The campsite at Amboise is located on a little Island in the middle of the Loire river with bridges to the banks of the river. It wasn’t very crowded so when I came in late I just set up my tent close to some other tents with touring bikes parked outside. I had a bit of a sleep-in until 8 or so, and when I emerged I met Kim, cyclist from North Korea who has been on the road for 3 years. He is planning to cycle to Santiago. He has already been to Australia and was very fond of the place. He was meeting a friend in Istanbul in September so he had to keep moving on at 100km per day. He was very helpful in directing me to the local Aldi supermarket too 🙂 Had he not been riding in the opposite direction, I might have travelled with him a bit, but I had other plans today.
After a quick trip to the supermarket for basic supplies, I packed my bags, left them in the tent and rolled over to the town of Amboise for a late breakfast. It is a cool place with narrow winding cobbled streets surrounding the Chateau set up on the hill. I had a baguette with jam and a coffee, then made my way into the Chateau. As the Loire river narrows at this point it had an important strategic position too during the 100 years war with England. The castle itself is surrounded by gardens that have evolved over centuries to represent significant historical figures associated with it. From the wall and the towers you get a brilliant panoramic view across the Loire. This was also another favourite place of François I (who is quickly becoming my favourite French monarch). One of the reasons I have begun to admire François so much is his friendship with Leonardo Da Vinci.
Later in his life Da Vinci came to live in Amboise at the request of his friend François I. He had a great influence in France at this time with architecture, engineering and art. His last dwelling place, Clos de Lucé, is just up the road from the Chateau at Amboise and has a brilliant museum dedicated to the great man. I was amazed to learn that in his 60s, Leonardo crossed the Alps from Milan on the back of a mule, with the Mona Lisa in his leather saddle bags!
The Clos de Lucé building itself is decorated to reflect the style of the renaissance, as it would have been back in Da Vinci’s time. Most of it is 16th century, although there are a few newer items present now. In the basement there is a display explaining and reconstructing 40 of Da Vinci’s inventions, many of which were not realised until centuries later. This guy was not only a genius, but a prolific genius in just about everything. A highlight was Da Vinci’s bicycle (of course) but the authenticity of this particular invention is still disputed.
In the gardens surrounding Clos de Lucé a selection of Da Vinci’s creations are also reproduced in full scale, so you can interact with them. Seeing his devices like the archimedes screw, pedal boats, the swing bridge it was very cool. Beyond the gardens there was an exhibition of Da Vinci’s artwork and a history of his time in France. While I missed out on seeing the real thing at the Louvre, I got to see a reproduction of the Mona Lisa without the crowds. Also the last supper, Saint John the Baptist and many others. Also some of his original manuscripts were on display. A very cool item was a reproduction of an automaton he created for François I, a Lion that would walk and then open it’s belly spilling out fleur de luce. Da Vinci must have been a real hit a parties!
From Amboise, the next place to visit was Loche, which would take me south away from the Loire. I packed my bike and headed off in the late afternoon. Loche was about 45km from Amboise, probably a 3 hour ride, so I should have made it well before dark. However, about 20km from Amboise I came through a delightful little village called Chenonceaux. I slowed right down to admire it as I passed, and then saw a sign for (yet another) brilliant Chateau. I had planned to camp in Loche, but I could hear the wise words of my friend Katie ringing in my ears “don’t deny yourself seeing that small town – that’s what you will remember not how far you rode”. The pull was too great, so I decided to stop as soon as I found a suitable place. Not 5 minutes down the road there was a sign for a picturesque campsite right by the river. The script was written for me so I pulled off the road and headed to the camp.
The site was almost empty, but the gates were still open. A man came out to greet me and I asked if I could camp for the night. He spoke very good English and gave me a warm welcome. There was a restaurant there too and the kitchen was closed, but the woman who was working there made an exception for me and cooked a lovely leg of duck with chips, salad and vegetables. Over dinner the guy, who also drove the paddle boat for river cruises, told me there was an excellent view of the Chateau – the only river Chateau in Europe just down the river. So, after a good feed, I set up my tent then took my bike to explore the Chateau. It was a brilliant way to finish the day, just rolling around, and taking pictures. Finally, it started to get dark so I headed back to camp for another good night’s rest. Tomorrow would be a big day now. Having stopped 25km short of my goal, Loche, and wanting to reach Tours tomorrow, it would be a 100+ km day. But I was feeling good and excited about the prospect.