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. Here’s sharing my account of things to do in Loire valley.
At the beginning of my trip, 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.
Things to do in Amboise, Loire valley
Situated on the banks of Cher river, Amboise boasts of Château de Amboise that has the tomb of Leonardo da Vinci. A house, well actually a chateau, where he lived his last years is located near the chateau. Every evening, I dined at a small restaurant outside the chateau, unaware of what I was missing out on. I ended my day by taking a long walk along the river watching the sky change colors at sunset.
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. You can book one of these houses for your stay. There are some cave cafes and restaurants to choose from as well, something I missed out on. This is on my list of things to do in Loire valley on my next visit.
The main street of the town is lined with small shops. I stayed in Amboise for 3 nights and 2 days.
Things to do in Loire valley- A trip to Chateau de Chenonceau
I made my trip to the chateau on a beautiful, cloudy day. I rented a bike, packed myself a couple of croissants and some fruits for lunch and headed out.
Through the woods
I cycled on a well maintained bike track running through the woods, someone’s personal property, however, cyclists are allowed as long as they don’t stray into the woods. Several signs warn not to trespass the property so 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.
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 barely there French vocabulary. I think they were finally able to discern Chenonceau from my ramblings because they finally 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 with 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. The grand chateau spans the width of the Cher river. Its wide lawns are open to the public. Surrounded by nature, it is less crowded and not decorated as intricately as Versailles. It is classy and spacious, without going overboard with decoration. Well manicured lawns surround the main building.
Several gardens surrounding the chateau are a green garden, a wooded garden, a grove of tall trees and a maze garden.
The rooms still have dining tables, four poster beds, writing desks, dressing tables and exquisite tapestries arranged as they must have been when it was inhabited by the king and his queen and mistress, taking one back in time. Dreamy water color paintings of the chateau, capturing its dreamy and surreal nature, are exhibited in a small room. 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 in particular, perhaps because of its somewhat scandalous nature.
The story of the king, the queen and the mistress
Henry II, the King of France was deeply enamored by his mistress Diane de Poitiers, ever since he was a little boy of seven. Diane was two decades his senior. Diane was highly intelligent, an accomplished sportsperson and a woman of distinguished beauty. She 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.
A charming cottage with the kitchen gardens has L’Orangerie, a famous old restaurant located next to it. The restaurant serves fresh vegetables from this kitchen garden the entire day. I reached there around lunch time when it was quite crowded.
I took the same scenic view when returning back to Amboise. In spite of the chateau being so beautiful, it was the way that made this trip one of the highlights of my trip to France.
Things to do in Loire valley- Chenonceau Concentration camp
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 reminders of the tragic incidents that took place in the past and should never be repeated. However, I could not visit it due to lack of time.
How to reach the Château de Chenonceau/ other châteaus from Amboise?
You can stay close to the chateau but if you are staying at Amboise, you can reach this picturesque chateau in many ways.
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 one way at a leisurely pace.
3) You can also book a mini bus/van trip from the visitor centre in Amboise.
Opening time: 10:00AM
The trip includes the chateaus of Chenonceau, Chambord, Villandry and Cheverney. You can visit two chateaus in one day through this tour and then book another tour another day to visit other chateaus.
I visited in the month of June and all seats were already booked so don’t forget to book in advance.
How to reach Amboise from Paris?
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 in Amboise?
I booked a reasonably priced, comfortable room on the main street through Airbnb. You can also book one of the cave houses for a unique experience.The host was kind and hospitable but spoke only French so all conversation took place through Google translate.
Your experience would be enriched much more if you speak French. In spite of watching some French tutorials on YouTube, I couldn’t speak it.
I planned my trip to Loire valley by watching Rick Steve’s video on the same, the link to which is here.
You can also read my post on sources I use to plan my travels here.