Amboise the perfect place to explore the Loire Valley

A lifetime dream to visit Chenonceau and researching the perfect place to stay to visit this spectacular Loire Valley region had me decide on staying in Amboise for 4 nights. I figured that I would need that long to visit all the places that were on my immediate French bucket list.

My visit to Amboise France included seeing where Leonardo da Vinci spent the last years of his life at Château du Clos Lucé. Checking out Chenonceau of course, taking a wine tasting tour, visiting Chambord, Blois and obviously the Chateau Amboise. There are over 300 chateaux to visit in the Val de Loire so it would really take deep pockets and a lot of time to visit them all but dammit I’m gonna give it a try.

A view of Amboise France from the Loire River at sunset
View of the Loire River with Blois on the shoreline

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Where is Amboise?

Amboise, France, is located in the Loire Valley just 20 minutes from Tours by train and about 225 km (140 miles) from Paris. It overlooks the River Loire between Tours and Blois. 

How to get to Amboise

From Paris, you can take the train at Gare d’Austerlitz to Gare d’Amboise.  From here I suggest a taxi to your hotel.

The TGV bullet trains take under 2 hours to Amboise and there are many cheap flights out of Tours or Orlean to England and Paris.

There are trains during the day from Tours to Amboise practically every hour travel time is about 20 minutes.

Driving to Amboise: Many people find renting a car is the best way to explore the Loire Valley chateaux. If you’re driving to Amboise take care to learn which roads are the toll ones. We paid €19 in total for the toll roads there and the same again on the way home. Rather an expensive trip but it did save us around an hour each way.

We drove from Lassay les Chateaux where we are housesitting and it took around 2.5 hours to get to the Loire Valley.

Cultivated field of sunflowers in the south of France near Amboise France

What is the Loire Valley?

The area of the Loire Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage area that is comprised of around 800 square kilometers (310 sq mi). It is called “the Garden of France” as there is a profusion of fruit farms magnificent vineyards and oceans of artichoke, and asparagus fields, not to mention the spectacular sunflower fields which line the banks of the Loire River.

fields of wine grapes in the Loire Valley near Amboise France

The enchanting Loire region dazzles with over 300 fairy-tale chateaux, exceptional gardens, medieval villages and towns, and of course extraordinary wines. Considered one of THE places to visit in France this region is simply unforgettable.

Field of blooming sunflowers in Loire Valley, France, Europe

Tours is the largest city in the Loire but the capital of the region is Orléans. Orleans is perhaps best known as one of the cities visited by Joan of Arc.

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History of Amboise France

Rife with history Amboise was first settled by the Romans but it wasn’t until 504 that the town was first mentioned as Ambatia. It was here that the King of the Franks Clovis met Alaric II the King of the Visigoths to create a treaty.

In the 11th century, the Count of Anjou took the town from the Count of Blois and built the first castle or stone keep on top of a rock above the river. In 1429 Joan of Arc passed through the town on her way to defeat the English at Orleans.

Over the decades it became the favourite residence of the French Kings and Charles VIII was born and died here. It was Charles who brought the castle into the Renaissance era and invited famous artists from Italy to embellish the château.

Amboise France

Charles loved his chateau so much that he inspected it to ensure progress was going according to his demands. One day he was inspecting recent work but he hit his head on a lintel and died hours later.

Work stopped on the castle in Amboise until Francis I became King. He was born in Cognac but lived at Amboise from the age of 6 and he too was a huge admirer of the Italian Renaissance so much so that he was named the Father of the French Renaissance. It was Francis who brought Leonardo da Vinci to France.

At that time Amboise became the centre of feasting, banquets, and splendid events. Francis I staged massive parties with da Vinci designing costumes and entertainment for the royals and their guests. 

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Da Vinci’s designs included a clockwork lion that walked and peed and when its body opened up it was filled with lilies. For one play, he recreated the night sky over the stage complete constellations and planet.

When Francis the II inherited the Castle he was the oldest son of Catherine de Medici and Henry II and married to Mary Stuart, Queen of the Scots and the niece of Francois Duc de Guise.

The Guise family was an extremely powerful and noble French Catholic family who played a major role in French politics. Francis however, was a sickly and weak man who became an instrument of the Guises in their grab for power and their ambition to destroy the Huguenots who were French protestants and held a great deal of power in the region.

It was Louis de Bourbon, Prince de Conde who orchestrated a coup d’etat in which the Huguenots surrounded the Château of Amboise and tried to seize the King to attempt to break the Guises hold. This coup became known as the Conspiracy of Amboise.

With the Huguenot efforts exposed in 1560, they were hung from the gothic balconies of the King’s house. In 1563 the Édict d’Amboise granted freedom of worship to Protestant nobility and gentry to forestall future coups. If you are Canadian you probably studied how the Huguenots came to Canada to be able to practice their religion peacefully and settled in Quebec and the Atlantic provinces.

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By Jean Perrissin – German Wikipedia, Public Domain

From the time of Henry IV, the château was often used as a prison, and Abdelkader, the Algerian national leader, was confined there. Abdelkader was an Algerian religious and military leader who led a struggle against the French colonial invasion in the mid-19th century. In 1872, after private owners had razed portions of the château, the National Assembly voted its return to the Orléans family.

In 1840 King Louis Philippe began a restoration of the chateau. At that time it was designated a French Historical Monument by the French Ministry of Culture. With his abdication in 1848 the government took over the castle and in 1873 it was returned to the heirs of Louis Phillipe who began a complete restoration.

World War II and the German invasion caused more damage to the Castle and town and it wasn’t until 1974 that the Saint-Louis Foundation took over its administration and continued its restoration.

What to see in Amboise

Amboise is a smallish town but it holds much to see, from its Chateau to the architecture in the town centre which ranges from medieval to renaissance.  We stayed at the Hotel Blason a medieval 2-star hotel which we highly recommend. It was a few blocks from the centre of town and we simply parked the car in the free spaces and walked everywhere.

The town itself is well worth visiting. You’ll see medieval buildings between Renaissance brick ones and there is plenty of cafés and bistros where you can while away a few hours just people watching.

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Clock Tower

As you walk to the Rue Nationale you will spot the Clock Tower (Tour de L’Horloge) at the entry to the pedestrian shopping district. This is a 15th-century tower that stands on an old arch called Porte d’Amasse. 

You will find many things to see in Amboise when you stroll through its ancient streets and alleys. For example the medieval, small Catholic church, Saint Florentine, near the centre. You can also enjoy a relaxing walk along the banks of the Loire River and enjoy a view of the castle from the other side of the river.

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Shopping in Amboise

As you walk up Rue Nationale and through the ancient clock tour you will spot Maison Bigot which has been in this location for over 100 years. They specialize in cakes and chocolate so take a seat and enjoy.

The Place Michel Debre which runs of Rue Nationale is a lovely street right at the foot of the Chateau Amboise and it has dozens of great cafes to just people watch from. This street is pedestrian-only during certain hours and perfect for a morning walk before coffee.

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There are two fabulous street markets held in Amboise on the Quai du Général de Gaulle which is just across from the River. The Friday market is dominantly food with local producers selling everything from eggs to fruit and veg. The Sunday market sells anything and everything. These markets are the largest in the region and recently voted the favourite market in France. 

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Wine Tours

The Loire Valley is one of many famous winemaking regions in France and we took a wine tour at the Les Caves Duhard.  I have to say I knew nothing about wine but after this brilliant tour, I can now appreciate a good wine as now I know what I’m looking for. I highly recommend the Get Your Guide Caves Duhard wine tour it is excellent. 

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If you want to relax with a coffee or have a quick meal, you can walk along the Place Michel Debré street, next to the Castle. On this street, you will find several restaurants, pizzerias, and cafes. However, I will warn you in high season when we were there the cafes and restaurants were jammed for dinner so make a reservation otherwise you may not eat until breakfast.

Where to eat in Amboise

As always French restaurant hours are interesting. Most restaurants are closed Monday and some Monday and Tuesday. On some days our favourite restaurants closed after 2 and didn’t open again until 7 pm. There is always a measure of uncertainty with a French restaurant or café, one of our favorites for coffee didn’t even open on several mornings but this was apparently due to staff shortages.

You will see on some restaurant windows or doors a sign for Petit Futé which is a series of French travel guides sort of like the Lonely Planet series. The term means ‘little wily one’ and is used to refer to a traveller who seeks out the best and most cost-conscious. All the restaurants I’ve mentioned are within easy walking distance of the main avenue of the town.

Bigot was founded in 1913, this salon de thé, pâtisserie, and chocolaterie is known for its, Tarte Tatin, chocolates, homemade ice cream and fantastic Quiche. We attempted to get coffee several times but it never arrived so I can’t say much for the service but the Tarte and quiche were very nice.

Amboise France

One of our favourite restaurants which was reasonably priced was the Crêperie Anne de Bretagne which sits just across from Bigots. We had the best and freshest smoked salmon, shrimp, and artichoke salad there with an absolutely fabulous waiter whose English was better than ours.

The Pause Caffé makes a great coffee and they also have crepes, sandwiches, and pizzas on the small menu. Hubs had a salted caramel crepe that he is now obsessed with.

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Le Lion D’Or is located on the Rue de Charles de Gaulle across from the Loire river. The building dates from the 1880s and is a lovely peaceful oasis of calm. Noted in the Michelin guide the Lion does not disappoint.

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This seems to be a very popular dining place so make a reservation as it fills up fast. The prices are incredibly moderate for a substantial gourmet dinner. I had 3 courses, starter, mains, and cheese hubs had 4 courses which included dessert. With wine and Evian the bill came to €90 euros which we felt was outstanding.

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 I really don’t want to make you jealous but this was quite possibly the best food we have eaten in France so far. I’m saying so far because we haven’t been able to get out much lately lol.

L’ilot is a charming, little restaurant with a kitchen located right in the middle of the dining area so you can watch the Chef at work. There is a small menu but it is full of local flavours and very affordable. There are set menus or ‘formulas’ as the French call them and usually two per day. The menu will not be the same on any given day but you won’t believe the prices and the flavours.

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L’Ecluse located around 5 minutes from the Chateau this gorgeous little restaurant is set on the banks of the La Masse river near a lock which is where it gets its name from. There is indoor and outdoor seating and you can enjoy al fresco dining with shade from the willow trees.

The menu is small with only three options in each of the categories of starters, mains, and desserts.  Their menu rotates weekly, so I will not be recommending any particular dish or dishes because they change. Everything we ate was simply superb, fresh and local which we love. The wine pairings recommended were amazing and I can’t say enough good things about this restaurant.

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Just around the corner from the main shopping street and its clock tower sites Les Arpents. Again the usual French set menus to choose from and any choices are superb. The service is incredibly helpful and friendly and there is always someone who speaks a little English to help out with your choices. As always the food is local and prepared superbly.

If you want to really treat yourself and eat at a Chateau my pick would be the Chateau de Pray. It is 2 km from Amboise and set in a simply beautiful park overlooking the Loire. This is true gourmet foodie heaven. It has one Michelin star and the food is absolutely incredible but pricey. The stunning L’Orangerie room sits partly carved into the rock of the hillside which are known here as troglodyte caves but has two huge bay windows to enjoy the views.

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What to see in Amboise

It is well known that Leonardo da Vinci came to Amboise in 1516 and was here until he died in 1519. He stayed at the small Chateau which is a stroll from the centre of Amboise.

If you have some mobility issues may I suggest taking the Little Train. Tickets can be purchased from the Office D’Tourism on the main road which cost 7 euros each. For that, you get a 40-minute tour of the town and its attractions. The driver who was extremely helpful and spoke some English put us in a carriage on our own as we were the only English speaking persons onboard. We had our own pre-recorded commentary whilst all the other carriages had French.

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Eglise St Florentin

This little Gothic church was where Da Vinci was originally buried until he was removed to the Chateau Amboise Chapel. This Church was built on the order of Louis XI who was terrified of catching the plague, no longer wanted the citizens of Amboise to worship at the Castle’s Church. The son of François I (Chenonceau and Chambord Chateaux) and Queen Claude, born in 1518, was baptized in this church.

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Château du Clos Lucé

This is where Leonardo lived and died during his time in Amboise and it has been beautifully restored over the years.

Château de Cloux known now as the Château du Clos Lucé was built in 1474 by the bailiff of King Louis XI on foundations dating back to the 12th century.

You can visit the gardens where you will see some of Da Vinci’s larger inventions including a double-decker bridge. There are also exhibitions of his works throughout the gardens which by the way are just stunning. Here’s a tip the Chateau is not far from the centre of town but the walk is uphill and the place is quite large to wander so wear comfortable shoes.

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The price of the ticket is €17.50 in high season, which runs from March 1 to November 15. In the low season, from November 16 to February 28, the ticket costs €13.50. You can check other rates and opening hours on the Official Page of the Castle.

Chateau Amboise

The exterior of the chateau is simply stunning with its green lawns and exquisite beds of lavender where the fragrance is unbelievable.

Construction began on the Chateau in the 13th century, having several later additions and reconstructions.

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Due to its position on a bluff, you will have to walk up a long ramp to the chateau. These medieval fortresses have no mod cons so to speak however Chateau d’ Amboise does have an elevator up to the grounds which is fabulous. It is of course difficult to access the Chateau itself but at least you can see the grounds and the Chapel.

As you exit the ticket office you will immediately spot the ramparts of the Castle with its beautiful Royal flags fluttering in the breezes.

This fully restored castle stands in all its glory looking out over the Loire Valley with stunning views of the French countryside, the rooftops of Amboise, and the River Loire.

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Inside the Chateau there are rooms in the late Gothic style as well as Renaissance. Some rooms are furnished with tapestries, paintings, and furniture.  

The Chapel of Saint-Hubert is located on the edge of the walls and this is where the tomb of Leonardo Da Vinci is located. It is believed that the tomb is empty because it was desecrated during the Revolution.  

The price to enter the castle is 13,30 € for adults which includes the histopad. More rates and information on this site.

Where to stay in Amboise

There is lots to choose from in and around Amboise from Chateaux to BnB’s the range covers every budget. We chose the Hotel Blason which is a two-star hotel. The hotel itself dates back hundreds of years and this is apparent in the lopsidedness of the building, the beautiful beams and the smallness of the rooms.

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The hotel was perfectly situated to walk pretty much everywhere in Amboise. The hotel parking is €5.00 a day but the lot shuts at 9 pm which makes it a little difficult to use if you plan to stay out later. But there is free street parking all around the hotel.

Hotel Bellevue is right in the centre, at the foot of the castle, it’s comfy, cozy and friendly. It is just 50 m from Château d’Amboise and has a terrace, lounge bar and restaurant. The rooms are soundproofed not that its particularly noisy in this location and you can have a lovely buffet breakfast if desired,

Chateau de Pray

Housed in a historical castle near the city of Amboise, this hotel with an excellent restaurant and a beautiful garden offer charming rooms with 4-poster beds and authentic decor.

All rooms include modern amenities such as free Wi-Fi internet access. Facilities at the Château De Pray include a gorgeous outdoor swimming pool. Free parking is provided at the Château De Pray, making it easy to discover the beauty of the Loire Valley by car.

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Le Clos d’Amboise

Housed in a mansion dating from the 17th century, Le Clos d’Amboise is surrounded by a large landscaped garden in the heart of Amboise. Guests have free access to the heated outdoor pool open in summer and there is also a sauna.

It offers elegantly decorated rooms complete with a minibar, flat-screen TV with satellite channels and air conditioning. Most rooms offer views of the garden, while they all have a private bathroom with a hairdryer. A buffet breakfast is prepared every morning at this hotel, and it can be taken on the terrace during summer. Guests can enjoy a drink at the bar or a regional meal in the restaurant.

Hôtel le Pavillon Des Lys located in the centre of Amboise a 5-minute walk from the Amboise Chateau with a stunning terrace. The rooms are filled with antiques and have clawfoot baths.  

Amboise is the perfect little town to base your stay in the Loire Valley. There’s a train station to take you to larger cities like Tours and Orleans and the town itself is walkable with lovely cafes to people watch from and I can’t say enough good things about the people we met and the food we ate and the gorgeous chateaux we got to visit.

Have you been to the Val de Loire and Amboise yet?

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