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Published: July 28th 2019
Issy seems to have come down with a cold, which sucks for her. She decides to rest up so I set off on my own to see what I can discover.
We’ve been told that there are more than 300 chateaus in the Loire Valley, so I think we might struggle to get around to all of them in the four more days that we’ve got here. It seems that for something to be called a chateau it needs to satisfy a few specific criteria, and your average Frenchman can’t just decide one day to hang a chateau sign out the front of his house and start charging passers-by exhorbitant fees to look around it. Chateaus are generally palaces or large manor houses, and they can’t be in cities. If you want to show off your wealth in a city you could still build a mansion, but you’ve got to call it a “palais” rather than a chateau. Chateaus are also not castles, ie buildings designed specifically for defence against people who might want to do you harm; these are called “chateau forts”. Virtually all chateaus were owned by either royalty, members of the nobility, or occasionally upper class bourgeoise
types. It seems that the quality of chateaus can vary quite a bit, from premises like the glorious Chambord that we visited yesterday, to run down manor houses out in the middle of nowhere that were deserted by their noble families when the money ran out and they were then at significant risk of attack by the local peasants.
First stop is the Chateau d’Amboise which is only a five minute stroll from our hotel. I join a queue to buy a ticket, and the girl behind the counter addresses everyone in the queue in front of me in French, but then without me saying a word addresses me in English. I wonder how this is possible. Last time I looked I didn’t have a tattoo on my forehead that says “I only speak English”, and I’m not aware of any glaring differences in appearance between people of French and English extraction. I wonder whether it might have something to do with the way I walk, or perhaps I haven’t managed to give her the seductive glance that I assume all Frenchmen give to young girls. I think that this will remain a mystery.
The Chateau enjoys a
commanding position on a hill overlooking both the town and the Loire River, and the strategic importance of the site was apparently recognised many centuries before a medieval castle was built here. It was progressively expanded and was eventually seized by King Charles VII from its owner Louis d’Amboise, who was arrested and sentenced to death for allegedly plotting against the king’s son. He was later pardoned, but the king decided to hang onto his Chateau anyway. I’m not sure this sounds all that fair, but the royals eventually got their comeuppance when Charles VII‘s grandson, the then King Charles VIII, failed to duck when going through one of the Chateau’s doors, knocked his head, and died. He must have whacked it fairly hard. I’ve bumped my head on a few lintels in my time, and it doesn’t seem to have done me too much harm, although I suspect Issy might have something to say about that.
Leonardo da Vinci is said to be buried in the Chateau’s Chapel of Saint Hubert, although there does seem to be some doubt about the authenticity of this claim. The Chateau church where he was originally buried was damaged during the French
The painting is of Leonardo da Vinci dying in King Francis I’s arms
Revolution, and later destroyed, and what were assumed to be his remains were dug up and reinterred in the Chapel of Saint Hubert in 1874. DNA testing is still underway to try to determine whether the remains buried here really are Leonardo’s.
The Chateau includes a massive painting of Leonardo dying in 1519 in the arms of his friend King Francis I, but the authenticity of this story also seems a bit questionable. Later research seems to indicate that the King couldn’t have been here in Amboise when Leonardo died, and whilst they were definitely friends, the story that the great man died in the King’s arms may have just been a massive royal publicity stunt.
Issy’s still not feeling great so I set off my own again, this time to the Chateau du Clos Luce which is only a few hundred metres from the Chateau d’Amboise. It was built in 1471 and is most well known for being briefly owned by Leonardo da Vinci. It was given to Leonardo by King Francis I when he invited the great man to come and live in France in 1516, and he lived here from then until his death here
in 1519. The Chateau is apparently fairly much unchanged since Leonardo’s time, and includes rooms set up as his workshops might have appeared, and a number of displays of his various diverse inventions. The gardens surrounding the Chateau are massive and very pleasant, and are relatively informal by what we’ve seen of French chateau standards so far.
We dine again in the Amboise square across the road from the Chateau. For the first time we don’t have Mark or Carol to translate the menu for us or to convey our orders to the waiter. One of the few French words I think I remember is “magnifique“, which I sincerely hope means magnificent. Every time the waiter comes past our table he asks us a question, which I assume is something to do with the quality of our food, so I respond with “magnifique”. Issy says that every time I do this the waiter seems to find it very amusing. We suspect this either means that “magnifique” means something completely different to magnificent, or he’s just asked us something for which this wouldn’t seem to be a particularly appropriate response, such as say what country do you come from, or
were you aware that my grandmother just died. None of this seems to matter all that much as the food is excellent, and we give our friendly waiter a good tip, mainly because the service has been excellent, but also to compensate him for the fact that we may have inadvertently offended him.
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