While Paris is every bit the imposing capital it is so renowned for, it is only when you step outside of Paris that France truly enchants you. Your experience would be enriched even more if you can speak French, which I couldn’t, though I did watch a few French tutorials on YouTube. At the beginning of my trip when I was still in Greece, a fellow traveler told me that there is something romantic about France, something that can’t be captured in words but you will know only when you go there, and I wasn’t quite sure what she meant until I reached Amboise in Loire valley.
How to reach?
Take a train from Gare d’Austerlitz, one of the six main railway terminals in Paris to Amboise. It takes less than an hour. I used my EU rail pass for the journey, which I shouldn’t have for this short journey. To read more about the EU rail pass, follow the link below:
Where to stay?
I booked a nice room through Airbnb. It was reasonably priced, comfortable and on the main road. The host was very sweet and hospitable but spoke only French so all conversation took place through Google translate. I should have learnt a little French I guess, it is very hard to speak though.
Situated on the banks of Cher river, Amboise boasts of Château de Amboise that has the tomb of Leonardo da Vinci. A house where he lived is also located near the chateau. Unfortunately I was unaware of the fact and so missed both of them. I did, however, visit the small cave houses that are still inhabited, if you continue to walk along the street on which the chateau is. The main street of the town was lined with small shops. I stayed in Amboise for 3 nights and 2 days. Every evening, I had my dinner at a small restaurant outside the chateau and then took a long walk by the river watching the sky change colours at sunset.
A trip to Chateau de Chenonceau
You can reach this picturesque chateau in many ways.
You can rent a car or a bike and visit several picturesque chateaus in the Loire valley.
1)You can rent a car and drive down the scenic routes to visit the chateau.
2) Rent a bike: I rented a bike for €16 for 8-10 hours. It was around 20km one way and took me around 2 hours to complete it at a leisurely pace.
3) You can also book a mini bus/van trip from the visitor centre in Amboise. It opens at around 10:30AM. The chateaus included in this trip are chateaus of Chenonceau, Chambord, Villandry and Cheverney. You can probably visit two chateaus in a day through this tour and then take another tour another day to visit other chateaus. I had visited in the month of June and all seats were already booked so you will need to book them in advance.
I visited the chateau on a beautiful, cloudy day. I purchased a couple of croissant from a bakery and packed some fruits for lunch.
France is perfect for bike trips as they have special bike tracks and sign boards directing the cyclists to take the paths that are specially reserved for cyclists.
Through the woods
I cycled on a well maintained bike track running through the woods, someone’s personal property. Several signs warn not to trespass the property, so stay away from roaming into the woods and stick to the bike track. Gentle breeze blew all along the way. Riding through the woods was the most picturesque part of the ride, so picturesque that I did not even feel like getting off my bike to click some pictures, something I have regretted since then.
On to the vineyards
The woods opened into a wider road with sprawling vineyards. I got a little confused at this point and so tried to ask for directions from the farmers working there with my very limited French vocabulary. I think they were finally able to discern Chenonceau from my rambling because they happily directed me in the right direction.
Through a village
Riding in the directed direction, I reached a small village and then a small mud trail through the farms took me to the village of Chenonceaux. I came across a small stream and some benches along it. I unpacked my lunch and ate some here, and went on to visit the chateau.
Château de Chenonceau
The entrance ticket to the chateau and the lawns cost me € 13 on a weekday.
This is the second most visited chateau in France after Versailles. Personally, I liked this chateau much better than Versailles. The grand chateau spans the width of the Cher river. It’s wide lawns are open to the public. This one is surrounded by nature, is less crowded and not decorated as intricately. It is classy and spacious, without going overboard with decoration. Well manicured lawns surround the main building, The serene green garden, a wooded garden, a grove of tall trees surrounds these gardens. There is also a circular maze garden as well.
The rooms, still decorated with dining tables, four poster beds, writing desks, dressing tables, and exquisite tapestries will take you back in time. A small room exhibits water colour paintings of the chateau by a number of artists. The paintings capture the dreamy nature of the chateau quite well and I recommend visiting this room, if paintings interest you. The long gallery displays the history of the chateau.
While the chateau has been owned by several prominent aristocrats through years, one story caught my attention, perhaps because of the scandalous nature. Henry II, the King of France was deeply enamored by his mistress Diane de Poitiers since he was a little boy of seven, and Diane was senior to him by two decades. Highly intelligent, an accomplished sportsperson and a woman of distinguished beauty, Diane had a major influence over the king and was the most powerful woman in France at that time. The King gifted her the Chateau of Chenonceau, much to the chagrin of Queen Catherine. After his death the Queen tried to take the chateau away from her but the chateau remained with her until her death, after which it came under the crown again.
At one end was another small cottage with the kitchen gardens, and a famous old restaurant L’Orangerie is located next to it. Fresh vegetables from the kitchen garden are served here and if you have an entire day, you can stop for a meal here.
Apart from the chateau, Chenonceaux also has a concentration camp. You can visit it if you wish to know more about the horrors of the World war. Such memorials are reminder of the tragic incidents that took place in the past, which should never be repeated. Due to lack of time and as I was not aware of it being there beforehand, I could not visit this camp.
I took the same scenic view back to Amboise. Despite the chateau being just as beautiful, it was the way that made this trip one of the highlights of my trip to France.