The Loire Valley, in central France, reflects French style, nature and gastronomy at their greatest. And, boasting Leonardo da Vinci as a former resident, there's no better way to visit this Renaissance-rich region than to do so in the footsteps of da Vinci himself, a visionary who was as much a naturalist as he was an artist and scientist.
The Loire Valley is a natural guardian of Renaissance architecture, with over a hundred chateaux peppered prettily around hills that rise and fall as beautifully as the velvets and silks of the period. It was also home to the father of the Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci, who was invited to live at Clos Lucé in Amboise by King Francis I in 1516 where he lived until he died in 1519.
Here are the top places to visit in the Loire Valley, all accessible by train. As da Vinci was a committed naturalist, we hope that by offering you an easy way to get to the Loire Valley by train, the low carbon way, is a fitting homage to this great artist:
Chateau du Clos Lucé, Amboise
Amboise is just 1 hr 40 mins from Paris and Chateau du Clos Lucé, in the centre of Amboise, is where the masterpiece Mona Lisa was completed, with many more after that as this was Leonardo da Vinci’s home until he died. Today you can take in the master’s home, a reconstruction of his studios, his gardens and an entire park with trails that highlight the way in which nature always influenced da Vinci’s work and philosophy.
Chateau Royal d’Amboise
Also in the heart of Amboise, Chateau Royal d’Amboise was home to Kings Charles VIII and Francis I and also the resting place of Leonardo da Vinci, whose tomb is in the Château’s chapel. A beautiful resting place too with views from its ramparts, terraced gardens and rooftops over the Loire landscape. From its balconies, roofs and terraced gardens, visitors can take in the Loire landscape, a large stretch of which has been awarded Unesco heritage status. When you head up high and take it all in, you can see why.
Although Chateau Chenonceau was completed soon after da Vinci’s death, this is probably the Loire Valley’s most celebrated Renaissance chateau. There is a railway station at Chenonceau which is just half an hour from the city of Tours.
Home to several noble families, the most famous was Catherine de' Medici, who had the vision of extending her already impressive inheritance, with a gallery that spans over the river Cher. This is one of the castle’s most iconic features, and it is also now France’s second most visited chateau after Versailles (just 2 hrs 30 mins by train if you wanted to visit the two greats on one trip).
Cycling the Loire Valley
Leonardo would have loved a bike, giving him access to the world of nature that always inspired his work. Even though, ironically, perhaps, one of his most famous inventions was the early flying machine. Today you can take in the Loire Valley in all its greatness from a saddle following the Loire à Vélo long-distance (900km) trail that connects Cuffy (near Nevers) with the coast at Saint-Brevin-les-Pins. You can easily connect with the trail by train, heading to the likes of Tours, Angers, Nantes, Orléans or Saint-Nazaire. Take your own bike on the train, or hire one locally, with plenty of options along the trail.
"What induces you, oh man, to depart from your home in town, to leave parents and friends, and go to the countryside over mountains and valleys, if it is not for the beauty of the world of nature?" - Leonardo da Vinci
Chateau de Chambord
Conceived by Leonardo da Vinci alongside Francis I, this is sometimes described as the Mona Lisa of his architectural masterpieces. One of the largest buildings of its era, the philosophy behind it included the cycle of life, locating humans’ position in the cosmos and, in addition, it was to mirror the skyline of Constantinople. As you do. Its double helix staircase, for example, aimed to represent the idea of perpetual renewal. Quite a brief, therefore, for a building which was to be used mainly as a royal hunting lodge.
To get to Chateau de Chambord by train, go to Blois-Chambord where you can pick up a shuttle bus between April and November. Outside these months, it is a 25 mins taxi journey from the station. We recommend combining this trip with a visit to Chateau Royal de Blois, another of the Medici marvels, in the heart of Blois.
Do buy your tickets for chateaux visits online in advance, as they can get busy in summer months.
Photo credits top to bottom: Amboise iStock ©kodachrome25, Chateau Royal d'Amboise iStock ©DimasEKB, Chateau Chenonceau Flickr Commons ©Francois Philippe,
Sunset over the Loire at Blois iStock ©javarman3
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