bell-tower) in 1445 and later a clock was added.
A short walk away on Rue Victor Hugo is the Chateau du Clos Lucé where Leonardo da Vinci lived from the age of 64 until he died. Leonardo da Vinci was invited to Amboise by Francois I. Upon his arrival he was appointed "first painter, engineer and architect " and given Clos Lucé to live in.
You can visit the Chateau du Clos Lucé where you can see Leonardo's bedroom and admire frescoes painted by students of Leonardo who came to stay in Amboise. There are also 40 reproductions of the machines designed by Leonardo to see in the chateau and gardens.
In the garden is also a bridge, the "pont de la Corne d'Or" which was designed by Leonardo da Vinci for the sultan Bajazet and built 500 years later over swampy ground in his own garden. There is also a double span bridge which is the largest model from one of Leonardo's designs and was built using techniques of Leonardo's time.
Not far from the Chateau du Clos Lucé on Rue Victor Hugo are some "troglodyte" cave-dwellings which were habited until the start of the 20th century. A little further along is an orientation table and some excellent views over the river. From here you can clearly see the island in the river Loire, the "Ile d'Or". This island made crossing the river here easier which was good for trade and the island is now used for walking and other sports.
At the other end of town on the Quai du General de Gaulle you can admire the quirky fountain designed by Max Ernst, a leading artist of the Surrealist movement. Max Ernst made the fountain in hommage to the area and to Leonardo da Vinci. It features ten half-animal, half-human figures.
Note that the River Loire became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000 for its "living and universal culture landscape".
The area is also rich in its culture and traditions of local foods, such as the fine wine called Touraine-Amboise, to sip with some seafood dishes (shrimps, cods and scallops).
History of Amboise, Loire Valley France
Amboise dates back to prehistoric times, a fact which is explained by the area's climate, which is especially suitable for human settlements. In historical times, Amboise was both a Gallo-Roman city and a castle, as demonstrated by the discovery of ancient artefacts and coins.
The Romans called the place Ambacia, and the ancient medieval documents quote the same name, with small changes: Ambaize and Ambaiza. The name of Amboise derives from ‘Am-bach’ (or ‘bag’), where ‘bach-bag’ means a ‘landing-stage’ or ‘bridge of boats’ i.e. a ‘place of passage over the river'.
In Roman time Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) wintered his troops at Amboise, and there are various Roman remains from this era.
In the Early Middle Ages, it seems, Amboise belonged to the ‘Anicien’, before passing to the Merovingian Kings and then to the King of France. From the fifteenth century Amboise and its castle knew prosperous moments since they were the subjects of the kings. Charles VII (1403-1461), despite being more tied to the Chinon and Loches castles, did not omit Amboise, and he had some work done here, but they were more vigorously carried out by Louis XI (1423-1483) and Charles VIII (1470-1498).
Places to Visit Nearby
Nearby there is the ‘Pagoda de Chanteloup’, built between 1775 and 1778 by the Duke of Choiseul (1719-1785) - the construction is about 40 metres high, divided over seven floors, and from here you can enjoy an excellent view of the area. It is surrounded by a park of 14 hectares.
Amboise is in the heart of the Loire Valley and so there are many famous chateaux nearby. The Chateau de Chenonceau is one of the closest and one of the most beautiful. The Chateau de Chaumont is home to both the Chaumont-sur-Loire International Garden Festival and the Chaumont-sur-Loire Arts Festival. Blois is a lovely town and an excellent base for exploring the Loire Valley and its castles.